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As part of a two-year initiative designed to leverage the Winnebago brand’s cachet with RV consumers, the builder recently informed dealers it has essentially phased out its Itasca nameplate.
“This is all part of a larger strategy to become more aggressive in promoting the Winnebago brand name,” Scott Degnan, vice president, sales and product management for Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago Industries Inc., told RVBUSINESS.com. “We continue to strengthen and build the Winnebago brand through our advertising, social media, mainstream media, and brand licensing efforts.
“If you go back a few years and look at some of our motorhomes, you can’t even tell that they’re Winnebagos. We saw that as a lost opportunity. Winnebago stands for quality and longevity, and we wanted to promote that in the industry.”
Degnan stressed that the move would not impact its dealer body in a significant way. “Dealers will be keeping the same product lines and the Itasca network has not gone away,” said Degnan. “For instance if they carried the Itasca Sunstar, it will now be a Sunstar motorhome by Winnebago. A lot of our dealers are actually seeing this as a positive. They understand that the bigger and bolder the Winnebago name is, the more recognition it will have with consumers.”
Sam Jeffson, public relations specialist, added, “In all of our marketing efforts, we are focusing on bringing Winnebago to the forefront. Ultimately, we want people to see motorhome and immediately connect to Winnebago – no stop in between.”
RV wholesale shipments to retailers of 27,960 units were reported by manufacturers in the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) September monthly survey, 2.3% greater than the previous month and 12.4% ahead of the same month one year ago. This was the highest September total in nine years with gains recorded in conventional travel trailers and all categories of motorhomes. Seasonally adjusted, shipments in September were at an annualized rate of more than 405,000 units. Year-to-date, total RV shipments have now climbed to 285,049 units through the first nine months of the year and ahead of this same period last year by 5%. Towable RVs have gained 5% while motorhomes shipments were up 5.5% through September.
<img class="alignleft size-full wp-image-146777" src="http://www.rvbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Screen-Shot-2015-10-26-at-3.14.39-PM-e1445886912671.png" alt="Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.14.39 PM" width="580" height="733"/>
By JONATHAN WELSH Aug. 20, 2015 1:23 p.m. ET
BEFORE EMBARKING on a family road trip from his home in Red Bluff, Calif., to Pueblo, Colo., next month, Gary Bovee needs to do a few things: Check his vehicle’s oil, tire pressure and wiper fluid. He also needs to make sure the stove lights and the toilet flushes—and, oh yes, he plans to rebuild the front end with better brakes, stronger suspension parts and heavy-duty wheel bearings. So it goes when you have a luxury motor home that happens to be 37 years old.
Winnebago, General Motors, Airstream, Travco and other motor-home makers popular in the 1960s and 1970s are making a comeback, driven in part by people such as Mr. Bovee, who are snapping up decades-old models and restoring them to their kitschy glory, which often includes paint and trim in shades of orange, green and harvest gold. A network of clubs, forums, parts suppliers and service shops—like Good Old RVs,ClassicWinnebagos.com and Applied GMC—is making it easier to keep the old machines rolling.
Interest in vintage RVs is fueled by road-trip nostalgia and an improving economy but also mirrors an upswing in the mainstream RV industry, where shipments rose 5.5%, to 202,653 units during the first half of this year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. Helping the uptick were a spate of new RVs with old-fashioned looks, like Winnebago’s Brave, a riff on its 1970s model. Trailer maker Shasta made a splash recently with replica of its 1961 Airflyte.
The appeal of classic models like the (original) Winnebago Brave, GMC Eleganza and Fleetwood Pace Arrow is partly that they’re relatively easy on the wallet. They typically start at a few thousand dollars for a fixer upper, whereas a new “Class A” rig of a similar size can cost $100,000 and up. That said, their fuel economy (six to 10 miles per gallon) is about the same as a modern gasoline-powered motor home (i.e., pretty terrible) and a few mpg short of a new diesel model.
While Mr. Bovee, a retired air-pollution control officer, acquired his cream-colored 1978 GMC Royale motor home free from a cousin seven years ago, the going rate for old Winnebagos and other vintage RVs in working condition and with a nice interior is $20,000 to $25,000. With fixer uppers, the new owner often winds up paying about the same amount to make all the fixes.
Low-slung with (relatively) aerodynamic styling, 70s-era GMCs like Mr. Bovee’s are in high demand. Meanwhile, Winnebagos, especially models from the 1970s, are coveted for their boxy shape with slanted front grilles and a prominent, protruding “eyebrow” above the windshield. The features make the vehicle look as though it’s leaning forward into the wind.
“They’re so cute,” said Jeff Barth, a Winnebago fan who works in product planning for Boeing in Seattle. Last October he found a 1973 Winnebago Chieftain in Spokane, Wash., with just 22,000 miles on the odometer. While the rig had nearly all its original parts and interior décor, it needed lots of work to make it roadworthy.
“The last time it had been driven was in 1984, so all of the rubber parts had deteriorated and had to be redone,” Mr. Barth said, adding that the tires alone cost $2,500. That was just the beginning. On its first “shakedown” trip, the camper’s starter failed. Mr. Barth was eventually able to track down a replacement part and a motor-home-friendly mechanic to install it.
But other parts of the RV also required attention. The work wound up costing about $3,900. This was in addition to the $6,000 or so Mr. Barth had already spent reconditioning the engine, transmission and other systems.
“It adds up fast,” he said, estimating that he has spent about $30,000 on the rig altogether. But now he has a reliable vehicle that’s sure to start conversations wherever he pulls up for gas. The Chieftain was especially attractive because of its period-perfect interior, including “crazy orange” shag carpeting, Mr. Barth said.
Motor homes have been around almost as long as automobiles. One of the earliest, a modified 1916 Ford Model T pickup called a “telescoping apartment,” is at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Ind. It has slide-out compartments that expand its 16 square-feet of cargo area to a space large enough for a mattress and additional storage. The design foreshadows modern RVs that maximize space with sliding walls, said museum president Darryl Searer.
“The retro trend is really catching on,” Mr. Searer said, noting that older RVs are getting difficult to find even in junkyards because their spare parts are increasingly in demand.
The RV industry has gone through numerous cycles of boom and bust, but the 1960s and early 1970s were especially good times that saw advances in the vehicles that made them attractive to a widening range of customers who wanted to “camp” without having to sacrifice the comforts of home. Ads for Allegro motor homes around that time used the tagline “Roughing It, Smoothly.” GMC touted that its models, which had front-wheel drive and cushy adjustable air suspension, didn’t ride like trucks—a barb at rivals who built campers on truck chassis.
Many longtime vintage-RV enthusiasts say they expect a new crop of younger owners to keep the trend going, though the culture of the hobby is changing.
“The newer people seem to get together in smaller groups and take shorter trips, probably because they aren’t retired and their time is limited,” said Frank Condos, a retired aerospace engineer and member of the GMC Western States club. “There are younger folks coming into it, but they aren’t joiners, so membership in the clubs isn’t necessarily growing.”
Mr. Condos said Facebook and other social media have partially replaced the in-person gatherings that previously brought like-minded RV drivers together. For example, there’s a Classic GMC Motorhome Facebook page that has attracted more than 1,500 members since starting about a year ago. “If you go to that page, people are asking the same questions, like ‘Where do I find spare parts? or ‘How do I fix my generator?’ ” he said. “It’s familiar.”
Zebra Energy has introduced the SunSparks Solar Charging System, allowing RVers to economically and easily keep RV batteries charged. According to a press release, the system uses solar panels mounted on the vehicle’s roof, which are connected to the house battery bank through a charge controller.
A SunSparks System works in conjunction with existing equipment and is expandable and scalable to individual needs, providing a generating capacity of 150 to 450 watts. The SunSparks Plus kit also includes a wall-mounted LCD monitor, which lets you easily keep tabs on system performance and battery capacity.
Gideon Needleman, Zebra Energy’s CEO, noted, “We designed the SunSparks Solar Charging System to really allow RVers to live the dream. You bought an RV to be out in nature — and now you can finally go wherever you want for as long as you want without driving around all day to get another drink of diesel.
“With the SunSparks System, you can power your RV’s appliances and your personal electronic devices while camping for months at a time. The money you save on a few months’ worth of fuel pays for the SunSparks System. And the feeling of freedom it gives you is priceless.”
Zebra Energy offers a wide range of solar panels and accessories for off-grid use sold through a network of dealers.
More than 100 dealer personnel are in Alabama for the 2015 Tiffin Motorhomes Inc. Dealer Meeting at the Marriot Shoals Resort & Spa in Florence, Ala.
The two-day meeting began Monday night (Aug. 10) with a dinner, some words of welcome from President Bob Tiffin and a performance by 3 Wheel Drive, which treated the audience to an entertaining journey through the rock-country-blues music for which the Muscle Shoals region of Alabama is known.
“I think we’re going to have a great year this year. I came across the bridge about 3 o’clockthis afternoon and up on the service station’s billboard it was $2.16 for regular gasoline, and $2.37 for diesel. I tell you what, that’s getting down there. Y’all have to tell me what you charge for interest. How much? 5-6%? I don’t see why we can’t sell four or five thousand motorhomes this year,” Tiffin said, adding that he doesn’t see a downturn for at least the next 17-18 months.
The meetings conclude today with a tour of the manufacturer’s campus in Red Bay, Ala., where dealers will get to see the new 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for Tiffin’s proprietary PowerGlide Chassis.
Also on the agenda are the introduction of three new models, one each for the Allegro Breeze, Allegro and Phaeton.
PHOENIX — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld an unusual and perhaps unprecedented directive that a major national tire manufacturer must disclose in all future lawsuits how it withheld information from a Tucson family.
The order by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals directs Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. to tell anyone else who sues the company that a trial judge found there was “clear and convincing evidence” that it and its attorneys engaged in a fraud by not disclosing it had done tests on the tire model in question.
Those test results, wrote appellate Judge Milan Smith Jr., could have been used to support the allegation that the tire was improperly designed and not suitable for high-speed use in the desert climate. More to the point, Smith said it could have resulted in the plaintiffs getting more in a settlement.
Separately, the appellate court upheld a $2.7 million sanction levied against the company’s attorneys, an amount designed to compensate the plaintiffs in the case for all the costs they had incurred in filing the suit. Smith said imposing the fees is the only real way to punish the attorneys as there is no way to know what the couple might have obtained had the company not hidden the information.
“We are disappointed with the decision and are considering our options,” Goodyear spokesman Keith Price said.
The company’s problems may not be over: It and its lawyers now face a new lawsuit in state court charging them with fraud.
The case involves a Tucson couple driving through New Mexico in 2003 in their motor home. While on a freeway, one of the tires allegedly failed, causing the vehicle to go over an embankment and flip over, causing serious injury to driver Leroy Haeger, his wife and their daughter-in-law.
In filing suit against Goodyear, attorney David Kurtz demanded all the information the company had on testing of the G159 model of tire. What they did not get was some data on high-speed testing, data that U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver found the company clearly had at the time.
In fact, Smith said, an attorney for Goodyear told the trial judge that the company had “responded to all outstanding discovery.”
“This response to Judge Silver was false,” Smith said. He said the attorney had been sent the tests. Kurtz finally got that information.
Ultimately, Smith said, the family settled “for a small fraction of what they might otherwise have done.” The terms of the settlement are sealed.
But what Kurtz did not know until after the case had settled out of court was that the company also had internal heat and speed tests. And even as Goodyear was arguing after Kurtz went back to court that it had done nothing wrong, Smith said the company disclosed “apparently by accident” it had even more tests that would bear on the question of whether heat could cause the tread to separate.
What the court also found was that Goodyear has a history of “lengthy discovery battles” every time someone sues the company over one of its tires. At the same time, the court noted, when Goodyear has provided documents it has done so with the understanding that the attorneys in that case do not share them with the lawyers in any other case.
By Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services
Elkhart-based Forest River, one of Indiana's largest RV manufacturers, is facing up to $35 million in penalties for violating federal safety laws.
An investigation started by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last September found that Forest River failed to report safety defects and other information required by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Forest River has "acknowledged it failed to report early warning data and failed to launch two safety recalls in a timely fashion," according to a statement released by the NHTSA today.
Forest River is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's company Berkshire Hathaway. With an estimated $1.6 billion in sales, the company is one of Elkhart County's largest employers.
As part of a consent order signed by Peter Liegl, Forest River's president and CEO, the company could pay up to $35 million in civil penalties. The company must pay a $5 million penalty, with the possibility of another $30 million.
The manufacturer must retain an independent monitor to conduct periodic audits of safety practices. If Forest River fails to resolve any issues discovered in audits, the remaining penalties would come due — $3 million for a first violation, $7 million for a second, and $20 million for a third. Forest River must also hire a consultant to help meet requirements of the consent order.
The terms of the order last for three years, but the NHTSA can extend the order by one year if the independent monitor recommends it.
Click here to read more about the cause behind the fines and what's been recalled and why.