Fleetwood RV Inc., Decatur, Ind., will host a job fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday (March 11) at the WorkOne Center in Decatur in Adams County, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported.
A spokeswoman for the recreational vehicle manufacturer said it is looking for an undetermined number of mostly production workers for the company, which hired 300 in the past year.
In 2009, American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP of New York acquired the Decatur operation from its bankrupt predecessor, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., for $53 million.
American Coach, the luxury Class A diesel motorhome division of Fleetwood RV Inc., in calendar year 2010 saw a 17% increase in registrations in a diesel market that was down 9%. The growth in sales in a down market allowed the division to increase its market share 30% with a reduced product offering and smaller dealer network, according to a news release.
The division’s growth in market share was led by American Revolution, which was recently added to the American Coach offering, increasing its volume in 2010 by 48% year-over-year. In addition, American Heritage, the flagship brand of American Coach, increased its volume over 70% during the same timeframe. The success of American Heritage is a direct result of its full-wall-slide floorplan that creates an industry-leading 460 square feet of living space.
“The increase in Revolution sales came as a result of adding it to the American Coach family,” said Justin Humphreys, vice president of American Coach. “Our dealers and customers have embraced this change and we are excited about what the future will bring for this storied brand.
“For 20 years, American Coach has been passionate about providing personalized service to all of our dealers and customers, and to building motor homes that exceed their expectations,” added Humphreys. “Our market share growth in 2010 is a testament to our customers and dealers having confidence in what we are doing. We would like to thank them for their support, as well as congratulate our dealer network on a successful 2010.”
For more information about American Coach, call (800) 854-1344, visit www.americancoach.com or become a fan on Facebook.
American Coach, a division of Fleetwood RV Inc., today (Feb. 14) announced the promotion of Justin Humphreys to vice president. Humphreys will continue to report directly to CEO John Draheim, according to a news release.
Humphreys began his career in the RV industry in 1998. Humphreys was national sales manager for American Coach prior to his promotion, where he helped increase the division’s market share 20%. Humphreys is also committed to the company’s “lean” culture, earning his Bronze certification earlier this year.
“The decision to name Justin vice president of American Coach has been long overdue,” said Draheim. “He has led this division, not just in its sales goals, but in every aspect of its growth, for several years. He is well-respected by our dealers and customers, and has a clear plan for the continued success of the division. These are just a few of the many reasons why I am confident that we will continue to see great things from Justin and his team for many years to come.”
“Our vision for American Coach is to continue to lead the industry in developing innovative luxury coaches backed with personalized customer service and to take both to the next level,” said Humphreys. “The American Coach division was founded 20 years ago with the customer in mind, and we want to continue to be good stewards of that customer-centric philosophy. This includes continuing our support of our clubs and supporting our owners at rallies with the best service in the motor home industry.
“We also know that in order to access our retail customers we need to take care of our dealer partners,” continued Humphreys. “This is why our mission statement is ‘the passionate pursuit of superior dealer performance.’ Our passion is to help our dealers achieve success through unparalleled sales and service support that ultimately keeps the customer our number one priority.”
For more information about American Coach and its line of motorhomes, call (800) 322-8216 or visit www.americancoach.com.
Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Frank Smith and appears in the January issue of Better RVing. It was distributed by lazydays.com.
Factory tours are a daily ritual at the Fleetwood’s RV/American Coach plant in Decatur, Ind. They begin in a modest waiting room when the baritone rasp of an unseen voice shakes the walls with a mighty, “Good morning, campers!” The voice’s owner pokes his head through a doorway that can hardly fit his enthusiasm. This is Tom Liechty, tour guide, sales representative and treasured attraction at Fleetwood RV and American Coach.
Liechty introduces himself and sets the tone for the day with a story of how he came to find his calling at Fleetwood more than two decades ago. To retell his tale here would be to rob those who will someday make the trip to Decatur of a splendid oratory experience, so instead I’ll hold onto the memory and let one of the great storytellers of the RV industry tell it to you when you visit. It’s worth it.
Act II of the tour — Liechty’s introductory court being Act I — finds us on the production line. The size and scope of the facility takes over. But like an RVer who knows the path through unchartered territory, Liechty leads the way with a smile that makes you feel like you’ve known him for years. He doesn’t know all of the 700 workers in Decatur, but he knows most of them to the point of being able to carry on running jokes that shift with and conform to each new station we visit.
“Lot of these folks have been here a long time,” says Liechty, to which I ask, “How long is a long time?” He’s quick to answer with “some have been here five years,” while catching friendly glances and nods from his family of workers as we move down the production line. “A lot have been here 15, 20 years, even 30.” A look overcomes Liechty as he trails off: part grateful, part nostalgic, all pride. I would later learn that more than 600 of Fleetwood’s workers have been with the company for more than 20 years.
Industrialization and heavy-duty manufacturing take on a new persona when you can see the eyes of the men and women who commit themselves to creating the vessels their customers will choose to achieve their RVing dream. There’s a sense of purpose on display as though each worker is marching to the same rhythm. There isn’t the slightest hint of apprehension as the workers move with the kind of efficient grace Henry Ford dreamed about. Even to my novice eye, it all makes sense. Yet it wasn’t until I learned that the former parent company, Fleetwood Enterprises, was forced to lay off more than 40 percent of the Decatur facility’s labor force at the height of the recession that I understood the meaning of the look in Liechty’s eye.
During the economic downturn, which saw public demand for RVs sink to all-time lows, Fleetwood Enterprises filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2009. In July of that same year, American Industrial Partners (AIP), a private equity firm in New York, purchased the motorhome assets, including the Decatur manufacturing and service facilities, and formed Fleetwood RV Inc. Led by CEO, John Draheim, Fleetwood RV adopted a lean culture, which resulted in a process of continuous improvement aimed to eliminate waste and increase efficient productivity while resulting in a product of superior quality and desirability. The workers on the production line embraced the new practice, implementing almost 1,000 minor changes since May. But they also understood it would take more than efficiency to survive the largest economic recession since the Great Depression.
We realized that we’re not invincible,” says salesperson for American Coach Janeen Gerke. “We realized that everybody has to work harder so that we are that number one manufacturer that customers want to come back to.” Loyalty to their customers is a tenet upon which Fleetwood has stood since its brand was founded in 1950. Almost 60 years later, the fundamental desire to exceed customers’ expectations served as a rallying cry among workers during the company’s most desperate hour. Yet as times worsened and the light at the end of the recession’s tunnel dimmed, Fleetwood looked deeper within itself and found the inspiration that would carry it through the worst of times.
“We stayed together through everything that’s gone on over the last two years just by leaning on each other,” explains National Sales Manager Lenny Razo. “We treat this company as a family. Sometimes you may not get along. Sometimes you have to work hand in hand.” The family at Fleetwood worked hand in hand. They survived tough times and not only saved the company, but revived a small American town.
“Fleetwood and Decatur, Ind., have been connected for quite some time,” explains Razo, “and I think what really makes this town special is the workforce. These people wake up early every morning and have dedicated their lives to this company. Decatur has been energized by what Fleetwood does. Our people are passionate and that’s what has drawn the company to lay its roots and foundation here in Decatur.”
Back on the production line, I notice the look in Liechty’s eye as he waves to a small crew putting the finishing touches on a 2011 American Revolution. This time I understand what he’s feeling. The worst was over and better roads lay ahead for Fleetwood RV. His company, his family and his home have come a long way.
Fleetwood RV Inc. today (Jan. 25) announced that event registration for its “Circle Your Wagons in Shawnee” national rally is now available online at www.fleetwoodrv.com/mhevent. The company’s third annual owner event will be held at the Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center in Shawnee, Okla. from June 25-29.
All Fleetwood motorhome owners, regardless of brand, are welcome to attend the event, which will include the latest lineup of motorhomes, access to factory service support, informative seminars by key industry suppliers, kids activities and a variety of family-friendly entertainment, according to a news release. In addition, Fleetwood motorhome owners are welcome to invite friends with non-Fleetwood motorhomes to attend the event.
“Everyone at Fleetwood RV always looks forward to the opportunity to spend time with our owner community,” said John Draheim, CEO of Fleetwood RV Inc. “Our owners and their love for the RV lifestyle are the main drivers of our corporate culture. The national rally is just one way to thank them for their ongoing loyalty and support and serves as a chance for us to gather their valuable feedback about our latest product features and innovations.”
Registration fees listed below include four nights of camping, four breakfasts, two dinners and two evenings of entertainment:
- 1 RV – 1 person = $199 (Full Hook-Up).
- 1 RV – 2 people = $248 (Full Hook-Up).
- Kids 12 – 17 – $29.
- Kids 11 & younger – free.
- Additional people 18 and over – $49 each.
The “Circle Your Wagons in Shawnee” national rally is supported by the Fleetwood MotorHome Association. For more information about this owner-operated organization visit: www.fma4fun.com.
McClain’s RV SuperStores is the authorized Fleetwood RV dealer for this event. For more information about McClain’s RV, visit: www.mcclainsrv.com.
For more information about the “Circle Your Wagons in Shawnee” national rally, including how to register, please visit: www.fleetwoodrv.com/mhevent or find us on Facebook.
Fleetwood RV Inc. said its latest models and products, including its 2011 Class A diesel models and the brand new 2011 Tioga DSL Class C diesel models, were well-received by consumers attending the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, Fla. The show, which ran from Jan. 12-16, had over 50,000 people cross the gates.
“A key component of our product development process is dealer and customer feedback, which helps us ensure that the products that we bring to market include the features they want,” Lenny Razo, national sales manager for Fleetwood RV’s Class A diesel product line, stated in a news release. “We are very pleased with the consumer reaction to our 2011 diesel models in Tampa and the tone it sets for the rest of the retail show season.”
Some of Fleetwood’s brand new 2011 models included the Class A diesel 36-foot Discovery and the Tioga DSL Class C diesel motorhome.
“Response to the Tioga DSL as well as the value-priced Tioga Ranger DSL, at the Tampa SuperShow was overwhelmingly positive,” said Mark Inkrote, national sales manager for Fleetwood RV’s Class C diesel product line. “These products went from concept to retail delivery in just four months. They really are a great example of how our organization can meet consumer demand quickly and accurately.”
For more information about Fleetwood RV and its full-line of Class A and Class C recreational vehicles, call (800) 322-8216 or visit www.fleetwoodrv.com.
The Florida RV SuperShow set a new attendance mark with 53,117 people passing the gates of the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa when the show concluded Sunday (Jan. 16) — an increase of 4.7% over 2010.
”There was good attendance and good sales,” said Lance Wilson, executive director of the sponsoring Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA). ”We’ve had good attendance all along (at other SuperShows) but sales at some of the others have lagged a little bit.
”Everybody that I talked to was well into double-digits on sales and some dealers were into triple digits as far as sales are concerned.”
The show missed by fewer than 18 hours severe weather that swept across the Sunshine State spawning rain, high winds and tornado warnings, which hampered workers Monday (Jan. 17) as they were disassembling show displays.
”Thank heavens, it didn’t happen yesterday,” said Andy Baer, general manager of KZRV LP, Shipshewana, Ind., who reported strong sales during the five-day show.
Billed as among the largest RV shows in the U.S. with more than 450 vendors and 1,065 display coaches registered this year, the Florida RV SuperShow often sets the stage for the late-winter retail season.
”I’ve been coming to the SuperShow since 1994, and I’d have to say this was one of the best I’ve been too,” Baer said. ”And I’m not talking just about sales. It’s so nice to talk to people who are so very positive. It’s like someone flipped a switch. Everybody was very upbeat.”
”There was a lot of buying going on,” said Andy Cripe, a division manager for Keystone RV Co., Elkhart, Ind. ”I’m not going to say it was record-breaking, but it was sustainable. We saw real prudent buyers and even with the more stringent financing terms, a lot of people put cash down and bought.”
”Hopefully, this is a sign of what is going to happen in 2011,” said Matt Thompson, Elkhart-based Thor Motor Coach diesel division vice president, who reported that the company’s new A.C.E Class A motorhome sold particularly well. ”If it is (a sign), it should be a very good year for the RV industry. Thor Motor Coach did very well at the show as a company.”
Ed Kinney, Carriage Inc., Millersburg, Ind., vice president of sales and marketing, termed attendance and sales ”incredible.”
”The high-line fifth-wheel market was really hot,” Kinney said. ”The SuperShow always sets the tone for the year. For Carriage, it’s going to be an unbelievably great year.”
Based on Tampa and initial returns from other early winter shows, meanwhile, 2011 is looking pretty good for Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River Inc.
“Taking into account the first two weeks of shows, Pittsburg was a good show and the Cleveland Show was the best we’ve had in years,” National Sales Manager Jeff Babcock told RVBUSINESS.com. “And the Tampa Show, finishing up this past weekend, ended up better than years past. So, it’s a great start, and we’re looking for a good year.
“We think it’s going to break loose here this year.”
Roger Martin, Winnebago Industries Inc. vice president of sales and marketing, said the Forest City, Iowa-based motorized manufacturer, was ”thrilled with traffic and sales activity” at the show.
”Dealers representing us there reported sales activity nearly three times better than last year, Martin said.
Sometimes things are so bad, it seems they can only get better. That’s how it was two years ago for RV makers, the Fort Wayne, Ind., Journal Gazette reported.
At the depth of the recession, most consumers were too worried about losing jobs and homes to consider spending thousands of dollars on a recreational vehicle. So Northeast Indiana felt the shockwaves of the RV industry’s collapse as well-paying manufacturing jobs evaporated.
This is the story of one company – Fleetwood RV Inc. – that rose from the ashes to create a leaner organization with updated product designs and an improved way of filling orders.
The business is smaller than its bankrupt predecessor, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. But CEO John Draheim said the reorganized Fleetwood is more stable.
“We’re still dealing with a flat retail market,” he told The Journal Gazette, “but we’ve restructured our company to be profitable at the current (sales) volume level.”
A fresh start
In June 2009, New York-based American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP paid $53 million for Fleetwood Enterprises’ brand, the Decatur operations and some equipment in the company’s California plant.
The company consolidated in Decatur, where Fleetwood has eight buildings: two for motorhome production, one paint shop, three for fiberglass production and two for service and parts.
When Fleetwood Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in March 2009, it simultaneously closed its travel trailer business and began steps to close its motorhome plant in Riverside, Calif. The company still operated one motorhome production plant in Decatur and had 12 manufactured housing plants in 10 states.
Fleetwood Enterprises’ total employment, which was once 2,000, dwindled leading up to the bankruptcy filing. A company spokeswoman didn’t have a definitive number for how low it dropped.
With the sale, Fleetwood Enterprises ceased to exist. As spokeswoman Heather Everett explained, Fleetwood RV is a 16-month-old company with a 60-year-old brand legacy.
The new owners consulted Draheim on how to structure the company before closing the deal.
Draheim has worked in the RV industry since 1997. Before joining Fleetwood, he worked for Monaco Coach Corp., National RV Holdings Inc. and Thor California Inc.
The workforce now has grown to 1,200, but the corporate staff still includes only four positions: chief executive officer, chief financial officer, vice president of operations and vice president of engineering.
Corporate staff members own a stake in the company. The remaining employees are in business units, which are responsible for their own profits and losses.
A new structure
Although the name switch might seem like a minor technicality, the ownership change carried major implications. Fleetwood RV had no debt and no employees when it was formed; 450 were quickly hired for service, parts and warranties.
Former employees who hired on with the new, consolidated operation accepted 10% pay cuts and started over earning vacation time and other benefits. The owners estimated that hourly employees would make as much as they did before the wage reductions, however, because work would be steady rather than punctuated by the layoffs that happened frequently at the former company because of insufficient customer demand.
The company also started from zero when it came to selling its products.
Fleetwood RV had to sign up independent dealers because it doesn’t own any and couldn’t use agreements negotiated by the previous company. Many dealers left the industry in 2009. The smaller group that remains is stronger financially, Draheim said.
With a sales network in place, the company had to recreate a supply network for parts needed to build motorhomes and campers. The previous one, Draheim said, was “fractured” by the recession.
Various suppliers couldn’t keep their companies going when orders dried up. Fleetwood RV had to find reliable suppliers who make the necessary RV components.
A slim operation
Fleetwood RV has a “lean” culture, which means the company actively eliminates waste and inefficiency while stressing continuous improvement, Draheim said.
“We’re able to produce more than we could a year ago,” he said. “If it weren’t for lean, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We wouldn’t be a profitable company.”
Just how profitable, he won’t say. Fleetwood RV also doesn’t release sales figures, but the amount is “substantially higher than a year ago,” the CEO said. And the company still has zero debt, he said.
Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI) data from October found that Fleetwood RV ranked third in the industry in overall retail sales.
Because of lean business practices, the company is now taking ideas to market in just a few months, Draheim said.
Fleetwood has changed the production process and flow at least six times in the past 16 months, Draheim said. Changes have freed up floor space, leaving the manufacturer enough room to more than double capacity on a single shift, he said.
Making those changes has been a joint effort.
Draheim has read about lean practices, visited other lean plants and completed lean training. The vice president of operations has lean experience. And the equity firm lends expertise in financial and engineering matters, Draheim said.
The most significant change has been in how the plant builds RVs. Previously, workers manufactured in batches, making 10 identical motorhomes before switching to make 10 of a different model.
The process led the company to build more of some models than needed. Fleetwood Enterprises used to pressure dealers to take models they didn’t really want as a result. But Fleetwood RV, the new company, can switch models with each individual RV it builds, Draheim said.
Fleetwood RV builds more than 50 different floor models.
One major challenge is designing those models to fit consumers’ wants and needs.
The company keeps up with the changing marketplace by doing year-round grassroots research. Fleetwood staff goes to more than 200 RV retail shows to conduct focus groups, gathering feedback. The manufacturer recently surveyed more than 2,000 owners and one-third of its dealer network.
The company also seeks input from the more than 4,000 members of its RV owners club.
Customer feedback prompted Fleetwood to launch a product that combines aspects of a Class A design with a Class C. Class As have a front that looks like a bus, carry more water and have more towing capacity. Class Cs have a front that looks like a van, sleep more people but have less water capacity.
“Both products have their strengths and weaknesses, so we created a crossover,” Draheim said.
The resulting RV costs from $80,000 to $100,000. The vehicle sleeps four to eight people, depending on whether they are adults or children. The breakfast dinette converts to bunk bends, and a “hide-a-loft” is a platform that pulls down from the ceiling and holds an air mattress. The idea for the loft came from the sales staff. Fleetwood engineering group made it work.
The model is shorter and gets better fuel economy than other models that sleep the same number, Draheim said.
“That’s one of our highest-volume products over the last year,” he said.
Mac Bryan, vice president of administration for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), said several RV makers are offering more stripped-down models to appeal to money-conscious shoppers.
RV sales grew 45% industrywide in 2010, “but, obviously, from very low levels,” he said.
The Virginia-based industry group expects sales will increase 6% to 8% this year, a more sustainable level of growth for models that can range from $5,000 to $500,000. Luxury options include gas fireplaces, Jacuzzis and patios that slide out 3 feet above the ground with canopy overhead and a railing around the sides.
“It’s almost like anything your imagination can conceive, they can build,” Bryan said.
The association expects RV sales will grow faster than some other discretionary spending because, as Bryan put it, “Many people are passionate about the lifestyle. We build family memories.”
The recession was devastating for the RV industry.
October 2008 though June 2009 was the 100-year-old industry’s toughest stretch since major oil embargoes in the 1970s, Bryan said. He expects it will take longer for the industry to recover this time because unemployment rates will probably take longer to fall than gas prices.
Getting a loan
Lending is a major factor in the sales equation. Some prospective buyers have had trouble getting approved for loans, Draheim said. But that’s starting to ease, with some lenders once again approving loans for consumers and dealers, he said.
During the recession, some people ended up buying smaller RVs because that’s all they could get loan approval for or that’s all they felt comfortable spending. But that’s changing. In the past six months, they’ve started buying bigger models. Draheim thinks these owners are rewarding themselves for making it through the recession.
When Fleetwood Enterprises was selling 50,000 to 60,000 units a year, most of the sales were in the mid-priced range, he said. Now, with the market at less than 20,000 units a year, most of Fleetwood RV’s sales are split between the top and bottom of the market.
RV demand is picking up, however. Statistics from www.gorving.com verify increased interest. Traffic to the website has increased more than 40% this year, spokeswoman Christine Morrison said. The site is run by the industry trade association.
Some consumers who postponed purchases during the recession are now looking to buy, Draheim said. He thinks the company is well-positioned for when the market recovers.
Until then, if Fleetwood RV sells more vehicles, it has to take market share from a competitor.
Draheim plans to continue innovating and running a lean operation.
In the short term, he said, “We’re just going to keep doing what we do.”
TV viewers watching ”RV 2011” on HGTV New Year’s day generally got glowing cable TV reviews of 20 motorhomes and towable RVs displayed last September at the Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show in Hershey, Pa.
Host Chi-Lan Lieu guided two families with children and a third couple through the maze of RVs at the Hershey Show on the grounds of Hersheypark.
Each family had different goals — the Herbst family was looking to upgrade while the Styles family sought their first RV, a high-end motorhome or towable and Lindsay and Chad Drvak were looking to accommodate rescued dogs.
Lieu, in turn, showed different RVs that she thought would meet their goals. Although none committed to buying an RV during the program, each chose one that they thought best suited their needs.
Among the units highlighted were Fleetwood RV Inc.’s high-end American Revolution and Tiffin Motor Home Inc.’s diminutive Allegro diesel pushers, Winnebago Industries Inc.’s Access minimotorhome, Prime Time Manufacturing’s Crusader fifth-wheel and Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc.’s SS Ideal van camper.
The Herbsts chose a Dynamax Dynaquest XV Class C motorhome; the Styles, a Dutchmen Voltage high-end sport utility fifth-wheel (SURV); and the Drvaks, an Earthbound travel trailer.
The hour-long program marks the 13th year that HGTV has highlighted new RV products, and will be rebroadcast at unspecified times during the year.
Producers of the program worked with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and its agency, Barton Gilanelli, to put the program together.
There were plenty of innovative new RVs on display at RVIA’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., and that’s no surprise because tough economic times tend to bring out the best in many companies as they turn up the R&D focus to better compete for market share in a tight market.
Among the most eye-catching were Evergreen Recreational Vehicles LLC’s starkly different Element travel trailer, Fleetwood RV Inc.’s innovative rear-slide Tioga and Jamboree Class C, Monaco RV LLC’s futuristic Holiday Rambler Trip Class A, Earthbound RV’s chic new travel trailer, Airstream Inc.’s classy Eddie Bauer Edition Airstream, Open Range RV Inc.’s patio-equipped fifth-wheel, Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.’s new high-end Voltage toyhauler and Winnebago Industries Inc.’s redesigned Winnebago Tour/Itasca Ellipse Class A.
But the RVBusiness staff’s unanimous choice for “Best of Show” was Thor Motor Coach’s A.C.E. Class A motorhome.
“In our view, the A.C.E. – an acronym for “Class A & C Evolution” – is a prime example of a post-recessionary motorhome that addresses the changing tastes – and wallets – of American consumers yet retains in the process a degree of style, dignity and even a touch of class,” stated RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg.
Bottom line, the A.C.E., designed on a 16,000-pound GVWR, gas-fueled Ford chassis to combine the best attributes of Class A and C motorhomes, is a sharp-looking, kid-friendly, entry-level coach with full body paint, electric jacks, rear-view camera, kitchen slides, optimal storage, pet-friendly accoutrements and an electric drop-down cockpit bed that retails for under $80,000.
“You’ll see show specials for $69,995,” said Thor Motor Coach President and CEO Bill Fenech, “which will be a great deal for the customer, and the dealer should be very happy with his margin on that. We want our dealers to make money, but we want our customers to be able to get into the coach. They are going to get into it for not much more than a Class C price point.”
“The ACE is a real neat project,” added Fenech. “It started out as an entry-level motorhome. We wanted to get into that price segment even more than we were. We wanted to be aggressive. So, instead of just coming out with a price piece that is just another me-too motorhome, we looked at the market a little differently. We looked at the Class A and Class C markets, and there are some advantages to both products for the buyer. We looked at the two, hence the name A.C.E. – A & C Evolution.”
Floorplan, eye appeal and price are the key ingredients that appeal to the retail buyers, said Fenech, and the A.C.E. was designed with those three priorities in mind.
Consistent with a market that in some cases has consumers looking for smaller vehicles, the A.C.E. is a relatively short 29 feet, 7 inches, in length – shorter than some Class C motorhomes – yet it offers 84-inch headroom.
The cockpit tends to appeal to more of a Class C buyer, with a moderate exterior eyebrow in a front cap that houses an overhead front bunk and smaller windshield with an integrated visor that, according to Fenech, limits distracting direct sunlight and heat. “Women are saying that this doesn’t feel as overwhelming as a big bus,” says Fenech.
In addition, drivers can check out the coach’s passenger side with a uniquely placed floor line window while a large conversation mirror above the driver’s seat affords a good view of the living space.
Storage capacities, on the other hand, lean more toward the traditional Class A, with exterior “mega-storage” including a relatively huge rear curb-side compartment.
Major passenger-side basement storage compartments are located under the patio awning, while noisy heat-generating appliances are located on the driver’s side of the coach away from the activities. Campsite hookups are situated on the driver’s side rear of the coach.
Incorporated in the entry step is a storage drawer and toolbox for keeping tools, gloves and other RV gear without having to track through the coach, and there’s a broom and coat closet at the entry door in addition to a “Motorhome Mud Room” at the main entrance door for dirty shoes and gear.
In the final analysis, however, the fact that the A.C.E. is inordinately pet-friendly – with an “integrated tiedown” for dogs outside plus an inside “Kibble Station” for feeding pets – was the icing on the cake in opting to name Thor’s A.C.E. “Best of Show.”
“We tried to do a price leader coach before,” added Fenech, “but we could never get it right. Everything we put in this coach, we did for a reason. Every single dollar we spent or dollar we took out, we did it for a reason.”