Today’s Video #1 features a news story broadcast on Thursday (May 23) on “NBC Nightly News” about the RV industry. Focusing to an extent on Keystone RV Co. Inc., it was taped in part in Goshen, Ind., prior to the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April and news priorities prompted the network to hold the report until Thursday.
Keystone RV officials told RVBusiness they were pleased with NBC’s treatment of their company and the RV industry, timed as it was in advance of the Memorial Day weekend and the official kickoff of the summer travel season. “NBC did a story way back in the RV ‘dark days’ about people losing their jobs and how tough it was on Elkhart,” said Keystone Marketing Director Jim Mac. “They interviewed some Keystone workers in the Montana plant and decided to come back now for a ‘then and now’ report. Keystone was honored to represent the comeback of the RV industry in the national media.”
So, for the moment, RVBUSINESS.COM’s interview with Fleetwood RV Inc. President & CEO John Draheim is on Video #2 and the segment with Airstream Inc. President & CEO Bob Wheeler is in the Video 3 slot.
A big boost will be coming to the budget of Pendleton, Ore., thanks to selling 30 acres of land to Keystone RV Co. Inc.
Keystone purchased the land for $3 million, with the city expected to cash in $1.25 million in net profit, KEPR-TV, Pasco, Wash., reported.
Officials say they’re considering using the money for improvement to the new airport road or saving it for future projects. Either way the city knows it’s a big boost for their local economy.
“It’s not very often we have revenue like this come in at one time and then have that choice,” said Mayor Philip Houk. “So what we want to do is make sure it’s well thought out and what is best for our future as we move forward.”
The city also said that Keystone bought the land with the intent to expand in the future
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, has upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss with prejudice a man’s suit against Keystone RV Co. relating to travel trailers provided for hurricane victims in 2005, according to www.leagle.com.
Raymond Bell III was one of thousands of plaintiffs who filed suit against Keystone and other RV builders, claiming the units provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.
The “FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation” has engulfed the RV industry for several years, but to date no RV maker has been found guilty of building or providing harmful products.
Bell sued Keystone, Shaw Environmental Inc. and FEMA.
Bell challenged the dismissal with prejudice of his case following the district court’s denial of his requests either to substitute a new “bellwether” 1 plaintiff or to continue the scheduled trial date.
The court’s actions were taken in the course of its management of thousands of similar consolidated suits for allegedly injurious formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“After reviewing all the factors that affected the district court’s decisions, we find no abuse of discretion and affirm,” the federal court announced on Tuesday (Dec. 14).
While attendance was up a moderate 4.5% at this year’s Louisville Show, North American recreational vehicle manufacturers generally reported an upbeat atmosphere and – in some cases – robust sales at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) on the south side of Louisville, Ky.
The wares and services of more than 300 manufacturers, suppliers and distributors were displayed across more than 766,000 square feet of show space in the KEC during the industry’s key annual trade-only event, sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Now back in his Millersburg, Ind., office, Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Carriage Inc., says results of the three-day show were decidedly positive and a good omen for 2011. “It was a record show for Carriage,” said Kinney. “Compared to last year, sales have probably tripled.”
Carriage debuted a revamp of its high-end Royals International at Louisville, along with a new “entry level” Cabo line and a new Cameo model — all of which, Kinney predicts, will translate into increased market share in 2011 for Carriage, which currently produces 25 units a week. “We intend to steadily increase production until we are building 37 units a week by the end of August,” he told RVBUSINESS.com.
On the other hand, some felt that show traffic in the KEC corridors was a little thin at times. “From a numbers standpoint, the Louisville Show maybe didn’t have the impact that some have had in the past,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing for Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind.
“Attendance seemed down from last year,” he added. “It seemed to be slower, but it may have been a function of space. Last year’s show was compressed from past years. This year it was more spread out than normal. Yet, I thought it was a very good show.”
Indeed, Johnson said all three of the company’s divisions, Entegra Coach, Jayco and Starcraft, were “pleasantly surprised” by the number of new dealers they were able to sign. And Johnson, for his part, thought that Louisville 2010 was clearly better than last year and was in the “upper half” and perhaps “upper third” of the national RV shows at which he has worked in his esteemed 36-year industry career.
“The overall and almost overwhelming positive aspect of it was the very refreshing enthusiasm and confidence that was evident from almost every dealer for the coming year,” Johnson added. “We were pleased with the whole thing.”
“The show went well for us,” noted Bob Wheeler, president of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. “Traffic was down a bit, but purchases per attendee were up. We had a separate meeting for dealers and were able to present them with an overview of our products, our business plan and marketing efforts (for 2011). We received very positive feedback.”
According to Wheeler, the launch at the show of Airstream’s new Eddie Bauer co-branded 25-foot travel trailer generated a lot of positive feedback. “There was lots of excitement and strong initial orders,” said Wheeler. “They really seemed to get the collaboration and added functionality of the unit.”
Clearly one of the show’s busier displays was that of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, which unveiled a distinctive new 24-foot, wood-free Element travel trailer and also hosted an appearance by Terry Bradshaw, a former NFL quarterback, current Fox sports analyst and a new minority owner of Evergreen.
“It’s (the Element) different, unique and drew a lot of traffic,” said Doug Lantz, president and CEO of the Middlebury, Ind., towable manufacturer. “Being as it’s one of the lightest weight full-size trailers (at Louisville), it definitely got people’s attention.”
Motorhome specialist Tiffin Motor Homes Inc. had a solid show, according to Bob Tiffin, president of Red Bay, Ala., -based manufacturer.
“We had a great show, and took a lot of orders,” said Tiffin. “The dealers we had there were all happy with what was going on and they were complaining that we didn’t have hardly enough inventory. You know, they didn’t have enough motorhomes to sell, so they put their money where their mouths were and ordered a lot of units — 240 units altogether.”
That’s pretty decent, most would agree, in an era in which motorhome sales certainly aren’t at their peak. “Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the industry,” said Tiffin. “But we’ve (Tiffin) had a good year so far, and it looks like next year may be even better. So, our plans are to keep running 11 or 12 units a day and keep moving forward.”
Although Tiffin sees a moderate shift to smaller coaches, the company’s best seller at Louisville was a 40-foot Phaeton retailing in the $190,000-$230,000 range.
Bob Olson, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., came away with a positive take on the show. “I think it was an improvement over last year,” said Olson, second vice chairman of RVIA and co-chair of the Go RVing Coalition. “Last year, everyone really had a lot of uncertainty as to what the future held in store. I sensed a real feeling of optimism (this year) from dealers, other manufacturers and suppliers. I thought it was a very positive show.
“Having said that, we really don’t gauge success or failure of the show by what we get for orders,” said Olson, whose Forest City, Iowa, company drew a lot of attention with a modernistic redesign of its top-of-the line Winnebago Tour/Itasca Ellipse.
“We don’t go there with the attitude of ‘this is going to be what we have to have in orders to get to the spring market.’ It was a good show. You have to consider the economic times that we’re in. Going forward, we think that we’ll continue to get orders from the dealers that were at the show because it gave them an opportunity to see a lot of our product lineup. And from what we were able to see, they were very excited about it, especially Tuesday (opening day). It was nonstop traffic from the time we opened until we closed.”
Thor’s Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. Inc., reports seeing strong traffic all three days of the show and “high dealer enthusiasm.”
“Dealers seemed to be very optimistic about their Keystone business and the industry in general, and very enthusiastic,” said Keystone President Bob Martin. “We could see it in their eyes. Keystone’s focus at this year’s show was to make each of our brands even stronger. So, we did not launch a new product line but chose instead to concentrate on our existing lines.
Traffic, likewise, was “steady” at the expansive Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. display at which dealers were introduced to an array of new models. “Our new products were very well received,” noted Steve Paul, vice president of sales and marketing for the Goshen, Ind.-based Thor division, which debuted an ‘upper-end’ Voltage toy hauler, a redesigned Aerolite Superslide series, an entry-level Aspen Trail towable line and affordable Rubicon toy hauler.
Speaking for both the motorized and towable sides of his company, Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind., had good things to say about the 2010 Louisville Show and the year ahead.
On a scale of “1” to “10,” in fact, he gave it an 8.5, noting that dealer interest was consistent with that of this fall’s Hershey Show and Elkhart County Open House.
“We did very well,” said Liegl. “Obviously, no matter what we do we could do better, but we had a good show. Dealers were enthusiastic about the product we have, and that includes the new Shasta plus Prime Time and our existing Coachmen and Forest River products. Beyond that, I think the whole show was good for everybody, and I think it’s an indication that everybody thinks it’s going to be a good year next year, too.”
“Next year will be better than this year as a generalization,” said Liegl, who expects his company to post about $2.4 billion in 2010 revenues. “If I had to guess, as far as the total number of units sold next year versus this year, I’m anticipating a minimum increase of 5% for the total industry. But I can guarantee you one thing: I’m not going to settle for 5%. All in all, though, I’ve got to say that this year’s been a very acceptable year for everybody in the RV business. And next year I think is going to be more of the same thing – a little better than this year.”
Keystone RV Co. announced today (Sept. 3) the appointment of Matt Berg as Fuzion product manager. A 10-year Keystone veteran, Berg brings to the position an enthusiasm for toy haulers and in-depth understanding of product development, according to a news release.
Berg previously served as district sales manager for several Keystone brands, most recently as Fuzion sales manager for the Midwest.
According to Sean Ryan, Fuzion-Passport-Springdale general manager, “Matt has shown great instincts in his ability to innovate and anticipate market trends. As part of the Fuzion team, he helped Fuzion grow from a start up brand to first place in only four short years. Matt’s relationship with Fuzion dealers is one of our greatest assets and his close connections will further enhance Fuzion’s growth.”
Berg, an Elkhart resident, avid outdoorsmen and motorcycle enthusiast is a true believer in the SURV lifestyle. Says Berg, “Toy haulers are an incredible way to enjoy the outdoors. And Fuzion is the ultimate toy hauler. We plan to build upon this reputation with exciting new models that appeal to a wide range of consumers creating new opportunity for our dealers. For example, our new travel trailer toy haulers — the 230 and 260 — deliver Fuzion excitement and quality but at a lower price. And they can be towed by smaller vehicles. At the Louisville Show this year our dealers will be blown away by what they see.”
Keystone RV the nation’s largest producer of travel trailers and fifth-wheels, with manufacturing facilities at its headquarters in Goshen, Ind., as well as Pendleton, Ore. Keystone is a subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio, the world’s largest manufacturer of recreation vehicles and a major builder of commercial buses.
The second FEMA trailer product-liability trial has been postponed due to talk of a settlement for thousands of claims from bankrupt defendant Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
The Riverside, Calif.-based trailer manufacturer and its insurers are said to be negotiating a settlement even though a jury in September rejected a New Orleans’ family’s claim that a FEMA-supplied trailer built by Gulf Stream Coach Inc. exposed them to dangerous levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Just days after the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, FEMA awarded $170 million in contracts to Fleetwood to provide 7,500 travel trailers and 3,000 manufactured homes to refugees from the storm.
Fleetwood was one of several manufacturers to receive FEMA contracts, and was awarded the second-highest dollar amount; Gulf Stream Coach received the largest order.
FEMA is not a party to either lawsuit – neither the one that Gulf Stream fended off in September, nor the second one, against Fleetwood.
The second bellwether trial was slated to start next Monday.
Plaintiff Elisha Dubuclet claims that formaldehyde leaking from the FEMA trailer where her family lived for 18 months aggravated her daughter’s eczema and increased her risk of cancer.
The complaint was taken from a batch of consolidated complaints. Class-action status was denied last year by presiding U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt.
The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2008 that plaintiffs’ lawyers were disappointed, though “not surprised” by Engelhardt’s rejection of class certification, considering the number and variety of cases alleging formaldehyde-related ailments.
Several thousand lawsuits have been filed and more are expected.
“We’re looking forward to putting before a jury some good, instructive bellwether cases,” attorney Gerald Meunier told the Journal. “We’ll see what they do with those, and we’ll know more about how to conclude all of the other litigation.”
Fleetwood Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in March this year and sold its motorhome division to a private equity group.
A September article posted on rvbusiness.com paraphrased plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee as saying that the court allowed the formaldehyde lawsuit against Fleetwood Enterprises to proceed despite its bankruptcy because insurance money is available to pay any potential settlement.
Fleetwood Enterprises is the lone defendant in the Dubuclet complaint.
The Washington Post reported in 2007 that a man in Slidell, La., “was found dead in his trailer on June 27, 2006, after complaining about the formaldehyde fumes. In a conference call about the death, 28 officials from six agencies recommended that the circumstances be investigated and trailer air quality be subjected to independent testing. But FEMA lawyers rejected the suggestions, with one… cautioning that further investigation not approved by lawyers ‘could seriously undermine the Agency’s position’ in litigation.”
Later, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman, Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., blasted FEMA’s indifference to storm victims and said the situation was “sickening.” He said the documents “expose an official policy of premeditated ignorance” and added that “senior officials in Washington didn’t want to know what they already knew, because they didn’t want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done,” according to the Post.
FEMA blames trailer manufacturers for the formaldehyde in the trailers. Cheaper, substandard wood products used in trailers assembled in a rush to meet production targets increased emissions of the carcinogen, industry officials and analysts said.
Trailer manufacturers say that because federal guidelines were inconsistent, they relied on suppliers, who are responsible for any shoddy materials they provided.
Gulf Stream was cleared in September in the first bellwether trial; three other bellwether cases are set for trial, involving Keystone RV Co., Forest River Inc. and Recreation by Design Inc. The bellwether trials are meant to indicate likely outcomes for all plaintiffs, in turn fostering settlement talks between parties.
Many attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
Judge Engelhardt has not yet set a new trial date.
The RV industry in northern indiana is beginning to breath a sigh of relief, however hesitantly, according to The Goshen (Ind.) News.
Shipments began a turnaround in January, after dropping from a high of 31,400 units in April 2008 to only 5,600 units in December. That turnaround has not gone unnoticed. Shipments totaled 13,300 in April.
“We’re going through a period right now of relatively good order backlog, which is a significant improvement over what it was three months ago,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing at Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind. “In fact, in the last 60 days, in terms of order intake, we’re at a good 50% of what we were doing last year at this time.”
A recent release from the company noted positive dealer attitudes at their “Homecoming” event held last week. And although the company’s RVs are constructed by a 1,200-employee work force, approximately 55% of its size a year ago, new products will be coming out. Johnson pointed to a new product line that the company will introduce near the beginning of the new model year.
“This year is going to continue to be challenging, but I think everyone, at least everyone at Jayco, is enthusiastic about our prospects for next year starting this fall and winter,” he said. “We’re spending a lot of time on product development and aggressive promotion programs throughout North America.”
He added, though, that it’s too early to be counting any chickens.
“There’s no doubt recovery has begun in the industry and the economy as a whole,” Johnson said, “but the bottom line is we’re not out of the woods yet.”
At Keystone RV Co., in Goshen, demeanors are also bright.
“We definitely saw things pick up about six weeks ago, and we’re seeing it from retail orders on our dealers’ lots,” Bob Martin, Keystone’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said.
Martin said everything was shut down this week to give their employees a well-deserved break. Next week, four additional plants will be opening back up.
“We definitely got busy, and it happened quickly,” he said.
So far this year, about 150 employees have been rehired due to increased production rates. Where their dealers were having problems selling units early in the year, they are now beginning to sell out.
“It’s been a good feeling and we’ve been blessed this summer,” Martin said. “Earlier this spring, we didn’t know what to expect, so this is a very welcome event for our company and our community.”
He pointed out that company officials are still watching out for the rest of the year, as nobody in the industry can accurately predict what could happen when the weather turns colder and the prime RVing season passes.
“We really don’t know what to expect going into the fall,” Martin said. “Much of what hindered us last year were banks and retail and wholesale financing, and that’s the X-factor we don’t know.”
Local RV dealerships are feeling the turnaround as well.
In Shipshewana, Wana RV & Engine Center President Gary Martin is excited.
“Our numbers for June are much, much better than what they were last year, and we’re actually starting to catch back up,” Miller said.
Like the manufacturers, he has noticed business picking up recently in particular.
“It’s just been the last four weeks that we have really been hopping that we can’t keep up, which is a good thing,” he said. “Fifth-wheel, travel trailers both are good. It doesn’t matter if they’re lightweight or bigger units. Sales are up right now.”
Ewing’s Outpost RV Sales Manager Dennis Johnson has seen much the same at their dealership.
“As of today here, we’ve had more traffic than we’ve had for a while,” he said. “Long story short, we’ve done actually pretty well.”
According to Dennis Johnson, they haven’t had all the problems some dealerships have seen, but times have still been tough. He said their business has shifted but stayed relatively constant since the beginning of the year.
“People’s sights have dropped down some as far as dollar amount that they want to spend and the size of the unit they want to purchase. Larger, higher-priced units are not selling as well,” Johnson said. “Over the last couple of weeks that’s changed some, we’re starting back in again with the bigger units.”
They are now up to about one sale each day, or between 30 and 35 units each month.
“We can’t complain,” Dennis Johnson said. “We’re still here, and that’s one thing a lot of people can’t say.”
He spoke confidently when asked about the future of the industry.
“I think, from everything I hear, there’s going to be a little lull here for a while yet,” Johnson said. “But I think it will come back and come back a little bit stronger than before because of pent-up demand.”
A South Georgia couple, Mackie and Gail Daniels, shown at left, have won a new $26,000 Keystone Springdale travel trailer in the first phase of a unique new retail promotion — Keystone’s Live Your Dreams Sweepstakes — through which Keystone RV Co. Inc. is giving away four towable RVs between June 2009 and February 2010.
As part of this aggressive new program, a joint effort between the Goshen, Ind.-based Thor division and the RV-related websites, e-newsletters, magazines and retail shows of Ventura, Calif.-based Affinity Group Inc., the Danielses’ name was chosen at random in April from more than 50,000 entries in the inaugural round of the Live Your Dreams sweepstakes.
Suffice to say that the Danielses, of Fitzgerald, Ga., appreciated their good fortune.
“When my wife received the phone call from Keystone informing us that we had won, we were skeptical,” said Mackie Daniels, a retired telecommunications worker. “‘Must be a practical joke,’ I thought. ‘What are the odds?’ But when I returned the call to Keystone and spoke with the people there, I realized this is real. What a surprise! This is the first time I have ever won anything and this is really big!”
The Danielses, who ironically own a 2002 Springdale travel trailer, are avid campers who are planning future camping trips with their grandchildren. “We camp almost every other week,” adds Daniels. “This new model has more space and conveniences than our 2002 and we are sure going to enjoy the additional features.”
Signups are currently under way on Keystone’s website and at point-of-entry displays at Affinity Events shows for Phase #2 of the national giveaway through which the winner of an Outback travel trailer will be announced Aug. 15 at Affinity’s Colorado RV Super Sale. Next up is a Cougar fifth-wheel in October at Affinity’s Atlantic City RV Show. Then comes the finale, a Montana fifth-wheel, the winning name of which will be released in February at Affinity’s St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show.
“Literally tens of thousands of interested consumers have visited the Keystone web site due to the exposure this sweepstakes has generated,” says Ron Fenech, president and CEO of Keystone, the nation’s largest manufacturer of travel trailers and fifth-wheels, with manufacturing facilities in Goshen and Pendleton, Ore. “These visitors learn more about Keystone travel trailers and fifth-wheels and, many times, contact our dealers for further follow up. The Live Your Dreams promotion is a win for the consumer, a win for our dealers and a win for Keystone RV and our employees.”