Ford Motor Co. is increasing Class A motorhome and commercial chassis production capacity by approximately 35% to meet renewed recreational vehicle demand in the United States. At the same time, Ford is increasing production capacity of its 6.8-liter V10 engine that powers its motorhome chassis lineup.
“We’re pleased that while other chassis manufacturers have left this segment, Ford continues its commitment to the RV upfitter industry,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service, in a press release. “We’re increasing our participation in this industry as motorhome customers return to the market.”
As a result, Detroit Chassis will add 34 jobs to make more chassis for motorhomes and commercial vans, while Ford Motor Co. will make more engines for the same vehicles, according to the Detroit Free Press. Privately-held Detroit Chassis partnered with Ford to supply chassis and powertrains for recreational vehicle manufacturers such as Winnebago Industries Inc. and commercial van fleets such as UPS.
Detroit Chassis is hoping to build about 14,000 chassis in the next year, up from 10,000 last year. Almost all are sold through Ford’s sales network.
The automaker announced that it is expanding a Windsor engine plant by 25% by 2014 for production of the 6.8-liter, V-10 gasoline engine. In 2012, Ford made about 61,000 of the large V-10s that are used in motorhomes and commercial vans as well as the E-Series vans, F-Series Super Duty pickups and chassis cabs, the F-650, and third parties that use the engine as a generator.
“Ford is the only one making them (Class A chassis with a gasoline engine),” said Scott Degnan, Winnebago vice president of sales. “And they can’t supply enough of them.”
Degnan said Winnebago sold 1,700 vehicles last year and could have sold almost 30% more.
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) has introduced the SL-M modular motorhome chassis, adding “design flexibility to the power and performance of its SL Series motorhome chassis line,” according to a news release.
In designing the SL-M, FCCC engineers created a versatile RV chassis with a fully customizable basement storage space. Designed and engineered with the luxury RV in mind, the SL-M end result allows builders and owners to “maximize their storage capacity and explore a wider range of interior layouts,” the company stated. The SL-M can accommodate a variety of coach lengths and floorplans, opening up new configuration possibilities for coach manufacturers and RV owners.
“We created the SL Series out of our focus on our customers’ chassis needs and commitment to always providing them chassis options engineered to meet and exceed those needs,” said FCCC President Bob Harbin. “We certainly took their insights and input into consideration in designing the SL-M. By adding a modular chassis to the SL Series line, we open up our most advanced, durable and reliable chassis to even more customization possibilities.”
Like the entire SL Series, the SL-M offers the 13-liter, 500-hp DD13 engine from Detroit, which combines the power of 1,650 ft-lb of torque with an Amplified Common Rail System (ACRS) to optimize each injection event and improve fuel economy. The DD13’s BlueTec SCR emissions technology is proven to meet long-term EPA 2010 emissions requirements by dramatically reducing nitrous oxide (NOx), particulate matter and fine particle emissions, while helping maximize fuel efficiency.
The DD13 also includes Virtual Technician, which integrates GPS technology with engine diagnostics. If the “check engine” light comes on in the RV, the data is sent to the Detroit customer support center. The information is then provided to the customer, along with a choice of authorized service outlets and the opportunity to schedule a repair. Virtual Technician also lets the service outlet know which parts are needed, shortening the overall service time.
The FCCC SL Series offers a standard ZF independent front suspension handling a Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) of 14,600, 16,000, 18,000 and 20,000 pounds.
Union Gap, Wash.-based Jones & Sons Chassis is in development of what the company calls the “next generation” of front-engine gas chassis design, with the work in progress scheduled for an unveiling at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 50th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 27-29 in Louisville, Ky.
Gary Jones, who founded the company in 2005, tells RVBUSINESS.com that this new platform is specifically designed and engineered for the RV body builder and will be available in a standard stripped-chassis format or in a coach-ready version in which a great deal of componentry like outriggers, leveling jacks and generators are already in place for the body builder.
“We can’t release any specifics prior to the trade show,” said Jones, who declined to elaborate on drive train details on his new gas chassis project, which has been in the works since February. “But it sure has been fun to work on.”
The chassis will be “competitively priced with significant product improvements” and is intended as an innovative alternative to Ford, Workhorse and Freightliner units, said Jones, adding that his company is targeting the entry-level segment of the Class A gas market with chassis measuring “up to 30 feet” in length.
Jones & Sons Chassis’ veteran staff members have previously worked on a wide array of proprietary chassis for companies such as Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Safari Motor Coaches Inc., Country Coach Inc., Western Recreational Vehicles Inc. as well as Tiffin Motorhomes Inc.’s Power Glide Custom Chassis program, which supports Tiffin’s Allegro Breeze, Allegro Bus and Phaeton luxury lines.
Spartan Motors Inc. reported a net loss for its third quarter on a 6% decline in sales while RV revenues improved 20.9%.
The Charlotte, Mich.-based company, parent to Spartan Chassis Inc., posted third-quarter revenues of $112.9 million compared to $120.3 million a year ago. Spartan reported a net loss of $0.3 million for the third quarter, or 1 cent per diluted share, compared to net income of $3.2 million, or 10 cents per diluted share in the third quarter of 2011.
Excluding pre-tax restructuring charges of $1.6 million, Spartan posted adjusted operating earnings for the quarter of 2 cents per diluted share.
CEO John Sztykiel noted, “Spartan continued its trend of generating an adjusted operating profit through the third quarter of 2012 as our Emergency Response and Specialty Vehicles units posted growth in revenue and order backlog compared to the third quarter of 2011.
“The improved performance of these units underscores the importance of our diversification strategy as the growth in these segments partially offset a slower quarter in our Delivery & Service Vehicles unit. We are executing our plan and continuing our momentum in returning our ER and Specialty Vehicles units to growth and taking action to improve our operations.”
A breakdown by division showed:
• The Specialty Vehicles segment generated revenue of $23.9 million in the third quarter of 2012, up 0.8% from $23.8 million in the year-ago third quarter. Most of the increase came from higher sales of recreational vehicle chassis, which totaled $17.1 million for the third quarter of 2012, an increase of $3 million, or 20.9%, over the third quarter of 2011. RV chassis sales increased as RV manufacturers using Spartan’s custom chassis increased their sales and market share during the third quarter of 2012.
• Spartan’s Emergency Response Vehicles segment, which includes both the Emergency Response Chassis and Emergency Response Bodies operations, posted a sales gain of $4.6 million, or 12.9%, in the third quarter of 2012 compared to the prior year. Sales of Spartan’s custom chassis accounted for most of the increase, as the market gradually recovered and responded favorably to Spartan’s new product offerings. During the quarter, Spartan shipped the first few ER chassis equipped with the Spartan APS advanced airbag restraint system.
• The Delivery & Service Vehicles segment posted third quarter 2012 revenue of $49.0 million, down from $61.2 million in the third quarter of 2011. The revenue decline was largely due to the decline in aftermarket accessory sales during the most recent third quarter. Vehicle sales in Q3 2012 were adversely affected to a lesser extent by a decline in walk-in van sales compared to Q3 2011 when DSV shipped a record number of units to a major customer. Shortages of some materials also pushed out production of some walk-in van units beyond Q3 2012.
To view the entire report click here.
Workhorse Custom Chassis is going out of business and is due to shut down in October, though Navistar International Corp., its owner since 2005, is saying little about it.
According to a report on Truckinginfo.com, spokesman Steve Schrier confirmed the news and responded to questions by referring to statements in the company’s recent 10Q disclosures to the federal Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).
Workhorse stopped making its W42 and W62 van chassis early this year, one competitor said, and final production is apparently imminent of motorhome chassis. Production should wrap up this month, a worker at the plant in Union City, Ind., said before directing further questions to Navistar headquarters in Lisle, Ill.
However, Navistar’s eStar electric van, though managerially connected to Workhorse, remains an active product, Schrier said. Introduced in 2009 with the help of a federal grant, eStar captured early sales from several customers for use in California, which encourages use of zero-emissions vehicles with its own grants.
Nonetheless, “the commercial viability of electric vehicles is what drives sales in this market,” Schrier said. With no engine or conventional drivetrain and the comparative simplicity of electric components, maintenance and operating costs are very low, even if purchase prices are high.
And although A123 Systems, which supplies batteries for the eStar and other electric vans, is in bankruptcy, “individual suppliers are not impacting our eStar business,” Schrier said. About 100 were built at the Navistar-Monaco plant in Wakarusa, Ind., last year.
Workhorse was started in 1998 by investors who took over production and sales of General Motors’ popular P-series Stepvan chassis when GM dropped it. GM gasoline and diesel engines powered vehicles which, like competitors’ chassis, got bodies from outside suppliers. Large delivery fleets like FedEx, UPS and Frito-Lay were among its customers.
Navistar acquired Workhorse seven years ago and it seemed a good fit, as Navistar diesels would find another outlet, even if emphasis was still on gasoline.
It also seemed that the new subsidiary might be strengthened through its association with a big corporation whose history from the 1930s into the ’60s included the popular Metro van. For a short time Workhorse offered an integrated chassis-body product called MetroStar.
The Great Recession a few years later hurt both parties, and Navistar executives’ losing bet on their non-SCR “in-cylinder solution” to diesel emissions limits contributed to heavy financial losses. These prompted serious cost-cutting.
Two financial reviews showed that Workhorse could not recover investments in it, the 10Q statement said. So earlier this year Navistar ordered Workhorse to stop accepting orders for W-series chassis and to begin to “idle” the business. It has taken a $10 million charge as part of shutdown expenses.
Schrier could provide no information on warranty and parts & service support for existing Workhorse chassis.
Executives at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., a major competitor, said one result of Workhorse’s closure has been more interest from customers in gasoline power, something that Workhorse specialized in. FCCC last year began offering General Motors’ 6-liter Vortec 6000 gasoline V-8, the same engine that Workhorse used toward the end.
Until late last week, Navistar’s website listed Workhorse as one of its truck brands and offered a link to the Workhorse site. A newly redesigned website now lists only International and Mahindra International as Navistar’s truck brands.
But Workhorse’s site as of this writing is still active and describes the W series commercial and motorhome chassis, and gives no hint of their demise.
Spartan Motors Inc. today (Feb. 14) announced operating results for the fourth quarter and full year 2011.
Revenues for the fourth quarter of 2011 were $111.2 million, down 12% from the fourth quarter of 2010. Most of the decline in sales compared to the fourth quarter of 2010 was due to a non-recurring order for defense parts in the prior year. Revenue in the fourth quarter of 2011 was also negatively impacted by delayed shipments of the Reach commercial van and some walk-in vans. Net income for the fourth quarter of 2011 was $0.7 million, or $0.02 per diluted share, compared to net income of $3.4 million, or $0.10 per diluted share.
Revenue for the full year totaled $426.0 million versus $480.7 million in 2010, a decline of 11.4%. Declines in defense-related chassis and service parts sales, along with general softness in most other business units accounted for lower revenue compared to 2010. Partially offsetting weaker segments was the Delivery and Service business, which posted a sales gain of 46.5%t for the year.
Gross profit for the year totaled $60.6 million, or 14.2% of sales, for 2011. For 2010, gross profit totaled $72.5 million, or 15.1% of sales. Lower gross profit in 2011 was due to lower total revenue as well as the lack of higher-margin defense parts sales and a less profitable product mix in the Emergency Response Bodies business.
“As we focus on 2012, we will continue to execute our plan, a blended strategy of acquisitions, alliances, organic growth and systematically reducing our operating costs,” said John Sztykiel, President and CEO of Spartan Motors. “Our total order backlog increased nearly 2% over the fourth quarter of 2010, with Utilimaster more than doubling its backlog compared to last year. We reduced the lead time to produce an Emergency Response chassis from seven months to four, significantly shortening our cash conversion cycle. We accomplished all of this despite operating in challenging markets. We are dedicated to capitalizing on the progress we have made and expect to deliver sustained revenue and profit growth in 2012 and beyond.”
To view the entire report click here.
Walk the aisles of any RV show and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans are a regular sight as a stylish, fuel-efficient chassis option for Class B and C motorhomes in the Great West, Roadtrek, Fleetwood and Airstream displays, among others.
They’re also under Winnebago’s diminutive Winnebago Via and Itasca Reyo Class A, and spokesmen for Mercedes-Benz USA LLC (MBUSA), a division of Daimler-Benz AG, predict that show-goers will see even more of them in the future.
First offered in Europe in 1995 to replace the dated Mercedes-Benz T1 van, the Sprinter has been dual-branded in the U.S. since 2001. It was initially sold through Daimler’s Freightliner truck dealers and from 2003 through 2009 by DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge retailers until the two companies separated.
Now, in addition to 61 Freightliner retailers, some 123 MBUSA dealers have been handling the Sprinter since 2010 in passenger, cargo and RV applications. “It’s a select dealer network,” says Claus Tritt, general manager of commercial vans for MBUSA. “Our network plan going forward is to end up in 2012 with 220 (dealers) or so.”
And while Sprinters in five models are popular among business fleets, Mercedes sees motorhome sales growth in this post-recessionary era due to its shorter 19- to 24-foot length, less costly operations and fuel-efficient BlueTEC V-6 clean diesel engine. That engine gets 24.9 mpg, reports Dan Barile, a product and technology PR specialist for Mercedes who attended the Louisville Show. And these, adds Tritt, are among the reasons why U.S. Sprinter sales to the RV market are currently up 16%.
“That is absolutely correct,” noted Tritt. “I think also that an RV at the end of the day is a toy and not necessarily something you need in your day-to-day life and people are generally a lot more cautious in spending for things like this these days. If they actually buy a car, for instance, it should not only be economical, but also fit their needs size-wise. We’ve got a lot of empty nesters.
“The days where you and your four kids and two dogs would go on vacation are gone,” maintained Tritt, a 25-year Mercedes veteran who previously worked for Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. “Most of the time, it’s a couple and a pet. There’s a natural trend, which we see in the overall RV industry, for downsizing, which has to do with economics as well. You don’t need a big diesel pusher if it’s only you and your wife. A small Class B or Class C more than does the job. It’s more versatile than a Class A pusher.”
Indeed, Tritt, based out of MBUSA’s Montvale, N.J., headquarters, sees Mercedes continuing to hold on to an 80% share of the Class B market and a 10% slice of the Class C sector as the U.S. economy emerges from the global economic recession. And he feels the Mercedes reputation for quality will figure into the equation.
“I think people are more cautious about how they are going to spend their money, especially that segment not looking for the size, but the right size,” he added. “People are looking for fuel economy. They are not looking for the next gas station. But if the economy stabilizes and we put the Euro crisis behind us pretty quickly, people are willing to invest more money in these types of vehicles again.”
All in all, says Tritt, Mercedes values its business in the RV industry. “The story I want to tell you is that it’s a very good business for us,” Tritt explained. “It’s a business that gives our brand exposure. On the other hand, for the RV manufacturers, it’s a reliable chassis to build on, and we’ve built this organization over the last 2 1/2 years not because we didn’t have anything to do, but because we are here to stay – unless there is Armageddon.”
The following is a blog by Examiner.com writer Julian Gothard asserting that Ford Motor Co.’s decision to bring the iconic Ford Transit van to the U.S. in 2013 would provide a versatile, efficient platform for the RV industry.
Workers at Ford Motor Co.’s Claycomo, Kansas City-based assembly plant will build the iconic Ford Transit van – Europe’s best-selling commercial vehicle – beginning in 2013. The U.S. introduction of the Ford Transit van chassis – which remains one of the top base vehicle choices for many European RV coachbuilders including Auto-Campers, Chausson, Tribute and Westfalia (CVC) – will help accelerate the RV industry’s push for smaller and more economical RV’s in North America.
The Ford Transit was judged the best base vehicle by Britain’s Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly (MMM) magazine in both 2008 and 2009. In 2010, Practical Motorhome magazine voted Auto-Trail’s Tribute T620 motorhome – based on the Ford Transit chassis – the best budget-buy motorhome and the overall motorhome of the year. The magazine also voted the Tribute T720 – again on the Transit chassis – as runner-up in the best family motorhome category
Ford stated in a recent press release that they are investing $1.1 billion in a new body shop, new tooling in the final assembly area, an upgraded paint shop and an all-new integrated stamping plant, which will be located on an adjacent property in Liberty, Mo. A portion of the investment will also be used to support next-generation F-150 pickup production at the plant. The current SUV line at the Kansas City facility, which will be idled for re-tooling after the current Escape model is phased out in April, 2012, will re-open in 2013. During re-tooling, the plant will continue to build F-150 trucks.
While Ford’s current commercial van, the Ford E-Series wagon, van and cutaway – built at the company’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, Ohio – will continue to be available through most of the decade, the cost savings associated with the new Transit van – it can achieve at least 25 percent better fuel economy when compared to similar Econoline vans – could lead to immediate changes in customer purchasing decisions.
Ford currently offers the E-350 and E-450 cutaway van with a motorhome prep package for the Class C recreational vehicle market. The E-Series is also a popular platform for Class B motorhomes. Ford announced in October that production of their F53 Super Duty Class A motorhome chassis – six offerings that range from a 16,000-pound gross-vehicle weight rating (GVWR) chassis to a 26,000-pound GVWR chassis – and F-59 commercial stripped chassis will be moved to their Avon Lake facility in Ohio. As yet there’s been no announcement from Ford disclosing how many US-based RV manufacturers will switch to the new Ford Transit van platform.
In Europe, the Ford Transit chassis is offered in a range of RV wheelbase lengths – from 3.3m to 3.95m – and there’s also a wider rear axle option which provides an improved stance. The European Transit is equipped with a fuel-efficient 115 PS or 140 PS six-speed Duratorq TDCi diesel engine plus an optional coated diesel particulate filter or a 5-cylinder 200ps engine that provides a best-in-class torque.
The Ford Transit chassis can be configured with Front Wheel Drive (FWD), Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) or All-Wheel Drive (AWD) and is equipped with ABS and Brake Assist – a system that detects emergency braking and applies maximum braking effort to potentially reduce the stopping distance – along with a Brake Traction Control System (BTCS) which aids traction when pulling away from rest. The Transit also includes Hill Launch Assist (HLA), which prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards during hill starts by temporarily holding the brakes. In addition, Ford provides the Transit with an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and a rear view camera – for easier reversing and trailer attachment – as available options.
Americans are on notice that “White Van Man” is coming to the USA and he has every intention of replicating the phenomenal track record of the Ford Transit in both the British and European markets.
Spartan Chassis Inc. exhibited two concept chassis at the recently completed National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky, that unwrap a growing trend in motorhomes: American RV buyers are starting to think smaller is better.
According to Torque News, this is because motorhome manufacturers have been aggressively seeking ways to improve their wheels that can drive demand. Current owners are looking to downsize their RVs and prospective buyers are interested in purchasing entry-level units.
“There are several key factors that are driving change in both the Class A and Class C motorhome markets,” said Dave Snitgen, vice president of recreational and specialty chassis at Charlotte, Mich.-based Spartan Chassis, a subsidiary of Spartan Motors Inc. “Given the various forces at work within our economy, such as higher fuel prices, a trend has emerged towards downsizing by both first-time and repeat buyers. Spartan Chassis has created two chassis concepts that we are confident will define the future design direction of the marketplace.”
Both concepts, a 32-foot Class A chassis and a 25-foot Class C chassis, capture key design features such as flexibility and adaptability, a Spartan spokesman said.
32-foot Concept Chassis
Torque News reported that a 2010 study by Harris Interactive indicates strong interest in smaller and more fuel-efficient RVs. To target this growth within the Class A segment, Spartan developed a 32-foot concept truck that is a lightweight, maneuverable mid-size, diesel-pusher chassis. The concept features improved fuel efficiency and a smaller carbon footprint, as well as the traditional benefits of a rear diesel engine chassis such as low engine noise, increased power options, and carrying capacity, according to a statement from Spartan.
Additional features include a Navistar MaxxForce 7 turbo-diesel engine, Allison 1000MH electronic transmission, Cummins Onan 6k generator, 22,000-pound GVWR, high-strength, low-alloy steel construction with 50,000 psi minimum yield, hydraulic disc brakes and a polymer diesel fuel tank.
25-foot Concept Chassis
With more than 40 million disabled adults living in the United States and a growing baby boomer generation, there is a need for a purpose-built, low-floor platform design that offers ease of entry and exit with the option of including an ADA-compliant ramp.
The concept incorporates front and rear self-leveling air suspensions with 4-corner kneeling. The kneeling feature, available at the touch of a single switch, reduces entry step height to a level never before seen on an RV. This concept chassis provides manufacturers with the opportunity to expand their business to include RVs for customers with mobility and health concerns.
Additional features include a Chevrolet G4500 gas and diesel chassis, air-ride suspension with sway bars (front and rear), electronic control kneeling (front and rear), a premium air dryer system with spin-on eco-friendly filtration and a three-year/50,000 mile limited chassis warranty.
“Since 1985, Spartan Chassis has developed significant technological innovations that have changed the RV industry,” said John Sztykiel, president and CEO of Spartan. “We continue that history of innovation with the presentation of our vision of chassis design. We are excited.”
Ohio is set to provide tax breaks to Ford Motor Co. which is spending $128 million to retool its assembly plant in Avon Lake, near Cleveland, to make commercial vehicles, according to a report in the Detroit News.
Ford announced in October, as part of a new labor agreement with the United Auto Workers, that it would convert the Ohio Assembly plant to make larger commercial vehicles when the Econoline van or E-Series is discontinued at the end of 2013.
The investment keeps the plant open and retains 1,900 jobs. No new jobs are planned, said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans. Future plans call for Avon Lake workers to do medium-truck and frame assembly work that currently is done in Mexico. The Ohio plant also will do motorhome chassis work and continue to make E-Series cutaways that are then modified for use as service vehicles.
The Ohio Tax Credit Authority met Monday (Dec. 6) with an agenda that included Ford’s incentive request. Most automotive investments receive state and local aid.
A press event is planned for Tuesday morning at the Ford plant where Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to confirm state incentives.
Jim Tetreault, Ford’s vice president of North America manufacturing, will be in attendance as well as a UAW regional representative, to confirm the company’s previously announced investment plans.
Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley, and Ohio state Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, will hold a press conference call to criticize Kasich for not actively supporting the $85 billion auto bailout.
Even though Ford Motor Co. didn’t receive a bailout — as General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC did — some have argued that Ford might not have survived if its rivals’ collapse had destroyed the auto supplier base.