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.
National Motor Club (NMC) and Airstream Inc. recently announced a partnership agreement that will provide Coach-Net RV technical and roadside assistance to be included in the Airstream 2012 models.
The agreement also provides owners of earlier Airstream models the ability to purchase a membership at an Airstream negotiated rate. Legacy Airstream owners will be notified within the week of this special, limited time offer.
The program, that began mid-September, amplifies Airstream’s premium level of customer service, said Justin Humphreys, Airstream’s vice president of sales.
According to a press release, Coach-Net’s 24/7 availability expands Airstream’s service and provides factory-trained reps to assist Airstream owners wherever they travel throughout the United States and Canada.
“We believe the addition of Coach-Net is a great way to round out our service offering and add support to our valued owners,” said Humphreys. “Whether they are on the side of the road, in a campground, or just have a technical question after hours, we want to give our owners peace of mind knowing that they have a respected, knowledgeable RV industry leader available to help.”
“Airstream is a great example of a partner who mirrors our commitment to service and quality,” said Mat Krzysiak, CEO of NMC. “As Coach-Net approaches its 25th year serving the RV industry, we remain focused on delivering a valuable service to our partners and peace of mind to their customers.”
The following is a Q&A with Airstream Inc. President and CEO Bob Wheeler conducted by The Street.
Airstream trailers are finding new life along open roads in the U.S. and abroad, but that shiny, iconic aluminum body is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to wooing consumers.
The Airstream was born in 1929 when founder Wally Byam built the first model on a Model T Ford chassis using only a teardrop-shaped shell of a shelter, an icebox and a kerosene stove. The trailers went into mass production in 1932 after Hawley Bowlus, the man who designed Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit Of St. Louis aircraft for the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris, designed the rounded aluminum body to reduce drag by 20% compared with square trailers.
It became one of the great symbols of roadside America from the 1950s through the 1970s, but has found an audience beyond the greatest generation and baby boomers in recent years. Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler says an increased focus on Airstream’s design elements helped double trailer sales to more than 1,500 in 2011 and nearly tripled sales of the company’s motor homes. Thor Industries Inc.-owned Airstream is also predicting 15% to 20% growth in 2012 against a forecast of 4% industrywide decline.
Recent company partnerships have only helped matters as the company’s 27-foot trailer collaboration with Eddie Bauer has built on the company’s work with outdoor-oriented brands such as surf- and skate-focused Quicksilver. Designer Christopher Deam, meanwhile, last year unveiled an Airstream concept trailer replete with stainless steel appliances and storage, bright white vinyl seating, illuminated translucent cabinets and Kennedy-era lime carpeting and throw pillows juxtaposed with Obama-era tech such as flatscreen televisions and super-slim climate-control systems. Nintendo uses an Airstream trailer painted with a giant Mario face and illuminated with LEDs as a mobile testing facility for its games and consoles.
Wheeler gave us a call a few days ago and spoke about the Airstream’s resurgence, tinkering with an icon and the delicate business of growing a legacy brand:
The Street: During summers my family and I spent camping in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains in the mid-’80s, there was always a lot of chatter when an Airstream pulled into the campground. I remember being drawn by that aluminum exterior, but getting the feeling that there were tight quarters inside. How has Airstream approached consumers who remember its trailers during eras of stripped-down amenities?
Wheeler: That’s been our constant challenge: to get people to understand that this iconic shell that they recognize from their childhood, when you walk inside, isn’t your grandfather’s Airstream. It’s modern both in its technology and interior design and meets people’s current tastes and lifestyle needs.
The Street: What features in recent models have been getting the buyers’ attention and bringing them beyond that novel exterior?
Wheeler: First and foremost is some of the interior design work we’ve been doing in the past 10 years specifically. Starting in 2001, we introduced a line of travel trailers called the International Line that represented very cutting-edge, modern design in any venue — either residential or, certainly, in the RV world. Those products started to get the attention of the design aficionados and design press. more than anything, that has attracted attention to our brand and cemented it in people’s thinking as current and relevant to their lifestyles.
To read the entire interview and view photos and a video click here.
Editor’s Note: The following is a Q&A conducted by Forbes with Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc.
Some products transcend their milieu to become icons. In the world of recreational vehicles, Airstream is the icon. The aluminum-skinned “silver bullet” trailer has retained the same streamlined aesthetic since its creation in 1931. A division of Thor Industries since 1980, Airstream produces a lineup of six travel trailers and two touring coaches. Airstream’s products are considered by many to be the finest production RVs in the world.
Bob Wheeler has been president and CEO of Airstream Inc. since August, 2005, having previously served as the company’s vice president of product development and engineering. Before working in the Airstream division, Wheeler worked for Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. Wheeler began his professional career at General Motors after receiving his MBA from the State University at New York in Buffalo and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rochester.Wheeler spoke about the current state of the recreational vehicle market, projections for the future, and Airstream’s plans for the future in a brief telephone interview.
FORBES: Airstream sales for 2011 were up 175%, with trailer sales doubling and coach sales increasing as well.
BOB WHEELER: Coming out of our big industry trade show in Louisville, those numbers are in comparison to last year’s result.
FORBES: What’s the trend been over the last five years? I’m assuming that the 2008 financial crisis hit you hard.
BW: Yeah, since RVs are a big-ticket discretionary purchase industry. It got hammered and we were no exception. ‘08 and ‘09 were pretty bad years. Significant recovery in 2010. 2011 was a strong year as well. Things have leveled out industry-wise. But everything continues to grow at a pretty good clip.
FORBES: And you’re anticipating 2012 to continue the trend, level or are you looking towards a growth trend?
BW: Well the predictions for the industry are down about 4% but our plans show us growing 15% – 20% in the calendar year.
FORBES: Can you give me an idea what the raw numbers are? How many trailers and vans?
BW: Sure, we’re building about 27 trailers a week right now. So that’s 1,550 trailers at our current clip. And we’re building 5 vans a week. We plan in the spring based on an uptick in spring demand that we see typically to increase production to at least 30 maybe more trailers and vans probably to six or seven a week.
FORBES: And you have a dealer network, how many dealers across the country?
BW: We have about 65 dealers, they’re not distributed evenly. We have a lot of dealers in key markets like Southern California and California in general. About 65 dealers coast-to-coast and Canada. We’ve got about 5 in Canada. Most of them are multi brand outlets. We’ve got a handful that are exclusive. Most of them carry other lower price products, helping bring cash flow.
FORBES: Are you building to order or do you maintain stock and inventory?
BW: We build to order no, those orders pertain to the dealer orders. But we’ve been able to go several years now without having to build any open units that we call them, unsold units. We’ve tried to maintain that position as you might imagine.
FORBES: What’s the build time from order to delivery?
BW: Right now, trailers are running about 12 weeks and vans are about 8 weeks. Between the dealer placing an order today and the delivery of a trailer or van.
FORBES: Are your dealers maintaining stock or are they pretty much taking orders and promising delivery around your schedule?
BW: All of our top dealers contain a strong inventory. When someone comes in to buy an Airstream, as you might imagine, they want to be able to see all the options, all the floor plans, all the colors. That helps them make a decision on which one they want to buy. So our top guys maintain a pretty healthy inventory and they reorder usually on a monthly basis, so that 12 weeks out or 10 weeks out they can get the trailers they need to keep inventory of the stock.
To read the entire article and view photos click here.
Airstream Inc. reported significant order input during the recently completed National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., for both travel trailers and motorhomes.
According to a press release, “these numbers reflect strong continuing growth for the company, which more than doubled its sales at this important event when compared with last year.”
Airstream said that the Louisville sales come on top of an already strong year where Airstream has experienced a doubling of trailer sales, and a 175% increase on vans.
“The spike in orders is directly related to dealer confidence in inventory turns and strong retail interest from customers who are intrigued by new units Airstream is bringing to market,” the release stated.
“The growing interest in Airstream can readily be attributed to the iconic design, premium quality, and the sense of community our brand represents while on the road,” said Bob Wheeler, CEO for the Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary. “Furthermore, we are seeing now more than ever that people are multi-purposing their Airstreams for both commercial and personal use, and our market share is growing accordingly.”
Airstream introduce several new products in Louisville, including the extended Interstate 3500 EXT Class B motorhome and the 27-foot Eddie Bauer Airstream travel trailer. Most notably, the company unveiled the “Sterling Concept” trailer designed by Christopher C. Deam, offering strong hints about future design direction.
At its core, Airstream’s stylish trailers and touring coaches are designed to give consumers the ability to experience the outdoors to the fullest. For more information, visit www.airstream.com.
Airstream Inc. unveiled the Sterling Concept trailer, designed by architect Christopher Deam, during this week’s 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
According to a press release, the collaboration between Airstream and Deam continues a partnership that started more than a decade ago with the 2001 Airstream International CCD.
The most striking design feature of the Sterling Concept trailer is the use of anodized aluminum surfaces for the interior. Deam said he wanted to bring the “unmistakable appearance of the Airstream’s exterior to the interior of the unit and use a premium, lustrous material that provided plenty of light and reflectivity.”
He added, “The aircraft-like aesthetic and modern monocoque design required high precision, resulting in a product that is both aggressively modern and timeless.”
The Sterling Concept trailer features bright yellow woven vinyl flooring that has a soft, luxurious feel and is complemented by the white ultra-leather upholstery and classic mid-century Merimekko fabric used throughout the unit. All countertops and roof-lockers are edged with pure aluminum extrusions which harmonize with the aluminum interior skin and premium fixtures in the galley and lavatory.
“Airstream is the ultimate object of design,” said Deam. “The Sterling concept trailer project was a true collaboration with Airstream and forced us both to push the limits of what is possible. For a designer it is always great to work with a brand where you can exercise furniture and product design together with manufacturing – it is the ultimate.”
Deam said the Sterling Concept captures what is essential about Airstream travel trailers and imparts to it a modern flair, demonstrating Airstream’s continuing commitment to be a thought leader for the RV industry.
“This concept trailer represents a fresh take on Airstream, and we think it will appeal to people who are design-savvy and appreciate quality construction and unique, modern design,” added Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler.
Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. has announced the hiring of Mollie Hansen as vice president of marketing.
According to a press release, Hansen brings “key experience to Airstream’s already skilled team with her strong record of driving sales through strategic marketing.” Hansen will oversee all corporate marketing activities for Airstream, including go-to-market plans for new products, trade and consumer communication, as well as brand messaging.
Hansen began her career at Nike Inc. where she directed the implementation of visual merchandising strategies. She then went on to develop merchandising programs to drive brand recognition and sales for Columbia Sportswear Inc. Following that, for nearly eight years, Hansen provided leadership and strategic direction for retail operations and retail analysis teams as head of retail marketing for Adidas. Most recently, Hansen was the director of North American marketing for Converse where she was responsible for an account marketing organization for this heritage brand.
As an outdoors enthusiast, Hansen has been an Airstreamer for more than 10 years. She fell in love with the brand while creating a snowboard booth for Columbia Sportswear in 1995.
“Having been involved with the top sporting goods and retail brands, Mollie brings more than 15 years of progressive experience in management, marketing and customer relationships plus a fresh approach to our strategic marketing initiatives for 2011-12 plans,” said Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Airstream, a Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary. “We welcome her as a vital addition to the Airstream team.”
Two iconic RV brands, Newell Coach and Airstream, have joined forces. According to a press release, the two companies jointly announced that Miami, Okla.-based Newell is now an authorized dealer of the Airstream Interstate 3500 Class B touring motorcoach for customers in the South-Central U.S.
Newell is also offering the coach to Newell customers who want to use the Airstream as an adjunct to their existing Newell or to downsize to a smaller motorcoach.
“Airstream is excited to join forces with Newell,” said Larry Huttle, chairman of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream. “The two brands both represent unique and successful chapters in the rich history of American recreational vehicles.”
“For some time, our customers have been asking for advice and help buying a Class B RV that they could use as a tow vehicle or as an alternative to their larger Newell motorcoach,” added Newell Coach President, Karl Blade. “There are many brands to choose from, but our customers repeatedly mention Airstream as their preference. Thanks to our new association with Airstream, we can respond directly to those customers’ requests.”
The Airstream Interstate 3500 provides the quality, comfort and performance of a Mercedes-Benz platform in a Class B touring vehicle. It is powered by a 3.0-liter Mercedes-Benz V6 diesel engine and produces 188 hp and 325 pound-foot of torque. Even though it gets 30% better fuel economy than other comparable gasoline engines, it is able to tow 6,900 pounds.
“The Interstate gives Newell owners more flexibility,” said Blade. “For example, a Newell with an Interstate in tow can be driven to a convenient location outside a national or state park. The Interstate can then be driven into the park, providing convenient overnight facilities for a day-or-two stay within the park. In addition, some long-time Newell owners would like to downsize to a coach that is compact but still offers some of the comfort and convenience they’re used to,” Blade continued. “The Airstream is a great choice for our customers. It reflects the luxury, quality and innovation they’ve come to expect in a motorcoach.”
You may have to look harder to see those convoys of motor homes headed for vacation spots this summer. According to a report in USA Today, RVs are getting smaller.
While sales of traditional motorhomes have grown at a respectable 6.2% rate for the first six months of the year, two smaller classes encompassing large van conversions have grown nearly twice as fast, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports.
“The era of bigger-is-better and more ostentatious” is over, declares RVIA President Richard Coon. Now, “the trend is toned down quite a bit.”
Blame the economy and gas prices, but also retirees who have decided they don’t need rolling McMansions for status in otherwise hard times.
“Fuel prices are driving it, but this is a cultural shift,” says Bob Wheeler, CEO of Airstream Inc., which converts delivery-van-style Mercedes-Benz Sprinters into low-key motorhomes. “There’s a shift away from conspicuous consumption.”
Though these units are priced upwards of $125,000, Wheeler says they typically don’t have the fancy paint and graphics of larger units. “No flashy paint job,” he says. Rather, it’s “understated elegance” — and up to 18 miles a gallon from the modest diesel engine, triple the gas mileage of some big gasoline-powered motor homes.
Even in the bigger vehicle classes, some RVers are downsizing. Fleetwood RV Inc. says many buyers of more traditional motorhomes, who formerly would have opted for 36-footers or bigger, today are downsizing to its 28- to 32-foot Storm line, which starts at about $92,000, says Lenny Razo, eastern regional sales director.
USA Today reported that those RVs are being fitted with more space-maximizing features, such as bunks that drop from the ceiling. Many buyers “are getting older, and they don’t need as much” space, Razo says.
Winnebago Industries Inc., too, has introduced more lower-priced motorhomes and fuel-saving diesels. “In the last couple of years, people are wanting value products, not necessarily all the bells and whistles like in 2004,” says spokeswoman Sheila Davis.
Smaller motorhomes also can be more versatile, such as serving as a base camp for little leaguers at games, as well as a home away from home on vacation, she says.
The following review of the Airstream Interstate 3500 appears in the Wall Street Journal, penned by Dan Neil in his column Rumble Seat.
I have an old friend—and by old, I mean he’s in his 70s—who thrives on aggravation. Seriously, anger endorphins are like Centrum Silver to this guy. He started a business to teach teenagers to be safer drivers, which was obviously very rewarding. The good government and wise stewardship of North Carolina having left him restless, he moved to Florida, where he could perform daily ritual ablutions in deep pools of administrative incompetence. To my fiery friend, whom I have nicknamed Turbo, homeowners-association meeting = cage fighting.
After his wife died, he tried online dating. Again, in Florida, where there could not possibly be any downside. And then two years ago this lifelong landlubber bought a 42-foot cabin cruiser. At the time of this writing, he’s in the Bahamas, no doubt beating the hell out of a diesel fuel filter with a pipe wrench, happy as a clam.
I have discovered his next source of bliss.
Meet the 2011 Airstream Interstate 3500, a class “B” motor coach built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van chassis with coachwork by the good folks in Jackson Center, Ohio. At a time when RV sales in the U.S. are about a third off their historic highs, the Airstream Interstate has been a mega-hit for the company, and small wonder. What began life as a humble, windowless turbo-diesel Mercedes-Benz Sprinter delivery van has been transformed into a rocking and rolling ultrasuede shag palace stocked with four captain’s chairs, 19-inch LCD monitors with high-def TV, a motorized bench-seat/lounge, Corian countertops, sink, cooktop, refrigerator, convection microwave, toilet/shower and much more. Click here to read the entire story.