Bill Horvath, the American businessman who spent the past year trying to develop a Chinese-made Class A motorhome for the U.S. market, has died. He was 61.
He attended last week’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., but died after returning to his home in China, according to longtime friend Bruce Huntington, a patent and trademark attorney in Mishawaka, Ind.
No official cause of death has been determined, but Huntington speculated it may have been a heart attack.
Horvath was a 30-plus year veteran of the RV industry, and had spent recent years working with Yutong Bus Co. in development of a Class A motorhome that could compete in the U.S. Following meetings this past summer, Horvath had lined up several vendors for the project but announced just weeks ago that the project would be shelved for the time being.
“He had not given up on it. The idea was not exactly dead. Yuton had a continuing interest but just not yet,” said Huntington, who had dinner with Horvath on Thursday night (Dec. 2) and discussed that and other projects.
“He was alive and kicking and ready to go,” said Huntington. “He had ideas to do international business. He saw huge opportunities in Australia and Europe,”
Horvath had traveled to 38 different countries in his career and had been involved in manufacturing, design and production and all aspects of the industry, he added.
Huntington received a phone call Sunday afternoon from Horvath’s son-in-law, saying that Horvath had died earlier that day shortly after arriving home at his apartment in Zhengzhou, China, following a long flight from the U.S.
The body will be cremated in China and the remains brought back to the U.S. A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday night at McGann-Hay Funeral Home in Granger, Ind.
Huntington called Horvath “quite a character, full of life. Forward-thinking, he really had great ideas and was probably out in front of most of the people he dealt with. He dedicated his whole life to the RV industry.”
Horvath formerly worked at Mallard Coach Co. and Damon Corp. and most recently at Gulf Stream Coach Inc., all Elkhart County businesses, before leaving for China.
Horvath is survived by his wife, Yan Liu, and five daughters.
China’s Yutong Bus Co. has put “on hold” its plan to build the En Route, a Class A motorhomes for the U.S. market.
In an e-mail from Bill Horvath, project manager for the Motorhome Division, Horvath stated, “This Tuesday morning (China time) the management team of Yutong Bus Co. announced it has decided to place further development of Class A motorhomes for the North America markets ‘on hold.’
“After much research and cost analysis, and looking at the market size that exists today, plus some still uncertain economic conditions, the decision was made to take a ‘wait and see’ position. In late spring or early summer of 2011, we will again check market and economic conditions in North America and re-valuate our decision. With the top five or six U.S.A. Class A motorhome manufacturers controlling approximately 80% of the market, it makes it very difficult for a new company to penetrate it when the market sales numbers are so small.
“To continue our interest in the motorhome business, Yutong Bus will focus on the up-and-coming Chinese market. Here we can better utilize our in-house capabilities and not have to overcome so many federal regulations and importing and exporting requirements. We can more easily enter this market than the North American markets. The manufacturing and product construction learning experience we will have in China will better prepare us for the North American markets in the future. Trust me, you will see motorhomes built by Yutong Bus in the foreseeable future.”
Horvath added, “Our bus business continues to grow at an amazing rate (large bus sales up nearly 45% in September over last September) and we will easily surpass our overall targeted goal of 35,000 vehicles for 2010. Our new manufacturing complex is still being planned and construction will begin yet this year with hope of moving in at the end of 2011. This joint complex will house additional bus manufacturing as well as motorhome production.”
Horvath first pitched his idea to an audience audience in Elkhart, Ind., in July and was actively receiving quotes from a number of suppliers.
He had planned to begin construction of a prototype this fall.
As recently as the Labor Day weekend, Horvath sounded optimistic about the project. He told RVBUSINESS.com at that time, more than 50 vendors, including three chassis manufacturers, had submitted quotes.
“I am very pleased by the vendor turnout, interest in our project and their support,” Horvath said then. “Elkhart County has the best suppliers for our industry and their interest and willingness to work with Yutong Bus is terrific.”
Horvath’s business plan called for mostly U.S.-made components for the En Route, which was to be assembled in China and then shipped back to the U.S., entering this country at Portland, Ore. The U.S. distribution site was to be near Eugene, Ore.
Nailing down a chassis supplier was a major concern at that point. In his original presentation, Horvath said the fiberglass-and-aluminum En Route would be available in 28- to 30-foot lengths on a 22,000-pound GVWR chassis equipped with 250/280 hp Cummins or Navistar rear diesel engines.
While he received three chassis bids, only two were “close to the platform definition” he was looking for.
“We continue to work with the chassis manufacturers and are very close to having final specifications completed,” he noted in September. “I need this information in order to move forward. The chassis specifications are not yet confirmed and our chassis wish list may be slightly different based upon available designs and engines.”
Horvath hoped to have the chassis contract signed, with delivery to Yutong’s factory in Zhengzhou by October and, best case scenario, production beginning in November.
Horvath even offered some price ranges for the En Route.
“Our targeted dealer cost for a fully loaded coach — including equipment and features not usually found on this size and price point — delivered to the West Coast is under $140,000,” Horvath stated. “My estimated bill of material will need to be confirmed after prototyping, and final pricing will be set at that time. It is critical that retail pricing be held to under $200,000 for a fully loaded version.”
In his latest e-mail, Horvath concluded, “I personally want to thank all suppliers who have supported our effort and let them know we will still be in need of certain materials and equipment and that I will be contacting them between now and the time I see them at the Louisville Show. My position will remain the same as I shift my focus from U.S.A. designs to motorhomes we believe will better fit the new Chinese market. I look forward to introducing the RV lifestyle to the Chinese.”
William (Bill) E. Horvath
Project Manager of Motorhome Division
Yutong Bus Company Ltd.
Specialty Purpose Vehicle Group
Fenghuang Road #7
Domestic U.S. RV industry suppliers apparently have worked through any concerns they may have had over working with a new Chinese motorhome manufacturer, according to Bill Horvath, project manager for the motorhome division of Yutong Bus Co. Ltd., which plans to enter the U.S. market by next spring with the En Route Class A motorhome.
More than 50 vendors, including three chassis manufacturers, have submitted quotes, reports Horvath, who hosted a breakfast meeting in Elkhart, Ind., six weeks ago to help kick off the venture.
“I am very pleased by the vendor turnout, interest in our project and their support,” Horvath tells RVBUSINESS.com. “Elkhart County has the best suppliers for our industry and their interest and willingness to work with Yutong Bus is terrific.”
Horvath’s business plan calls for mostly U.S.-made components for the En Route, which will be assembled in China and then shipped back to the U.S., entering this country at Portland, Ore. The U.S. distribution site will be near Eugene, Ore.
Nailing down a chassis supplier is a major concern at this point. In his original presentation, Horvath said the fiberglass-and-aluminum En Route would be available in 28- to 30-foot lengths on a 22,000-pound GVWR chassis equipped with 250/280 hp Cummins or Navistar rear diesel engines.
While he received three chassis bids, only two are “close to the platform definition” he was looking for.
“We continue to work with the chassis manufacturers and are very close to having final specifications completed,” he noted. “I need this information in order to move forward. The chassis specifications are not yet confirmed and our chassis wish list may be slightly different based upon available designs and engines.”
Horvath hopes to have the chassis contract signed, with delivery to Yutong’s factory in Zhengzhou by October and, best case scenario, production beginning in November.
Horvath, meanwhile, is now able to provide some price targets for the En Route.
“Our targeted dealer cost for a fully loaded coach — including equipment and features not usually found on this size and price point — delivered to the West Coast is under $140,000,” Horvath informed RVBUSINESS.com in an e-mail. “My estimated bill of material will need to be confirmed after prototyping, and final pricing will be set at that time. It is critical that retail pricing be held to under $200,000 for a fully loaded version.
“At this point our specifications, equipment and features, and standards and option list have remained intact, except for possible chassis details,” he continued. “Until final chassis information is completed later this month, I will safely say we are 80% there with our wish list.”
Horvath is attending the Caravan Salon RV show, which runs through Sept. 5 in Dusseldorf, Germany.
“The Europeans are the best at creating and using every square inch (or centimeter if you will) of space,” wrote Horvath. “Their motorhomes are considerably smaller, but they have everything one needs to travel and camp in comfort. I believe their style of product is in the future for the U.S.A.”
Horvath, by the same token, said he envisions the “En Route” as a less boxy line with simplified feature selections and exterior paint jobs and fewer slideouts. Interiors will be soft on the eye and feature plenty of radius touches.
One part of a 4.5 million-square-foot complex Yutong Bus is to begin building this fall will dedicated to En Route manufacturing.
“We will move into our new facilities sometime in 2012,” added Horvath. “Initial production will start in what we refer to as the ‘old complex’ where specialty products are currently being built.”
Veteran U.S. RV manufacturing executive Bill Horvath presented his case today (Aug. 3) for why recreational vehicle industry suppliers should begin providing components to a Chinese RV builder he represents that’s planning to introduce a new line of motorhomes into the American marketplace.
Speaking to a crowd of nearly 70 in Elkhart, Ind., Horvath, a 38-year industry veteran, outlined the goals of the Yutong Bus Co. Ltd., a major Chinese bus maker that proposes to start building “En Route” Class A motorhomes this fall and begin marketing a 2012 model in the States next spring.
A cross section of vendors from LaSalle-Bristol to Atwood Mobile Products, Flexsteel and Spartan Chassis Inc. attended the 2-hour presentation and listened politely, but somewhat skeptically in some cases, as Horvath explained how his company plans to compete in the U.S. against proven existing competition.
Horvath said more than once that introducing a new lineup of competitively priced motorized RVs will be “a learning experience” for Yutong Bus Co. and that many details have yet to be ironed out.
Shipping costs, delivery times and quality assurance were the major concerns expressed by the vendors during and after today’s meeting.
As reported in an RVBUSINESS.com story last week, Horvath is lining up U.S. vendors to provide many of the components, which will be packaged in Elkhart and shipped to Zhengzhou, China, where they will be installed in Yutong’s massive 12 million-square-foot factory.
The finished units will be shipped back to the U.S., entering the country in Portland, Ore., where Horvath is setting up a facility as a service center for final inspection and dealer prep.
He hopes to have 30 to 40 motorhomes on the premises at all times to ship to dealers and will look to set up a Midwest service center at a later date if the business plan is successful.
The fiberglass-and-aluminum motorhome will be available in 28- to 30-foot lengths on 22,000-pound GVWR chassis equipped with 250/280 hp Cummins or Navistar rear diesel engines.
Horvath has already received quotes from chassis builders Spartan Chassis Inc. and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., and Detroit Chassis LLC CEO Michael Guthrie told RVBUSINESS.com that he hopes to be in the running as well.
Horvath wants to lock in on vendors’ quotes by the end of August and to start receiving components in October and begin final assembly in November.
Yutong Bus Co., the world’s second largest bus manufacturer, began to explore the feasibility of building a Class A motorhome (China’s first) and competing in the U.S. market three years ago, said Horvath, who’s previously worked with the Mallard, Damon and Columbia Northwest/Aliner brands in the States.
A Class A, rather than a towable RV, was preferable because the publicly held company had proven technology to build motorized vehicles. “It was most natural for us,” he said, adding that the En Route will be a smaller, more European-styled coach built on a U.S.-made chassis comprised primarily of U.S.-made components.
Compared to U.S. products, Haworth envisions the “En Route” as a less boxy line with simplified feature selections and exterior paint jobs and fewer slideouts. Interiors will be soft on the eye and feature plenty of radius touches.
He said Americans in the future will be opting for smaller Class A motorhomes and the En Route will be the size they’re seeking. “We will have to do everything the U.S. manufacturers do and go well beyond that,” he said, from quality manufacturing to after-sale follow-up.
The initial plan is to build the En Route in China, where labor rates for production workers average $300 a month.
Horvath, who is projecting sales of between 150 and 200 units in 2011 and 400 to 500 in 2012 won’t rule out the possibility of building the En Route in the U.S. some day. On the other hand, he said, there is a ”certain Chinese pride; they would rather do it their way.”
Horvath said he “thought there would be a lot more questions” from today’s meeting and doesn’t know how vigorous the vendors will be in submitting quotes. He said the initial relatively low production estimates may discourage some vendors from quoting, and he declined to mention a price range for the new coach because there are still too many unknowns.
After spending the week in Indiana, Horvath next heads to the Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf, Germany, then back to China by Sept. 5.
Meanwhile, Horvath is beginning to assemble a U.S. staff and has contracted with consultant Jim Kreider to assist in the planning. Horvath can be reached domestically at (574) 210-4886.