Forest River Inc.’s new independent towable division — Lifetime RV — initially will introduce two units, the laminated entry-level LaCrosse travel trailer and fifth-wheel and the ultra-lightweight Tracer.
”We are trying to go as fast we can,” said Lifetime President Jeff Rank. ”We definitely want to be in production by October.”
The first prototypes are in the works and the division expects to show the LaCrosse during the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) 2009 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo Oct. 6-9 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.
MSRPs for LaCrosse, which will range in length from 19 to 30 feet, will be $22,000 to $30,000, Rank said.
With the management team in place, Rank reported that Lifetime RV will begin to hire group leaders next week and production employees within the next two or three weeks.
Working with Rank and Vice President Chris Hermon, both of whom formerly worked for Keystone RV Co., are Jeff Abney, manufacturing manager; Bob Thomas, engineering manager; and Bill Nicely, purchasing manager.
By the end of September the division should be employing about 50 people and by the end of the year close to 100. ”Things are coming along pretty quickly,” Ramp said.
Lifetime RV is operating out of the former five-building Travel Supreme complex in Wakarusa, Ind., where Rank expects the division to run three production lines and eventually employ about 200 people when fully ramped up.
”Our intent is to work our way into seven or eight brands,” said Rank. ”At one time or another, Chris (Hermon) and I have been involved in building units at about every price point,” Rank said. ”Out of the gate, we are only going to do laminated product. Stick-and-tin is part of the industry, but it is not going to be one of our initial products.”
Each line will carry its own brand name to a create a separate identity, he said. The company’s third brand is expected by late next spring.
Rank said the division expected to put together a base of about 250 dealers, many of whom will already be selling Forest River products.
”Many of the good dealers in the U.S. are in some form Forest River dealers already,” he said. ”All of the Forest River brands make decisions independently of each other. To be fair, we are going to be competing with other Forest River products, but even if you combine the top three manufacturers, there’s another 60% of the market out there to be had.
”Our hope is that this is ‘plus-business’ for Forest River and not just taking a sale from one division or the other,” he added. ”We are going to be conscious of that.”
Products will be developed with dealers in mind, Rank offered. ”It’s difficult to balance the needs of the manufacturers and the dealers,” he said. ”We are going to be aggressive with product and come up with a business model on the sales side that will make sense to the dealers and help them out a little better.”
There is more good news for Elkhart County. Plans are under way for a new division of Forest River Inc. in Wakarusa, Ind. It could send another 200 people back to work, according to WSBT-TV, South Bend.
“Lifetime RV is going to be a great employer; we’re going to treat our people right,” Chris Hermon told WSBT News.
Hermon and Jeff Rank are running the new division called Lifetime RV. Its new home will be the former Travel Supreme RV production complex in Wakarusa, as first reported by RVBUSINESS.com.
“Our plan is to be a full-line RV manufacturer of all towable brands, from entry level stick and tin, all the way to high-end fifth wheels,” Hermon explained. “Our plan is to be in full production in mid- to late-October.”
The division will be bringing in a whole new production setup.
“The infrastructure is here. Our plan is to start from the ground floor,” Hermon said. “The most important thing that we have going for us is dealers are excited about what we’re going to bring to the market.”
He says based on the unique product line they’ll be offering, the experience of the people starting the division, and the available work force, now is a great time to bring a new RV operation online.
“In our mind the timing was exceptionally right with the workforce that’s available out here in Wakarusa and Nappanee,” Hermon added. “That’s really one of the things we’re excited about, is the talent pool that this area possesses.”
With the new Navistar International Corp./Monaco RV operation, plans for the Electric Motors Corp. and now a new RV company, many of the unemployed in the Wakarusa area have more to smile about.
“We’re just more than pleased. It’s our road to recovery, and we’re thinking we’re on the way. We have lots of folks who are still unemployed,” said Wakarusa Town Manager Tom Roeder. “This is just great news. We think we’re coming back.”