Founding a new enterprise in the aftermath of an economic downturn can be quite a challenge. However, for Claude Donati and David Middleton, the two principals behind NeXus RV, a new motorized RV manufacturer in Elkhart, Ind., the waning recession actually worked in their favor. As former executives with Gulf Stream Coach, they brought a wealth of experience to the new enterprise – and, based on what they learned, a new factory-direct business model that, according to Middleton, provides the buyer with “a lot more coach for a lot less money.”
NeXus also manages to keep costs in check by maintaining a streamlined operation. The company offers two models – the Viper and the Phantom – and nine floorplans, ranging in length from 23 to 32 feet. There’s some crossover in size – the Viper ranges from 24 to 29 feet, while the Phantom starts at 23 feet and stretches the tape to 31 feet, 9 inches with its 32P single-slideout floorplan – but there’s a sizable difference between the two models. Aside from the traditional cabover sleeper in the Phantom, the motorhome is 4 inches wider and 4 inches taller than the Viper.
Where the two models don’t differ is in chassis choice and construction techniques. Built on Ford’s V-10-powered E-350 and E-450 chassis (both with a 14,500-pound gross vehicle weight rating), the NeXus is currently the only Class C motorhome built with a full steel-cage framework – floor, side walls and roof – using a high-strength, low-alloy steel which, according to Donati, is 60 percent to 70 percent stronger than the aluminum the competition is using while only adding about 60 pounds more weight to the average motorhome.
One floorplan that should prove popular with motorhome enthusiasts is the company’s 31P Phantom. Visually, the coach offers extremely clean lines enhanced by seamless fiberglass side walls (backed by an AZDEL composite substructure) and a molded fiberglass cap that covers the front and slightly wraps around the sides. There’s also a rear eyebrow cap. In standard trim, the motorhome is white with graphics; NeXus also offers full-body paint (shown), a $7,000 option; for $2,700, buyers can opt for skirt paint that includes a flare up across the rear and highlights added to the front cap.
The rear window is standard, as is the huge pass-through storage bay accessed by the rear hatch and rearmost hatches on either side. Like all NeXus coaches, the 31P includes an electric awning and slideout awning topper as standard equipment, along with a 5,000-pound hitch receiver and an outside rinse-and-wash compartment.
Another construction technique worth noting is NeXus’ use of automotive-style window seals all around. It’s a bit more labor-intensive to install, but offers better protection and is less likely to develop leaks.
Inside, the Phantom’s impressive 7-foot-high ceiling helps create an open, airy living space enhanced all the more with the single 24-inch deep, 10-foot-long streetside slideout that’s home to paired panoramic windows, the dinette and sofa. The window valances, along with the dinette back and sides and the sofa, are upholstered in complementary earth-tone shades of soft-touch vinyl, with a faux tile pattern in the linoleum floor covering. In standard trim, the Phantom is fitted with a jackknife sofa; this unit was upgraded with a hide-a-bed and air mattress. The “Dream Dinette” table, meanwhile, is hydraulically actuated; to lower it for an additional sleeping option, you simply switch the lever beneath the table and lower the table until it fits into the cleats.
Curbside, the 31P is equipped with a barrel chair just forward of the entry door and, in the abbreviated galley, everything a person needs for meal prep including an oven, three-burner range top and microwave oven, but it’s short on counterspace. A fold-down or pullout counter extension would really help. The area also boasts a large twin-bowl sink and single-lever faucet with a pull-off handle for cleaning chores. Other amenities include the two-door Norcold refrigerator (with wood door inserts), 6-gallon gas/electric water heater, 30-amp electrical (upgradable to 50 amp), 4.0 kW Guardian AC generator (a 5.5 kW genset is optional), a ducted 13,500-BTU roof-mounted air conditioner and 40,000-BTU furnace.
NeXus gets good marks throughout the cabin for its space utilization. Cabinets and storage are plentiful, including some you’re not expecting – like the space with a hinged access cover that’s found in the streetside corner of the forward cab bed – and some that will surprise you. Aft of the refrigerator, for example, is a tall, narrow pantry, while another narrow cabinet door below the countertop, between sink and stove, reveals a quartet of drawers on rollers for storing everything from tableware to tools. NeXus uses residential raised-panel hardwood in its cabinets, with glazed maple doors and nickel pull handles.
In fact, about the only open interior wall space is found directly above the entry door – and the company isn’t shy about noting it will add one there, too, if the buyer wants it.
“As a manufacturer dealing directly with the customer, we’re capable of making special changes requested by the customer, giving people the opportunity to ‘customize’ their units,” Middleton pointed out. “For example, we had a retired couple come in from Atlanta that wanted our 23-foot model with a rear corner bed. But in a unit that small you want as much storage as possible, so they asked us to add an extra cabinet above the door and enlarge the cabinet near the bunk. They also wanted to pick their fabrics, and added more vinyl to the dinette. We built it the way they wanted it.”
The NeXus also scores high in sleeping accommodations. With the dinette broken down for slumber and the sofa pulled out, there’s enough room between the rear bedroom and cabover bunk to sleep six to eight adults comfortably.
What really makes this floorplan, though, is the rest of the unit. The 31P offers a rear bedroom arrangement with a pedestal queen bed, but between it and the living quarters you’ll find the “traditional” bath area has been divided into separate facilities. The water closet, with toilet – which, by the way, isn’t mounted too close to a wall, something larger users can appreciate – vanity sink and cabinet, is streetside, while the 6-foot shower stall with skylight is curbside. Pocket doors separate the bedroom from the bath, and the bath from the lounge/dining area. It’s not unlike the arrangement you’d find in many Class A coaches.
While the only TV, a 26-inch VIZIO flat-screen unit, is mounted on an articulating arm above the cabover bunk and is viewable throughout the motorhome, NeXus offers a second 26-inch unit as an option for the bedroom. If you’d rather install your own, the forward bedroom wall has been prewired and backing added behind the wall to support a wall mount.
The floorplan is nearly a “walk-through” design into the front cab; there is, at most, a 4-inch elevation difference between the Ford cockpit and the rest of the coach. The cockpit is comfortable and essentially stock; the only option added was an upgraded stereo with USB port and iPod jack. The backup camera is standard equipment.
Exclusive of the individual warranties that may be provided by a component supplier, NeXus offers a 12-month bumper-to-bumper warranty on the motorhome – which brings up another interesting aspect of the company’s factory-direct business model. Without a dealer network, where do NeXus customers go to get their motorhome serviced?
“That’s one thing we took seriously, more than anything, because we wanted to make sure customers have service after the sale,” said Middleton. “We quickly realized that there are actually more service centers around the country than there are selling dealers. So we are in the process of setting up a nationwide network of qualified service centers.”
Currently, NeXus has about 100 service centers in its network for service and warranty work, with a goal of establishing 250 centers nationwide. Service center locations are readily listed on the NeXus RV website. And NeXus products are built exclusively on Ford chassis, which can be serviced at any Ford service center.
“We feel that our service approach is better than any dealership out there,” Donati added.
“Most of the time, customers need or want service where they are going to be on vacation – or en route, if they encounter any problems. We offer coverage in those areas, be it the Grand Canyon or the Black Hills. We think service is actually a selling feature for buying factory direct.”
Chassis: Ford E-450
Engine: ford V-10
Fuel: 55 gal
GVWR: 14,500 lbs
Length: 31′ 7″
Width: 8′ 5″
Height with A/C: 11′ 3″
Freshwater cap: 40 gal
Gray-water cap: 36 gal
Black-water cap: 27 gal
LP-Gas cap: 9.9 gal
Base Price: $74,199