The following is an article in the Huffington Post profiling Airstream Inc. as it marks its 80th anniversary. To view a slide show of the iconic brand click here.
The Airstream recreational vehicle, all curves and chrome, was originally designed to evoke the open road and the aviation age. Hawley Bowlus, the man who created the brand’s toaster-over-in-a-wind-tunnel look was also the chief designer of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. His America was all about going places and the Airstream was intended to be both a way to get there and a way to stay.
Over the years, the vehicles have gone from being associated with innovation to being of a piece with thrift store Americana — what Instagram is to cameras, Airstream is to vehicles — yet, in 1932 when company founder Wally Byam was just moving beyond tinkering in his back yard, he was engaging with a very modern notion: Mobility is the ultimate luxury.
The irony, of course, is that a company catering to Americans’ travel yen has itself been nothing if not stationary. The popular vehicles are still manufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio and their names still betray these roots. Buyers can choose between Sport, Flying Cloud and Classic Limited models. There is also an International, but that seems almost antithetical to the whole endeavor.
Despite its proud middle-American sensibility and heritage, Airstreams have always been more than middle class kitsch. They helped ferry generations of children and parents to beaches and wild places. They may not have conquered the West, but they certainly made it more accessible, allowing the denizens of America’s growing suburbs to get back into the outdoors. If Airstreams now look tiny next to the rolling mansions being offered by recreational vehicle manufacturers, there is a reason: They were designed to help us get away, not to help us schlep everything along with us.
Eighty years later, an Airstream in the driveway still means one foot out the door, an American stance if ever there was one.
The travel trailers manufactured by of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. are already considered icons of American culture. According to a report in the Sidney (Ohio) Daily News, the sleek, shiny aluminum models are seen in campgrounds and highways all over the United States, Canada, Mexico and even other continents.
As a result of participation in a recent trade mission, Airstream products may eventually become a more common sight in the South American nation of Brazil. The Ohio Department of Development’s Office of Business Assistance invited the firm to be one of the Ohio companies to take part in a recent series of trade missions to Brazil, Chile, Columbia and India.
Airstream’s mission to Brazil was headed up by company executive Justin Humphreys. He was able to meet with potential distributors and size up the potential for selling Airstream units in the large, emerging economy. Humphreys has found that it is not at all unusual for the company to receive inquiries from people in other countries, but many come from Brazil, and exploring the potential to expand business into that country seems to be a logical move.
Humphreys explains that Brazil’s middle class is emerging as an economic force in the nation of around 200 million, the fifth-largest nation in the world. There is much diversity within that population, and a visitor will meet many residents of Japanese and European ethnicity.
Around 80% of the population lives in its cities, but Humphreys noted that the size of the lush farms would dazzle Americans. That agricultural powerhouse section of the Brazilian economy is fostering some of the growing affluence. Most of the economic activity takes place in the southern portion of the country. Humphreys spent much of his time there in the Sao Paulo area.
To read the entire article click here.
Airstream Inc. announced its top performing dealers based on retail sales for model year 2012 for both travel trailers and touring coaches during Airstream’s National Dealer Meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
According to a press release, Colonial Airstream, based in Lakewood, N.J., claimed the top sales award for travel trailers for a record eighth year in a row, along with honors as ‘Top Dealer Overall’ and ‘Top Touring Coach Dealership.’
“Colonial’s continued success demonstrates their passion for our brand, but more importantly, their focus on customer service,” said Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream. “The fact that they have been the number one dealer of Airstream travel trailers for eight years in a row is a testament to their hard work, and our company is extremely appreciative of their contributions.”
“This year’s sales national dealer meeting was a huge success for Airstream,” added Wheeler. “The meeting afforded us the opportunity for an open dialogue with our dealers, which helps us understand their needs moving forward, and for us to provide them some insight into what we are working on for the future. We appreciate the open discussion and always enjoy recognizing top performance, as well.”
The following is a list of the top dealers that were recognized in terms of retail sales during the event:
• Top 10 Airstream Dealers ranked by travel trailer retail units sold: Colonial Airstream, Lakewood, N.J.; Airstream Adventures Northwest, Covington, Wash.; Airstream Adventures Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.; George M Sutton RV, Eugene, Ore.; Bates RV, Dover, Fla.; Camper Clinic II, Buda, Texas; Southwest Coaches Irvine, Calif.; Toscano Recreation, Los Banos, Calif.; Windish RV Center, Lakewood, Colo.; Can-AM RV Centre London, Ontario, Canada.
• Top 5 Airstream Dealers ranked by Touring Coach retail units sold: Colonial Airstream, Lakewood, N.J.; Bates RV, Dover, Fla.; Camper Clinic II, Buda, Texas; Airstream Adventures Northwest, Covington, Wash.; Schumacher European Ltd., Phoenix, Ariz.
In addition to the top dealer awards, Airstream also recognized the No. 1 parts dealer for model year 2012, Out of Doors Mart from Colfax, N.C., along with two dealers for demonstrating service excellence over the past year, Can Am Trailers from London, Ontario, and JD Sanders from Alachua, Fla.
“Just as important as sales recognition is to identify those dealers who go above and beyond the call of duty to take care of our mutual customers after the sale,” said Dave Schumann, general manager of parts and service for Airstream. “Although it is a difficult job in picking from so many good dealers, our team decided that Can Am Trailers and JD Sanders fit the bill for this prestigious award. Their commitment to customer satisfaction is to be commended, and Airstream appreciates the passion they show each and every day.”
Things are looking up at El Monte RV – not that they ever really looked down.
Mike Dwan, the company’s national sales director, says he’s seen a big uptick in business over the past year, the Pasadena (Calif.) Star-News reported.
“Our rentals have always been good,” he said. “We might be up about 15% on rentals for this year over last year. But in terms of sales we’re probably up 40% over last year.”
Those numbers speak to a national trend.
The recreational vehicle sector measures its strength in shipments of travel trailers and motorcoaches from manufacturers to dealers. It’s been on the upswing since 2009, according to Phil Ingrassia, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
Through the end of May, RV shipments increased 8.6% to 127,454, compared with 117,352 in the first five months of 2011, he said.
For all of this year the association is forecasting a 6.9% increase in shipments to 269,700. That’s an increase of 62.8 percent from the recession low of 165,700 in 2009.
“It’s definitely on the rebound,” Ingrassia said. “RVs are a discretionary purchase. One of the things we look at is consumer sentiment. When consumer sentiment takes a dive, usually RV shipments drop as well.”
Camping trailers dominate the market, but coach sales have been on the rise, too.
Dwan said there’s been a lot of pent-up demand among consumers to buy RVs.
“People are tired of sitting on the fence and waiting for the government to stop playing their games,” he said. “They are out, and they’re spending some money.”
And when people are spending, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some of the lowest prices around. El Monte RV is primarily an RV rental business, but the company does sell used vehicles at a big discount.
“We sell nothing but used units,” Dwan said. “We have roughly 1,600 units in inventory nationwide, so our national business is off the charts. Our units are anywhere from a third to half off of what a new vehicle would cost.”
The increasing health of the industry is also reflected by the fact that Airstream Inc. opened a new Airstream Los Angeles dealership in San Gabriel just two months ago.
The dealership, at 1212 E. Las Tunas Drive, offers a variety of the stylish, aluminum-skinned vehicles.
Ken Baker, the facility’s general manager, said Airstreams have a special place in the RV world.
“There is not another RV built like an Airstream,” he said recently. “They have easy towability, they’re stable on the road and they are aerodynamic.”
They’re also well made. Before leaving the production floor, every Airstream spends 40 minutes under 100 pounds per square inch of water pressure in a special booth to ensure that it’s water-tight.
The RVDA does a dealer census every five years and there were 3,000 nationwide in 2007. He expects the figure to be significantly lower when the 2012 figure is released, though business is starting to recover.
“Now we’re seeing some expansion and consolidation. We’re not seeing dealers close like they did in 2008 and 2009,” Ingrassia said.
Editor’s Note: Fox News picked 10 “must see” factory tours across the U.S. One of them is the Airtsream Inc. factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. Here’s what Fox had to say about that facility:
A tiny town set amid the central Ohio farmfields is the setting for the factory that produces those iconic silver travel trailers. It’s a pilgrimage site for owners, who bring their houses on wheels here to be serviced, camping out at the on-site RV park. Whether you’re curious about joining this elite group of nomads or not, the free, daily factory tour is good fun, even if just to see one of the country’s most stubbornly unchanged companies in action.
Click here to read about the other nine factories.
This week’s segment of “RV Capital Talk” features an interview with Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Airstream Inc.
Airstream Inc. announced the introduction of the stylish Airstream International Sterling Edition travel trailer during the Jackson Center, Ohio, company’s annual meeting attended by 34 dealers May 20-21 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
The 2013 Sterling, designed by noted architect Christopher C. Deam, was first shown as a prototype at last year’s Louisville Show and is set to go into production in late June. It will be available in 25- and 27-foot lengths with striking “fabric-look” yellow and violet vinyl floors.
The modernistic Sterling has anodized-aluminum interior sidewalls accented by aluminum cabinets, LED lighting and white ultraleather furniture. It’s the third Deam interior commissioned by Airstream in the past decade.
In addition, Airstream for 2013 ”tweaked” its travel trailer and Class B motorhome lineups, Airstream President Bob Wheeler told RVBUSINESS.com. The builder also outlined a variety of matters addressed by the 12-member Airstream Dealer Council during a May 21 awards dinner.
”We talked about our focusing on increasing our support of the dealer and dealer operations,” Wheeler said. ”We are going to increase lead generation and provide point-of-purchase display options to allow the dealer to create an Airstream boutique in their dealerships.”
To that end, Wheeler reported that Airstream is in the midst of establishing a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system to provide and track higher quality leads for Airstream dealers.
”We generate a tremendous number of leads through airstream.com,” Wheeler said. ”We are trying to make those leads the highest quality possible.”
Check out the next issue of RVBusiness magazine for expanded coverage.
Airstream Inc. announced today (Feb. 23) that its Airstream Interstate was named the number one selling Class B motorhome model in the U.S. for 2011, according to Statistical Surveys Inc.
In a press release, Airstream said the Interstate grew its market share by 68% in the touring coach segment against a 15% industry decline during the same period.
Airstream Interstate unit sales in 2011 increased almost 43% over the previous year. Airstream attributes the heightened interest in the company’s touring coaches to “the Interstate’s sophisticated style and dedication to consumer satisfaction.”
“By listening to and acting on customers’ requests we were able to establish the Interstate as the most desired B-van on the market today,” said Airstream CEO and President Bob Wheeler. “As we move into 2012 and beyond, Airstream will continue to provide market-leading motorhomes built with our legendary attention to luxury and quality.”
The Interstate is built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis and, according to Airstream “fuses the legendary quality and design of Airstream with Mercedes-Benz’s comfort, control and luxury.”
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article featuring a Q&A with Christopher C. Deam, who has designed several units for Airstream Inc., including the new Sterling Concept trailer. To view the entire article click here.
If you’re the sort who falls into an escapist dream at the sight of an Airstream trailer, you may want to stop and see the company’s latest, the Sterling Concept Trailer, being shown in Palm Springs, Calif., this weekend as part of Modernism Week. Designed by Christopher C. Deam, a San Francisco architect who has been helping Airstream with its interior design for 13 years, it is still a prototype that may or may not be put into production.
You would certainly want to wipe the campground mud off your shoes before walking into this trailer. The aluminum interior is sleek and shining, with a queen-size bed, a streamlined bathroom with a shower and rounded cabinets for the sink, and capsule-shaped accent windows. And, of course, the trailer is Wi-Fi ready.
Deam, who runs CCD Architecture-Furniture, is married to Lara Hedberg Deam, the founder of Dwell magazine. They have 9-year-old twins, Cal, a son, and Macy, a daughter, and have done a bit of trailer travel themselves. Recently, Mr. Deam talked about his work.
How did you get involved in trailer design?
I was remodeling my brother Eric’s house with my friend Thom Faulders. This was around 1996. It was very small, like a 26-by-26 box, and we were looking at really efficient uses of space. So we turned our eyes to boats and R.V.’s to figure it out. The house won an A.I.A. Award and was in Sunset magazine, and they titled it “The Airstream Cottage.”
A light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, “I have to approach Airstream.” My idea was to review their interiors.
How did that work out?
They turned me down. They were, “You’re just not for our audience.” But then the opportunity arose for me to do a project with Wilsonart. They make plastic laminates. We came up with the idea of using a trailer for their trade show booth. Honestly, before the trailer arrived in my shop, I had never set foot in an R.V. before. For my brother’s house we had just looked at pictures.
What I found was, you had this great streamlined aerodynamic modern exterior, and then you opened the door and it was like grandma’s kitchen. There was a disconnect between the exterior and the interior. You approached the trailer and there was the magic promise of the future, and you walk in and it was like a log cabin on wheels. What we decided was, we had to do some kind of archaeology, stripping it down and getting rid of all the gewgaws and clunky interior, and taking it back to something really essential. I simplified it and emphasized the horizontal lines and put in a lot of fluid, curved laminates. We took that trailer to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, and we got the attention of an Airstream executive.
To view the entire article click here.
Airstream Inc. unveiled its latest family-oriented five-berth trailer at the ExCel Motorhome, Caravan and Camping Show in London yesterday (Feb. 14), according to a report in Caravan Times.
Having flown in from the U.S. to take part in the show, Airstream President Bob Wheeler, said: “Airstream has always been synonymous with great style and design and these two additions to the European range have got both in abundance.”
The new 685 has a neat layout that includes three fixed bunks at the rear, with a clever partitioning door allowing a children’s bedroom to be created in addition to the traditional double or twin singles at the front.
Anthony Slocock, technical director of Airstream, said that in creating the 685 the company was responding to demand for a bigger family model.
“The Series 2 534, meanwhile, is still gracefully compact but is incredibly roomy for a single axle trailer,” he added.