Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. sees ”signs of life” in its diesel motorhome chassis business, according to Jonathan Randall, director of sales and marketing for the Gaffney, S.C., subsidiary of Daimler AG.
”It’s a tough market right now, as everybody is aware,” Randall said while attending the 82nd Annual Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) Annual International Convention July 20-23 in Bowling Green, Ohio. ”But we have seen signs of life coming from areas that we hadn’t earlier. We have seen orders coming in from manufacturers at a higher pace than they had been. Our production, as a result, is up from where we were earlier this year.”
Still, Randall said Freightliner doesn’t expect to see noticeable growth in its RV chassis business until the 2nd or 3rd quarter of next year.
”That gives us time to work through what still is a tight credit market, and hopefully, consumer confidence starts to build, the economy starts to rebound and truck companies start to see more freight being shipped, which is another strong bellwether for the economy.
”Our return to normal market volumes, whatever that means, will occur with a little more stability into late 2010 or early 2011.”
Freightliner also makes chassis for school buses, commercial buses and walk-in vans. ”While all of those have experienced downturns, it hasn’t been nearly as significant as what we’ve experienced in the RV market,” Randall said. “We are near the bottom now, if not at it.”
Besides investing in development of a new hybrid diesel/electric chassis that debuted last December at the Louisville Show, Freightliner is developing new products that will be introduced later this year and early next year, Randall said. “There’s nothing that I can talk about at this point,” Randall added.
All in all, he said that Freightliner expects to emerge from the recession stronger than it was before. “We view this as an opportunity for growth for us,” Randall said. “Turmoil breeds opportunity.”
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.”
An entire city of motorcoaches has popped up in the parking lot of the Doyt Perry Football Stadium at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, this week for the biggest exhibition of its kind in the country.
Some 2,600 RVs from across the United States and even Canada are parked there attracting 10,000 people, according to WTOL-TV, Toledo.
They’re here for the 82nd Annual Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) Convention.
What’s the attraction of hitting the road in one of these gas guzzlers — some of which come with a price tag of $2 million?
The freedom of it. The camaraderie, say the RV owners.
Given the bad economic times and high diesel prices one would think this would be the worst of times for the RV industry.
But a University of Michigan survey shows one in 12 households owns one.
Still, owners have had to curtail travel plans because of the ongoing recession.
“We feel that people are still going out. They are still traveling,” says FMCA’s Robbin Gould. “They take a few less trips a year out there. Still enjoy their motorhome.”
Jim Evans has owned eight RVs in the last 30 years.
“We have a washer/drier. I have an in-motion satellite TV. We can watch 150 stations while driving down the road. My wife watches it,” says Evans. “Believe it or not, I’m getting about 12 miles to the gallon on a good day. Get an honest 10 all the time.”
But Evans believes an RV is a good deal no matter what’s happening with the economy or gas prices.
He says you can go anywhere on the cheap because you never eat out and don’t pay for airline tickets and hotel rooms.
“I worked all my life, very hard,” says Evans. “We enjoy doing things now that we’re retired.”
And those retirement years now involve spending five months a year in an RV — no matter what the price.
As “green” technology becomes mainstream, RV industry experts report a growing number of consumers showing interest in RVs that are smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient. For those consumers who don’t have the extra cash to shell-out for a new, eco-friendly coach, ShadePro Inc. will be unveiling two new products that will make “going green” while on the road a bit more user-friendly and affordable at the July 2009 Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) International Convention in Bowling Green, Ohio, according to a news release.
The convention, July 20-23, will serve as a platform for ShadePro not only to present its new products to thousands in attendance, but also enable the RV awning and shade company to promote the environmental and money saving benefits of becoming an energy efficient RVer. ShadePro will have six service teams at the convention offering installations and rally pricing to all attendees.
“What many RV owners don’t realize is that there are plenty of inexpensive ways to go green,” said Steve Smoot, ShadePro president. “One simple item all RVers can do to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint is to install shade products on their RV. This not only helps limit air conditioning use during the hot summer months, but also reduces the fuel consumption by running the generator.”
The Vista Shade is an inside mounted windshield cover for Class A motorhomes that blocks approximately 94% of the sun’s hot rays and saves energy in three do-it-yourself steps. Since the Vista Shade is a DIY product, the owner has the ability cut and create the shape of the shade they need and apply a small adhesive track to the glass. Once the track is installed, the Vista Shade simply slides in.
ShadePro is also re-introducing its line of awning shades with new features at the convention. The RV awning shade drop is now available in 6-, 7- and 8-foot heights to accommodate tall motorhomes or customers that prefer longer shades to block out the wind, sun and other elements.
By keeping the sun’s rays out and the inside of the coach cool, RV owners can afford to be eco-friendly without breaking the bank.
To learn more about ShadePro, Inc. and their RV awning and RV shade products, visit www.ShadePro.net.
To learn more about the FMCA’s 82nd International Convention in Bowling Green, Ohio or to register, visit www.FMCA.com.
Hundreds of motorhomes and a variety of accessory merchandise will be assembled in Bowling Green, Ohio, July 20-23 in a display of recreation vehicles at Bowling Green State University.
The motorhome exhibition is part of a convention of an international motorhome owners’ club, the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA), based in Cincinnati, Ohio, according to an FMCA news release.
The RV exhibition is just one element of the FMCA convention. Approximately 2,600 families will travel from across North America in their motorhomes to take part in the event, and some 8,000 people will be on hand. The convention will include seminars on topics relative to RVing, topflight professional entertainment and various social events.
On Monday, July 20, from 1 to 5 p.m., a special viewing of only the motorhome exhibits will take place. Hours for viewing motorhome and booth display exhibits are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Some 18 motorhome manufacturers and five Ohio dealers will be bringing new motorhomes to Bowling Green for convention attendees to tour. Plus, approximately 230 companies will display their wares inside the air-conditioned space of the Charles Perry Field House, encompassing nearly 75,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space.
The daily fee for viewing motorhomes and booth displays is $7 per person; children 12 and under admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Visitors can save $2 on a day pass by bringing a nonperishable food item to benefit the Bowling Green Food Pantry. A Daily Passport that provides admittance to the exhibits, seminars, and daytime and evening entertainment is available for $55 per person. The admission fee on Monday covers admission on Tuesday as well.
Convention attendees will be able to view the latest features and innovations that are available in motorhomes. Some of the displays will feature production-line units, and others will demo custom-built coaches for uses ranging from family camping to transporting high-tech business equipment, or for use as conference coaches. A great variety of motorhome styles and a broad price range will be represented. In addition, the Charles Perry Field House will overflow with RV accessories, components, supplies and campground information.
After about two years working with the recreational vehicle industry, gaining contacts and experience, Tallahassee, Fla.-based marketing firm Kidd Group decided it was time to form a new division.
Kidd RV Resort Consulting officially launched in February and will cater to the specific audiences and environment of the RV business, according to Tallahassee.com.
“Our success can be attributed to 30 years of marketing experience amid government initiatives, transportation, real estate, technology, finance and health care, combined with tested and proven principles and excellent customer service to the RV industry,” said Jerry Kidd, president of the Kidd Group.
While RV unit sales may have slowed in some sectors of the business, Kidd account manager Allison Fogt said that hasn’t kept people from hitting the road. Many RV parks are at capacity this winter and spikes in fuel prices have not been a deterrent to travel.
Kidd finds business potential in the RV resorts, the manufacturers and in the associations of RV owners who have an affinity for a certain brand of motorhome or camper. Often, the groups organize their own events and trips.
“Part of our expertise is understanding these audiences,” Fogt said.
RV companies typically market themselves through targeted trade publications and exhibits at trade shows. One such event is this week’s 81st Annual Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) International Convention in Perry, Ga.
Relationship building is important, Fogt added. That includes bringing partners together who can sponsor special promotions or offers.
“We kind of use that leverage to help our clients and creating those marketing opportunities.”
The turnout was pretty impressive this week at the Georgia National Fairgrounds for the Family Motor Coach Association’s (FMCA) 81st International Convention March 15-19 in Perry – especially given all the economic variables in play.
“We are pleased with the turnout,” said Don Signs Your Ex Girlfriend Wants You Back Eversmann, FMCA executive director. “A significant number of our members are here. We are running about 2,700 families, and we expect some more to register before the event is over.”
Indoor exhibits, boosted in part by local day passes, were busy Monday on opening day. Outside exhibits were inundated by rain – it invariably rains in Perry, one of FMCA’s favorite convention venues – while a sea of motorhomes surrounded the site in the rolling hills of Georgia. This year marked the sixth time that FMCA has hosted a rally in Perry.
FMCA depends on about 800 volunteers, with members often donating four to eight hours, to coordinate the event in Perry.
“Perry is a dynamite location,” said Eversmann. “And they continue to improve it. Right now, they have major construction going on and we are looking forward to coming back.”
Eversmann said that attendees seemed to be looking beyond the backdrop of a tenuous American economy.
“I think they are hoping like everybody else that it’s (the recession) going to be short-lived and turn around and our industry will get its feet back on the ground quickly,” he said.
The turnout, if anything, is a reminder of the resilience of the American RV consumer, he maintained.
“Yes, we’ve been hearing good news from other RV shows and we are very pleased with this event and the number of people who have joined us here,” Eversmann said. “And we are looking forward to Bowling Green (July 20-23).”