For the first time in memory, the industry’s two RV-building volume leaders, Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc., are in a dead heat for retail market share in both towable and motorized RVs, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
At least they were at mid-year, with the two Elkhart, Ind.-based manufacturers each occupying exactly 35.4% of the “all towable” market. In fact, they were only nine units apart through June – Thor at 39,803 units vs. Forest River at 39,794. At the same time, Thor’s towable RV unit sales were up 8.8% and its market share was down slightly to 1.7%, while Forest River’s unit sales were up 19.5% and its market share grew 8% for the six-month period.
The picture is much the same on the motorized side of the ledger because Forest River through June was accounting for 25.2% of the retail market based on sales of 3,769 units vs. Thor with a 25% market share on 3,747 retails — a margin of only 22 units.
The rather respectable — yet heated — competition between these two hard-hitting industry leaders, occupying together more than 70% of the U.S. towable marketplace, has been going on for a good while. But the numbers haven’t been quite this close, keeping in mind that, as Stat Surveys President Tom Walworth points out, “you still have to take into account the fact that Forest River’s towable RV product lines include some lower-priced folding camping trailers, a market in which Thor isn’t involved.”
But the real news here is to what extent Forest River is pressing its case in both towable and motorized RVs, even while both companies continue to post impressive growth during the current economic recovery. Thor, for its part, recently posted its first $2 billion quarter, and revenues for Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary, were running at least 22% ahead of last year through June, Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl confirms.
“I think that Forest River has been narrowing the gap,” said Walworth. “Both Forest River and Thor have aggressively gone after the market and they’ve put out a bunch of new product that has allowed them both to maintain their leadership in the market.”
Behind Forest River and Thor on the motorized side is Winnebago Industries Inc., with an 18.1% share of the market. In third place in tow-type RV retail sales is Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc., which occupied 11.2% of the market through June.
“Think about that,” said Walworth. “The top two (towable builders) are 70% of the market. Jayco brings it up to 81% of the market and the next five players take it up to 90% of the market. I mean, it’s a very top-heavy industry and more so all the time. The two big players have gained market share in an up market. The only thing to consider is that if the market becomes really hot, that usually opens the doors for the smaller startups to come in.
He added, “You know, through this, we’ll probably introduce one or two new manufacturers here who could someday end up being major ones. That’s usually because the majors and the other competitors can’t meet the dealers’ supply times, opening the door for some of the startups to get involved.”
It’s official. As of Wednesday (Aug. 14) morning Thor Industries Inc. is centered in the heart of Elkhart, Ind.
“We’re proud to be part of the downtown area,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO standing next to company co-founder and chairman Peter Orthwein. According to a report by The Elkhart Truth, the company and the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting to officially open the headquarters of one of the top players in the recreational vehicle industry.
“The building had been empty for six years,” Martin said of the site at 601 E. Beardsley Ave., a spot with a view of the St. Joseph River and Island Park. “A lot of people in the community had noticed that it was empty here. People have known it as the Coachmen building or something like that from many years ago, so we wanted to put our own touches on it. We’re very proud of all this.”
Kyle Hannon, president of the chamber, called the building “a monument to corporate headquarters in Elkhart, it’s a monument to the RV industry.”
Dick Moore, Elkhart’s mayor, welcomed Orthwein, and said, “We recognize Thor, of course, as a leader in the RV industry and how important it is to stimulating our economy with all of the jobs that you do.”
Moore also said, “We’re just so very pleased that you’re here.”
“We’re proud to be part of Elkhart, we’re proud to be part of the community and we’re proud to have our corporate offices in downtown Elkhart,” said Martin, who grew up in Elkhart and Bristol.
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Thor Industries Inc. announced that Don Emahiser has resigned as president of CrossRoads RV to pursue other interests, effective Aug. 9. CrossRoads RV is a Thor subsidiary that produces travel trailers and fifth-wheel RVs in Topeka, Ind.
“We appreciate Don’s service to our company and wish him well on his future endeavors. Fortunately, we have a strong bench of management talent at Thor and CrossRoads that should help ensure this management transition is smooth,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO, in a press release. “We will begin the process of hiring a new president for CrossRoads immediately and we hope to have the search completed within our fiscal first quarter.
“In the interim, I will be working closely with the management team at CrossRoads to ensure that our operations continue running effectively and we continue to provide our dealers with the service and products they expect.”
Thor Industries Inc., headquartered in Elkhart, Ind., has been named to this year’s 50 Best U.S. Manufacturers list compiled by Industry Week magazine. The builder was ranked No. 37 in the listing.
The publication bases the rankings on key areas over a three-year period, including profit margin and revenue growth.
Thor, which has several local subsidiaries in Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee, announced July 31 its decision to sell its bus business, which had annual sales of $448.8 million over the previous year, to Allied Specialty Vehicles for $100 million in cash.
Thor Industries Inc. today (July 31) announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its bus business to Allied Specialty Vehicles Inc. (ASV) for $100 million in cash, subject to closing adjustments. The sale is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to be completed by Nov. 1.
“Although the bus business has been a valuable part of Thor, this transaction allows us to focus on maintaining and growing our leadership position in our core recreation vehicle business,” said Peter B. Orthwein, chairman of Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor. “From an investor perspective, divesting the bus business will simplify our overall operations and solidify Thor’s position as the leading company in the RV industry which is recovering strongly. Pursuing the strategic development of our RV business enables us to drive growth in sales and earnings, ultimately delivering improved value for our shareholders.”
Thor’s bus business includes Champion Bus Inc., General Coach America Inc., Goshen Coach Inc., El Dorado National California Inc., and El Dorado National Kansas Inc., which combined represent one of the largest producers of transit and shuttle buses in North America with bus segment sales of approximately $450 million for the fiscal year ended July 31. In addition to its bus interests, ASV is parent to Fleetwood RV Inc. and recently acquired the RV assets of Navistar Inc., including the Monaco Coach and Holiday Rambler brands.
“We are excited to add the Thor bus business to our diverse line up of specialty vehicles,” said Peter Guile, president and CEO of Allied Specialty Vehicles. “We view the opportunity to expand our business into the transit and shuttle bus markets as a key initiative in broadening our markets and providing products that meet the needs of our dealers and end consumers. We are eager to welcome these new bus brands to the ASV family.”
Thor will continue to own and operate the bus business until the closing date of the sale. As a result of the decision to pursue a divestment of the bus business, Thor will report the financial results of the bus business as discontinued operations in its upcoming annual report filed on Form 10-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which the company expects to file in late September. Thor does not anticipate any impairment to goodwill or intangible assets of the bus business as a result of the sale.
Thor expects to report preliminary sales for its fiscal fourth quarter and full year ended July 31 on Aug. 5.
Thor Industries Inc. today (June 10) announced that current President and COO Bob Martin has been appointed CEO and was also selected to serve on the Elkhart, Ind.-based company’s board. Both moves are effective Aug. 1.
According to a news release, Martin, 43, is succeeding Peter B. Orthwein, who will remain executive chairman of the board.
A 19-year industry executive, Martin has served in a variety of leadership roles at Thor, including president of Keystone RV Co., Thor’s largest subsidiary, as well as RV senior group president and most recently as president and COO. All RV presidents and the Bus Group president will continue reporting directly to Martin in his new role.
“I am pleased to pass on the leadership of Thor to Bob Martin, someone who has a proven track record with both our company and the RV industry,” said Orthwein. “This transition marks a significant, positive step in our succession plan and I have confidence in the solid management team we have developed over the past several years. We now have excellent depth of talent across our senior management, and I am convinced that Bob’s strong relationships with dealers and demonstrated ability make him the right person to lead Thor to the next level of growth, performance and profitability.”
A look at the latest financial report from Thor Industries Inc. underscores the need for motorhome manufacturing ability that President and COO Bob Martin cited as a major reason the company announced this week that it will take over the former Monaco Coach/Navistar RV production facilities in Wakarusa, Ind.
The Elkhart Truth reported that in Thor’s quarterly report filed Thursday (June 7), company personnel detail the growth of Thor’s motorhome sales. During its third fiscal quarter — which set a sales record of $1.05 billion companywide — Thor shipped 34.2% more motorhomes. During that same period of February through April, the overall market increase in wholesale motorhome shipments was 29.8%.
The average price for motorhomes rose 13.6% over the same quarter in 2012, with the top-end Class A motorhomes seeing a 17% jump in sales price. “The increase in the overall net price per unit within the Class A product line of 17% is primarily due to increased sales of the generally larger and more expensive diesel units rather than the more moderately priced gas units when compared to a year ago,” according to the quarterly report.
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The investment firm of Robert W. Baird & Co. issued a client newsletter following Thursday’s release of Thor Industries Inc.’s third quarter report. Portions of the Baird newsletter follow.
Raising price target. Earnings per share (EPS) exceeded expectations on significantly better margin. The margin trend is encouraging as it appears sustainable. We raised our F2013 and F2014 outlook and see potential to earn near $4.50/share in a robust recovery scenario, supporting our revised $48 price target. Fundamentally, we continue to expect demand to recover as negative equity evaporates. Meanwhile, dealer inventory increased 14% to support retail growth but appears fresh. The weak margin overhang has begun to clear, supporting a brighter outlook.
EPS upside. Adjusted EPS significantly exceeded consensus expectations (97 cents vs. 88 cents), driven by solid margin upside. A lower tax rated added 4 cents. Adjusted EPS excludes a 15 cent loss related the sale of the ambulance business. Management previously had expected second-half operating margin to be “consistent with” the second half of last year – but with adjusted EBIT margin 50bp better in Q3, trends clearly have improved. Recall that Thor previously reported strong revenue growth (+13%) and a healthy backlog (+24%) in May.
Encouraging margin recovery. After a period of excessive discounting, promotional pricing has “stabilized.” Thor discounted to defend lot space early in the season, betting that strong retail would support follow-on orders at better margins. With retail up 12% and margin improving, the plan worked. Meanwhile, actions to drive a 200bp margin recovery over three years are gaining traction, supporting a more optimistic profit scenario.
Big picture. We are warming to Thor as margin pressure abates. As the leading RV manufacturer, Thor is particularly well positioned to capitalize on a robust cyclical recovery. We believe the negative equity overhang that has delayed the replacement cycle has begun to clear, supporting a more optimistic outlook. We raised our price target to $48 and would look to add, especially on a pullback.
The recent acceleration in car sales is impressive, but there’s an even better sign the U.S. economy is getting back on track: surging sales of recreational vehicles. Bloomberg Business Week reported that makers of RVs shipped 32,054 machines in the U.S. in April, a 19% increase from a year earlier, according to data compiled by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
RVs are a notable niche because it takes no small amount of consumer confidence to buy a gas-guzzling home on wheels. Between 2007 and 2009, more than half of the RV market disappeared. Light-vehicle sales, by contrast, dropped by 36%. “No one needs an RV,” said Jeff Tryka, a spokesman for Thor Industries Inc., one of the biggest U.S. RV makers. “It’s a purely discretionary purchase, while there’s always going to be a base-level demand for cars.”
The motorhome and towable RV business, a $14 billion market in the U.S., is on track for its best performance since 2007. For the year to date, shipments are up 13% and RVIA expects more than 307,000 vehicles to roll by January. The sales boost doesn’t matter much to Detroit, but it’s big news about 200 miles away in Indiana, where roughly half of the country’s RVs are made. It’s also great for companies like privately held Jayco Inc., the Forest River Inc. unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and Thor, which cranks out some of the most popular RV brands.
When the RV market bottomed out in 2009, Thor’s payroll dropped to 5,400 workers; today it employs 8,800. And in anticipation of higher demand, it just bought a factory in Wakarusa, Ind., equipped with 35 booths for painting giant campers. The company will give a progress report when it announces earnings later today. Last quarter, Thor posted income of $19.9 million—a 45% increase from a year earlier.
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Officials in Wakarusa, Ind., got some very exciting news Monday (June 3). As reported by the Elkhart Truth, Thor Industries Inc. announced it is taking over the beleaguered campus that used to house Monaco Coach, and more recently motorhome operations for Navistar RV, on the town’s south side.
“This is awesome. I’m ecstatic. It couldn’t be better for us,” said Jeff Troxel, Wakarusa Town Manager. “It adds stability to the town. We haven’t had stability on that side of town for years.”
Bob Martin, president and COO of Thor, said it’s too early to know how many jobs will be created as the company plans to move part of its Thor Motor Coach subsidiary along with painting operations for Keystone RV Co. into the Wakarusa site.
“We’ll have a clearer picture of what our plans are,” Martin said. “I know people always want to know how it’s going to affect people in jobs, but long term it should be good for the county and the community and we’d like to see it come back to production numbers it was at years ago.”
The move will mean new production for Thor Motor Coach and won’t reduce any of those jobs in Elkhart, he said. “It will be in addition to our plant in Elkhart. The Elkhart work force will stay the same,” Martin said.
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