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.”
Open Range RV Inc. will introduce a 60-square-foot drop-down hinged patio with railings and an awning as an option on several of its fifth-wheel models during the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. The patio is accessed from inside the coach through a sliding glass door. ”It’s for people who may have trouble getting up steps,” said Gary Stanley, national sales manager for the Shipshewana, Ind., towable manufacturer. ”They can walk out on the patio and get involved with the rest of the family. There’s enough room to put a picnic table on it.” The $4,400 option can be coupled with an electric assisted doorway lift that allows easier access to the coach. Open Range also is introducing an optional ”toy lift” for the garage in a 39-foot Rolling Thunder fifth-wheel sport utility RV that allows motorcycles, golf carts and other equipment to be stored on two levels similar to a NASCAR car hauler.
Open Range RV Inc. and the LaGrange County Economic Development Corp. have announced the expansion of the RV manufacturer’s facilities in Shipshewana, Ind.
Open Range will open a new plant in the former TN Trailers facility in Shipshewana and hire additional staff to operate the facility. The company is in the process of hiring 50 new workers, to complement the 75 additional workers hired since January, bringing the company’s total employment to 225 people, according to a news release.
Open Range, founded in 2007, has quickly grown to become a leader in the production of high quality fifth-wheels and travel trailers, and was recognized in 2009 with the “Quality Circle Award” by the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). Open Range RV’s lines are recognized industrywide for their quality, innovative floor designs, amenities and low weight along with many other features.
“The demand for Open Range’s recreational vehicles led our relatively new company to continue to grow during the recent national economic downturn, and as the economy has recovered, demand for new units has increased tremendously” said Pam Graber, Open Range vice president of operations.
“We are very excited that we have been able to grow Open Range RV as quickly as we have. We are eager to get this project underway and strengthen our continued partnership with the town of Shipshewana and LaGrange County.”
“Open Range RV has been a great partner in Shipshewana and LaGrange County, and we’re elated that they have continued to grow within LaGrange County” said Keith Gillenwater, executive director of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corp. “Their rapid growth in such a short period of time is a demonstration of their company’s quality craftsmanship and is a testament to Open Range’s motto: ‘Enjoy the Journey!’ We look forward to continuing to reinforce our positive relationship with Open Range RV as they expand.”
Open Range RV Inc., Shipshewana, Ind., offers outdoor kitchens standard on all five floorplans in the new mid-priced Roamer travel trailer series. Available in 30- to 33-foot lengths with up to two slideouts, the fiberglass-and-aluminum Roamer includes an outdoor stovetop and sink coupled with an exterior entertainment center. ”The Roamer is the same concept as our Open Range series, but at a lesser price point,” said National Sales Manager Gary Stanley. ”We took some content out. But it’s the same quality, same warranty and a lot of the same features as the Open Range, but for less money.” Other standards included heated-and-enclosed underbellies, one-piece baggage-door hinges, exterior utility convenience centers with outdoor showers and maple hardwood flat-panel glazed cabinet doors. Base MSRP: $26,400. Fifth-wheel floorplans will be added to the Roamer lineup in May.
Open Range RV Inc. marked its second anniversary Thursday (Oct. 1) with the debut of the Rolling Thunder sport utility fifth-wheel (SURV) and a luncheon for its 105 employees catered by regionally famous Nelson’s Golden Glow.
”We wanted to show appreciation for our employees,” said Randy Graber, president of the Shipshewana, Ind., company. ”We’ve continued to grow. We’ve never laid anybody off because our product is very well accepted out there. We build a product that is affordable, lighter weight and the consumers love our designs and interiors.”
A fairly high-end towable, the fiberglass-and-aluminum Rolling Thunder initially will be available in three 35- to 42-foot triple-slide floorplans, the heaviest of which will be 11,900 pounds dry weight — 2,000 pounds lighter than a traditional toy hauler, Graber said. ”We have a slideout system that takes a lot of weight out the slideouts and the frames,” he noted. ”We will be advertising that we take a ton of weight out of our toy hauler.”
Rolling Thunder, with retail prices from $55,000 to $70,000, features Corian countertops, glazed all-wood cabinets doors, full queen beds with wrought iron headboard, two flat-screen TVs and an electric four-point leveling and stabilizing system. ”You can level Rolling Thunder with the push of a button or with a remote,” Graber said.
An optional double bunk system featuring a convertible sofa is available for the 10- to 12-foot deep garages featuring ramp doors that are arched to provide easier access.
”One of the things that makes us stand apart is that this is an Open Range with a garage,” Graber said. ”Rolling Thunder doesn’t have the `sporty’ look that most toy haulers have because we focus more on the woman. ”She’s getting her Open Range and he’s getting his garage.”
During the lunch, meanwhile, Mont Arnold made a fund-raising appeal for Habitat for Humanity of LaGrange County. ”We asked our employees to donate to Habitat or to volunteer,” Graber said. ”There was quite a response.”