Fleetwood RV Inc., Decatur, Ind., has gone back to basics with the introduction of the gas-powered Bounder Classic in three 30- to 34-foot dual-slideout floorplans with MSRPs of about $100,000. ”What we found is our Bounder product for the stable, value-oriented buyer had just migrated too high in price,” Fleetwood President John Draheim told RVBusiness last week during the Family Motor Coach Association’s 82nd Annual International Convention in Bowling Green, Ohio., where the coach was introduced. ”So, we did a little analysis of the marketplace and felt we needed to get our most powerful gas brand name back into the heart of the market.” When initially introduced two decades ago, the innovative Bounder was a pet project of Fleetwood founder John Crean Sr. and became Fleetwood’s flagship motorhome at a time when Fleetwood virtually owned the gas motorhome market. “Bounder Classic is a great example of our founder’s original vision,” Draheim said of the Bounder, known for having introduced basement storage. Built on a 22,000-pound GVWR Ford F-53 SuperDuty chassis powered by a 362-hp Triton V10 engine, the 2010 Bounder Classic features high-gloss fiberglass sidewalls, reflective vinyl graphics, molded fiberglass rear caps, innovative storage that includes adjustable cabinet shelves, raised-panel cabinets, dual-pane windows and pass-through exterior storage with side-swinging insulated luggage doors.
When the final tally was in, a total of 2,426 family coaches registered for the Family Motor Coach Association’s 82nd (FMCA) Annual International Convention in Bowling Green, Ohio, where Fleetwood RV Inc. and Monaco RV LLC made their respective debuts after their predecessor companies succumbed to bankruptcy earlier this year.
”Fleetwood and Monaco both were there, but in reduced number,” said Jerry Yeatts, FMCA director of conventions and commercial services. ”We were happy to see them.”
And although FMCA was generally pleased with the venue at Bowling Green State University and Wood County Fairgrounds about 25 miles south of Toledo, this will be the Cincinnati, Ohio-based organization’s last convention in its home state unless laws are changed to allow retail sales at such events.
”We worked for two years to get the state of Ohio to change their laws regarding sales at events like ours,” Yeatts said. ”The unfortunate situation is that we were working with commitments and promises from legislators that never developed. If the laws change, we would consider going back to Bowling Green, but they are going to have to change first.”
Not only do RVers attending the event look forward to seeing the latest motorhomes, offering them for sale is an integral park of the event, Yeatts noted.
”Sales are extremely important for our commercial members, and it’s also vital to our families to be able to select new motorhomes at the conventions,” he said.
While 18 motorhome manufacturers and five Ohio dealers displayed coaches during the event, the inability to close sales apparently was partly responsible for fewer display coaches at the convention — 153 versus 491 at FMCA’s 2008 summer convention in St. Paul, Minn.
In a large display up front, Fleetwood unveiled its new Bounder Classic, a back-to-basics, gas-powered motorhome designed for value pricing and optimal functionality, according to Fleetwood President John Draheim.
More than 300 vendors selling products and services occupied 75,000 square feet of space in the Charles Perry Field House on the university campus.
Yeatts emphasized that even in the midst of a severe recession gatherings such as the FMCA convention in Bowling Green are important.
”We know there still is a traveling public and once you get involved in this lifestyle, it’s addictive,” Yeatts said. ”There’s still a need for an association like FMCA to promote the lifestyle and the comraderie that goes along with it.”
The new Fleetwood RV Inc. expects to build 2,500 Class A and C motorhomes within the next year, resulting in about $275 million in sales while “returning the company to its roots” with an emphasis on value-priced motorhomes, according to John Draheim, president of the new company owned by American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV (AIP), a New York City-based investment firm which bought some of the assets of bankrupt Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
”A lot depends on the market,” Draheim said during a break Tuesday at Fleetwood’s exhibit during the Family Motor Coach Association’s 82nd International Convention in Bowling Green, Ohio. ”If we are able to build more diesel (units) than gas, it would be higher on the dollar side.”
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Riverside, Calif., filed for bankruptcy in March just days after announcing that it would no longer compete in the towable marketplace.
The new motorized RV builder’s headquarters will be in Decatur, Ind., where it purchased two of Fleetwood Enterprises’ manufacturing factories, two RV service plants and Fleetwood’s Gold Shield fiberglass facility along with some equipment in Riverside.
Three production lines are expected to be up and running by Labor Day, according to Draheim.
Fleetwood RV intends to hire about 650 employees to work in Decatur and will engage a temporary work force in Riverside to continue to build motorhomes while the Decatur plant starts up. ”We will be able to utilize the California operation on a temporary basis to produce product for a four- or five-month period,” Draheim said.
While continuing to build higher-priced diesel products, the company’s first new motorhome — unveiled at Bowling Green — is a gas-powered Bounder Classic targeted at value-priced buyers. The new Bounder, a brand that was once Fleetwood’s popular flagship — is intended to begin a return to the days when Fleetwood founder John Crean Sr. placed a premium on practicality, functionality and price sensitivity.
“It will have a lot more drawers, cabinets, cubby holes and shelves behind the sofa where you can put your bedding during the day,” Draheim said.
The Bounder Classic — initially available in three 30- to 34-foot floorplans on Ford chassis — will retail for between $100,000 and $105,000 Draheim reported. “Bounder had migrated to too high in price,” he said. “We felt we needed to get our Bounder to be the most powerful gas brand name and back in the heart of the market.”
Additionally, it’s likely that some Fleetwood brands will be dropped by the new company. “We are right-sizing the company to be break-even at our current revenues,” Draheim said. “Looking at the current industry volume, we have too many brands for that size of market.”
At one time, Fleetwood Enterprises employed more than 1,000 people in Decatur, but eliminated 550 jobs last December. On Friday (July 17), Fleetwood Enterprises’ 700 remaining employees nationwide were terminated and Fleetwood RV began taking employment applications from former Fleetwood Enterprises employees and others. Those rehired in Decatur will have to take a 10% across-the-board pay cut and their benefits will be adjusted, Draheim said.
He said the company was “overwhelmed” when 1,500 people applied for the jobs late last week when word spread around Adams County, just south of Fort Wayne, that Fleetwood was hiring.
In addition to paying $32.2 million for Fleetwood Enterprises’ assets, Fleetwood RV also assumed an estimated $20 million in warranty responsibilities for Fleetwood Enterprises’ motorized products.
”In the acquisition the new company will honor warranties for those customers who had a unit in their possession that still has adequate warranty period left as well as the unsold units on dealers’ lots,” Draheim said.
Fleetwood RV’s dealer base will consist of former Fleetwood Enterprises’ dealers as well as others.
”We are going to be looking for well-capitalized dealers who are the best option in each market,” Draheim said. ”We feel like the old organization had a very strong distribution channel. That was one of its best assets, albeit the channel has been under pressure for the last 18 months based on volume.”
Draheim said Fleetwood RV already has signed a floorplan agreement with one of the nation’s largest wholesale financing lenders and is in negotiations with another.
“We are very optimistic that we will have repurchase agreements with both of them very shortly and I think we will have adequate availability of wholesale funds,” Draheim said. “I don’t see that as an issue.”