Oklahoma-based Newell Coach Corp. is ”freshening” the look of it’s 2011 ultra high-end custom-made motorcoach for the first time since the 2006 model year with upgrades to the Newell’s front caps, rear-body trim, taillights and interior decor.
”It’s a refinement, an update,” said President Karl Blade. ”We wanted to bring a fresh product to the marketplace for those people who follow big coaches. The changes are distinctive, but not radical.”
The 2011 modifications include bright-white ”string-of-pearl” LED running lights that outline the outer edges of the headlights and redesigned side moldings. Interiors feature wood windowsill trim bordered with seamed-leather, carbon-fiber instrument panels and automated air conditioning and heating.
The first 2011 Newell came off the production line in mid-January and debuts Feb. 12-13 during the grand opening of Signature Resorts’ new Naples (Fla.) Motorcoach Resort.
A legendary brand in the motorhome business, Newell was founded in 1967 by L.K. Newell who purchased the motorhome division of California-based Streamline Trailer Co. and moved it to Oklahoma. Blade purchased the company in 1979.
”Mr. Newell’s innovation at the time was radical,” Blade said. ”We take it for granted now, but he built the first rear-engine motorhome in 1969 and the first diesel-powered motorhome in 1970. He also designed the first basement storage. It took years for the rest of the industry to adopt those things.”
Newell currently employs 150 people at a 150,00-square-foot factory that includes 40,000 square feet of service area manned by 20 technicians.
Newell motorcoaches usually retail upward of $1.4 million factory-direct sales from the company’s headquarters in Miami, Okla.
Along with the rest of the American economy, the e niche Newell occupies appears to be exiting the economic maelstrom that has enveloped the RV industry for the last two years.
”The market definitely is coming back,” Blade said. Interestingly, from what we’ve seen, the biggest change in recent months has been our late-model pre-owned (coach buyers) filling the void left by others (manufacturers) that have exited.”
Among the casualties of the recession were Coachworks Holdings Inc., converter of the high-end Blue Bird motorcoach, and Country Coach Holdings Inc., Junction City, Ore.
”There have been big changes in the conversion industry,” Blade said.
Newell entered the recession with little inventory, and all of its 2009 and 2010 coaches have been sold. ”That is allowing us to put fresh 2011 product out there that no other (consumer) has,” Blade said.
Typically, Newell will take a two- or three-year-old Newell in trade and refurbish it for resale. ”It’s very similar to the way we sell a new coach,” Blade said. ”It’s not custom, but we’ll make modifications, depending on financial factors. ”We might add closets or entertainment centers or pull a desk out and change it to a sofa. It’s limited by the fact that if you get very deep into it, it gets expensive.”
While Newell builds motorcoches in 38- to 45-foot lengths on its own custom-built 63,300-pound GVWR diesel-pusher chassis powered by a 650-hp Cummins ISX engine, most customers order 45-footers. All coaches are custom-designed and can take up to nine months to build.
”Ninety percent of our product is 45-footers,” he said. ”The price savings aren’t significant if you build a smaller coach. And people won’t buy small stuff unless they can save a lot of money.”
Selling expensive motorcoachs requires a personal approach to marketing and that’s among the reasons Blade is spending the winter at Motorcoach Country Club in Indio, Calif.
”I spend three months every winter in Indio to show the product and cultivate relationships with our existing customer base,” Blade said.
With dealer inventories of other high-end motorhomes limited by the current economic situation, Newell is seeing new customers who might not have considered buying a coach factory-direct.
”Too often, prospects would go to their nearest local dealer and look at a new high-end Class A and that’s what they’d buy,” Blade said. ”We never saw them. Today you don’t see many new or used high-end Class A’s on dealers’ lots in California. It’s expanding the market dramatically for us. We are almost out of pre-owned.”