Chris and Brenda Hanson know the value of perseverance.
The Hansons, owners of the Albany, Ore.-based recreational vehicle manufacturer Chalet RV Inc., thought they were positioned for success a couple of years ago. With a popular line of small travel trailers and folding popup trailers, their business seemed to be taking off, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.
Then came the recession.
“In 2008, the whole economy changed,” said Chris Hanson, the company president. They went from making 550 units per year down to 200. They cut their work force by nearly half. They had to buy back inventory from RV dealers who went out of business. They watched as sales went downhill.
Now, two years later, things are looking up. A new line of truck campers has proved very popular, and the company is working at full capacity to meet demand.
“We were weakened by” the economic slowdown, Chris Hanson said. “We’re still just barely surviving. But the future is bright. Next year should be unbelievable in terms of orders.”
When the Hansons first purchased Chalet RV and moved the company from California to Oregon, they focused mainly on the smaller side of the RV market – literally. Their trailers, both the folding and conventional variety, are among the smallest, lightest-weight ones on the market. They start in price at around $9,000 – very low for an industry where a luxury RV could cost hundreds of thousands.
“There are people who are looking for that small, energy-efficient travel trailer,” Hanson said.
The small trailers are a niche market of the RV industry, and the Chalet name was just one tiny piece of the RV industry. It was a challenge just getting customers and dealers to know that Chalet was out there.
“What really helped was when one of our sales reps went out on the road with one of our models,” said Brenda Hanson, the company’s general manager. “It was a three-week venture, just getting it out there for dealers to see. It was really helpful in getting people to know that we existed.”
Just when things were going well for Chalet, the recession hit. RV manufacturers across the country suffered.
Chalet stayed afloat by broadening its offerings so that it wasn’t relying on sales of the smallest trailers. Since December 2009, it’s been producing large truck campers, designed to be mounted on the back of a pickup. Their truck campers are among the largest, most luxurious on the market, with double slide-out walls and special touches like a wine rack and an island in the kitchen.
The truck campers cost in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 and are designed to appeal to a whole different customer than the ultra-light, economical travel trailers. These customers tend to have enough wealth that the recession didn’t slow down their purchasing, Chris Hanson said.
“Now dealers have sold more of these than we’ve ever made,” he said. “Our challenge now is not orders. Now our problem is growth.”
The Hansons need to hire more workers to keep up with demand. They could use another building to store all the materials they need to manufacture their products. Getting the capital they need to hire and expand, all the while maintaining profitability, is a challenge, Hanson said.
It’s a challenge Chalet RV is glad to have, though.
Looking at the variety of RVs parked outside Chalet’s manufacturing facility in south Albany, Hanson can see the full range of the company’s products, from the smallest to the largest.
“With what we offer now, we can almost be a full-service supplier for a dealer,” he said. “We’ve got something for everybody.”
A-frame folding camping trailer manufacturer Chalet RV Inc., Albany, Ore., has been aggressively expanding its product offerings. That was made apparent at last week’s 47th Annual National RV Trade show, where the company unveiled a triple-slide truck camper and a small fifth-wheel. Chalet president Chris Hanson calls the company’s new truck camper a “modular Class C.” ”All you have to buy is the power unit (pickup truck),” Hanson said. The 11 1/2-foot camper, with a base retail of $37,799, is equipped with opposing slideouts and a third that comes off the back of the unit, creating a true Class C feel. At the show, Chalet also introduced the 21 1/2-foot Takena5 fifth-wheel with a single galley slideout for a base retail price of $14,900. A 19-foot fifth-wheel is in development.
West Coast manufacturer Chalet RV Inc. is adding two new products to its Takena towable line, as well as two new truck campers. The Takena Curv (shown at left) is a small ultra lightweight weighing in at 1,600 pounds. Properly equipped four-cylinder vehicles can tow the Curv. Another Chalet introduction is the Takena5 (shown at right). Targeted for the small, lightweight pickup market, the Takena5 is a 21-foot fully laminated, lightweight, (3,495 pounds) fifth-wheel. The Takena5 has a dry bath and a large galley slide. This may be the only fifth-wheel at next week’s 47th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., that could easily be pulled by small trucks, like a Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota or Toyota Tacoma, the company contends. Also debuting at this year’s show is the Chalet TS116 triple slide-out truck camper. This innovative feature-rich plush camper has the feeling of a Class C motorhome. Chalet plans a complete line of lightweight top-of-the-line truck campers. Chalet RV is also making its debut into the high-end truck camper market with the Chalet TS116 triple slide-out truck camper.
Editor’s Note: This is a review written by Jeff Johnston. His Motor Matter column runs in the Washington Times and other newspapers. He also is a contributor to RVBusiness.
More fuel-efficient is definitely “in” these days when it comes to RV products. Manufacturers are coming up with interesting, new, smaller motorized and towable options for those looking for something a bit different to fit today’s economic sensibilities.
Motorhomes based on the Dodge Sprinter van, both the full van and cutaway chassis, are popular and commonplace today. Winnebago Industries Inc. has gone one step further with the introduction of its all-new 2010 Via Class A motorhome.
The Via and its Itasca equivalent, the Reyo, are based on the Sprinter “cowl” chassis that’s currently being imported exclusively by Winnebago. This chassis allows the company to design its entire coach from the ground up, as is typical for any Class A motorhome, instead of working with the Sprinter cab or body features used on the earlier models.
At 25 feet long, the Via is a compact vehicle, yet it offers full-featured livability and comfort. At the same time, its 154-hp Mercedes-Benz 3.0-L turbo-diesel 6-cylinder engine delivers fuel economy numbers considerably higher than the average gas-powered Class A and better than various front- or rear-engine diesel-powered rigs on the market.
Sprinter-van-based Class B motorhomes are reported to achieve as much as 20-plus mpg. Winnebago hasn’t released any fuel economy figures yet, but it’s reasonable to presume that the Via will achieve lower numbers than the smaller van-based rigs, but still better than a V-8-powered coach.
Contemporary body styling and graphics give the coach visual appeal, and the interior abounds with smooth, rounded surfaces and next-generation-looking cabinets. It’s a rig that likely would please the most persnickety type who doesn’t want just another box on wheels.
The Via starts at $135,132 base MSRP. That’s not cheap, but long-term fuel savings make it a viable investment option.
True North Freelance OSV
The interest in downsized trailers means more RV manufacturers are treading the fine line between an RV and a simple enclosed place to sleep on wheels. Northwood Manufacturing Inc., a company long known for building functional and high-quality RVs designed by outdoors enthusiasts, has developed a new small trailer that fits a variety of recreation product niches.
The new Freelance Outdoor Support Vehicle (OSV) by Northwood’s True North division is an exciting addition to the smaller-RV market. It resembles one of the classic teardrop-style trailers on steroids and offers a wide variety of equipment and function options.
In essence, it’s a 1,535-pound trailer with a sofa that folds down to a bed, a rear lift hatch that covers a kitchenette unit and several exterior-access storage compartments. Its rounded front and sloped aft end help with aerodynamics, and the unit’s 16-foot, 4-inch length means it can be stored in many garages.
As with a teardrop, users need to bend over inside as the entire rig is just 6 feet 9 inches tall overall from ground to roofline. Inside, it’s just the sofa/bed that folds down to 48 x 77 inches, some mesh storage pockets, and extra open storage space. A lower-level access hatch provides pass-through long-item storage capability.
And that’s still a lot more luxurious than the average tent. The Freelance OSV is aimed at those who want to make the leap from a tent into an RV without a lot of complications or cost. This rig retails for about $8,250 base MSRP, and heads up to closer to $13,100 fully equipped.
Users can opt for the base package or equip the Freelance OSV with a wide variety of options including a complete array of Thule rack-mount storage and sporting-toy-mount or camping accessories.
The Freelance OSV is an interesting and versatile new option for first-time RVers or those wishing to expand the flexibility of their leisure time activities.
Chalet RV: Moving and Shaking
The product designers at Chalet RV Inc. have been busy with a new model aimed at the lightweight towable market. A company spokesman said the product would be ready for introduction very soon, pending some final detail touches on the first model.
While it’s no big news to build a lightweight RV these days, the big difference lies in how your lightweight compares to the other guy’s product.
The new Chalet model is said to break new ground in that regard and will offer full livability features, including a dry bath, in a very compact size. It’s not a fold-down, like another popular Chalet product line, and it’s not a teardrop, although it blends elements of each.
It also uses wide-body design to help achieve extra interior space.