Manufacturers are Filling Dealers’ Lots with Exciting Motorhomes Featuring Fresh Ideas and Forward Thinking
There was a time — OK, let’s be frank: it was about four yours ago — when the concept of a well-equipped, sub-$100,000, 25-foot-long Class A motorhome was about as foreign to the RV industry as a Class C American coach built on an Italian chassis.
Then came the recession, and RV enthusiasts still in a position to buy became a lot more particular about what they were spending their money on. In retrospect, a case could be made that as painful as it was, the economic downturn instigated in large part a renaissance in coach design, engineering and pricing.
Witness, as Exhibit A, the year 2013. While all the figures won’t be in until next spring, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported that through September 2013, motorhome shipments to dealers were just shy of 30,000 coaches. Granted, less-restrictive credit accounts for some of these sales — but the great majority have been fueled by innovative product design.
And everybody’s onboard — including Elkhart-Ind.-based Forest River Inc., a multi-division manufacturer that historically battles with cross-town rival Thor Industries Inc. for No. 1 market share.
“We’ve always been known as a towable company,” Forest River General Manager Jeff Babcock recently told the RV trade journal RVBusiness. “Looking at it four years ago, five years ago, we always had that bar on towables being so high and motorhomes were so much lower in comparison. Now we’ve put in a really strong effort into our motorhomes — and with the addition of Coachmen, we are now the No. 1 motorhome manufacturer, and we are continuing to build that edge every year.”
Both companies — Forest River and its Coachmen RV division, which it acquired in 2008 — released a number of new ideas in 2013, including the Forest River FR3 gas Class A coach, the Legacy diesel-pusher motorhome and the gas-engine-powered Coachmen Pursuit.
Like certain of the models discussed here, the FR3 debuted at Elkhart County’s RV Open House Week in September 2013, a laid-back trade show held at different venues throughout the county and one of three late-year events now used by the RV industry to debut new-model-year products (the others are the PRVCA Hershey Show in Pennsylvania, also in September, and RVIA’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., which at press time had yet to happen).
The rather short 25- and 30-foot FR3 is referred to by Forest River as a “crossover” line —“Class A styling with the drivability of a Class C.” Built on a 362-hp V-10-powered Ford F53 chassis, both units sport twin slideouts and the same gray-toned exterior and coffee-colored décor, with rotocast bays offering 112 cubic feet of outside storage.
“One of the main things customers notice about the FR3 is its curb appeal,” said Product Manager Mike Hums, who developed the coach. “It is set off by a radius roof and a painted one-piece fiberglass front cap. The headlights and fog lights have LED trim rings that are really distinctive.”
Like many shorter Class A motorhomes, the FR3 increases sleeping capacity through the use of an automatically actuated bunk snugged up against the ceiling of the cockpit. Additional sleep stations are created with a convertible oversize dinette and, in the larger 30DS, a fold-out hide-a-bed sofa that incorporates dual footrests for comfortable TV viewing. Interestingly, the 30DS is equipped with a queen bed out back, while the shorter 25DS features a rear king bed and shares the rear space with a corner bathroom (mid-coach in the bigger model). The 25DS has a 16,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) and retails for around $109,000.
The Coachmen Pursuit, built using AZDEL composite side walls on the same Ford F53 chassis (with a gvwr of 18,000 pounds) found under the FR3 30DS, features a similar power-bunk system and swivel/reclining cockpit seats along with Cognac Maple cabinetry. It’s available in four two-slideout floorplans — including a new 27-footer — with MSRPs from $90,000 to $95,000. The slightly longer, family-size 33BHP also includes a horseshoe dinette and curbside bunks in the bedroom slideout, opposite the bath (although this does reduce outside storage a bit). There’s also a lighted “mudroom” for dirty shoes just inside the entryway along with a small broom and coat closet and a pull-out pantry that provides extra counterspace.
Two very notable features of the Pursuit of interest to pet owners: there’s a floor-level window on the passenger side of the cockpit that provides four-legged travelers an unobstructed and safe view when at the campsite, while inside the lowest drawer in the galley pulls open to reveal a pet feeding station.
Also carrying an “entry-level” price — at least, for its segment — is Forest River’s Legacy. Positioned to catch the eye of a used diesel buyer, the $189,000 (MSRP) Legacy is assembled on a Freightliner straight-rail chassis powered by a 300-hp Cummins diesel. Designed for families, it can sleep eight with the now-familiar front overhead bunk and flip-down sofa and dinette.
Winnebago Industries, meanwhile, introduced a number of coaches on the new Chrysler Ram ProMaster chassis, an adaptation of Europe’s extremely popular Fiat Ducato platform. The first of these, which debuted to the company’s dealer body last April, was the front-wheel-drive, 22-foot Travato, with a gvwr of 9,350 pounds and powered by a 280-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. According to Winnebago Product Manager Russ Garfin, the Travato will use the higher roof variant offered on the ProMaster (it’s available in 90- and 101-inch roof heights).
Taking it a step further — literally — Winnebago more recently introduced the Trend at the PRVCA Hershey Show. It, too, is built on the ProMaster chassis, but in a larger Class C configuration.
“We’ve got all the mainstream products at Winnebago, obviously, but we love the niche stuff also,” Scott Degnan, Winnebago’s vice president of sales and product management, told RVBusiness. “We’re trying to grow the overall pie in addition to growing our piece of it and get some nontraditional RVers into the RV lifestyle. We think that’s a natural way to do that.”
Available in two 23-foot floorplans on chassis with a 9,350-pound gvwr and a fuel-efficent V-6 Pentastar gas engine said to get 14 to 16 mpg, the unit also offers six air bags in the cab for added safety. Both floorplans feature a powered StudioLoft bed that lifts tight to the ceiling to conserve space during the day plus LED lighting, Ultraleather furniture and three-point seat belts to the dinette.
Backed by a five-year, 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty, the Trend and its Itasca-brand companion Viva! product line will retail in the “high $80,000s to low $90,000s,” depending on equipment, Degnan added.
Winnebago Industries also unveiled its Winnebago Forza and Itasca Solei Class A luxury diesel pushers last spring. Initially available with two slideouts in lengths of 34 and 38 feet on a 6.7-liter, 340-hp Cummins-powered Freightliner XCS chassis with a gvwr of 26,000 pounds, the Forza/Solei features a 50-inch, ceiling-mounted LED TV and a galley with polished Corian countertops and tile backsplashes. A side-entry 34-footer — options on which include a fireplace, front-powered drop-down bunk and stackable washer and dryer — retails for about $210,000.
Thor Motor Coach (TMC), the motorized arm of Thor Industries, also has been delving into the use of non-traditional chassis for Class A coaches. More can be found on the new AXIS and Vegas sisterships elsewhere in this issue (see page 48), but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it here as well, if for no other reason than TMC’s use of a Ford E-350 strip chassis in the first modern-era employment of that Ford underpinnings in the Class A marketplace.
Another recent TMC gas coach entry — on a bigger scale — is the Miramar. Built on a Ford F53 chassis with a gvwr of 22,000 pounds with a 362-hp Triton V-10 engine, the Miramar is available in four 32- to 35-foot floorplans with up to three slideouts, each of which can be equipped with an optional drop-down bed over the cockpit. An HD-MAX exterior with partial paint design is the standard finish, while a wide-open basement structure allows for multiple pass-through storage areas.
Inside, the galley is equipped with a solid-surface countertop, 30-inch over-the-range microwave, residential Whirlpool refrigerator, two-tone furniture and blackout roller shades. All floorplans feature the Denver Mattress sleep system with king-size beds in select models.
“The Miramar is a ‘couples coach’ intended to be used more than a couple of weekends a year,” noted Jon Krider, Thor Motor Coach director of marketing.
For an entirely different look, Jayco introduced an American version of a design it’s been selling overseas, the Melbourne 4×4 Class C. Built on a Ford E-450 chassis with a gvwr of 14,500 pounds and equipped with four-wheel-drive, black chrome wheels, aggressive “mud” tires and a choice of two striking full-body color schemes, the 31-foot, 7-inch Melbourne 29X includes a comfort lounge, “dream dinette” and, as might be expected, lap belts built into every seating position.
“It appeals to a younger demographic, a different market for those folks who really want to get to places they normally can’t get,” said Chuck Lasley, Jayco vice president of corporate marketing. “Nobody’s done anything like this in the U.S. market for a very long time.”
In a more traditional vein, Jayco introduced an all-new gas Class A coach last spring. Two floorplans for the Precept are available, both on a Ford F53 chassis with a gvwr of 18,000 pounds. Features include pass-through exterior storage, 40-inch LED TV, Corian kitchen countertop, 36-inch shower with glass door, six-way powered driver and passenger seats and an ergonomically designed cockpit dash with burlwood accents and passenger-side computer workstation. Like the Melbourne, it also boasts Jayco’s exclusive JRide ride-and-handling system, which according to the company features state-of-the-art shocks and suspension systems for optimum handling and comfort.
Not far from Jayco’s Middlebury, Ind., headquarters, Kibbi LLC also released a new model just before the summer season. But while Kibbi is more known for its line of upscale Renegade motorcoaches built on Class 7 and Class 8 chassis — including the high-end Ikon — the Bristol, Ind., company went in a different direction with its Villagio. It’s still every inch a luxury coach — there are just fewer inches. As noted by company execs, the 25-foot, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based Renegade takes design cues from European coaches and upscale yachts with its stainless-steel accents, bonded leather upholstery, available Corian countertops, lightweight AZDEL composite side walls and Euro-style cabinets. The 2014 Villagio is also available with a Carefree power awning, one-piece fiberglass shower and three-color full-body paint. Three floorplans are offered, with MSRPs in the $130,000-$140,000 range.
As you can see, it’s been a blockbuster year for motorhome enthusiasts and there’s even more. Some of the new floorplans and upgrades to a few other major-league nameplates, include:
• Tiffin Motor Homes’ new 37-foot Allegro Bus Class A. The center-aisle coach is built on Tiffin’s proprietary PowerGlide chassis, with a Cummins 450 ISL engine mated to a 3000MH Allison transmission. “A lot of our customers want something smaller,” said Tiffin founder Bob Tiffin. “So, we came up with this 37-footer to take the place of 40s and 45s if that’s what they want. It’s got all the equipment that a 45-foot Allegro Bus has — heated floors, three air conditioners, diesel generator and more. It’s the best driving motorhome on the road, bar none.”
• Fleetwood RV’s restyled 2014 Discovery diesel pusher Class A is the first major upgrade of the company’s popular Discovery since 2007. The 36- to 40-foot 2014 Discovery is available in four floorplans (two with full-wall slides) on a Freightliner XCM modular chassis (with a gvwr of 32,000 pounds) that has been adapted to Fleetwood’s PowerBridge platform and equipped with a 380-hp Cummins 8.9-liter diesel engine. The exterior sports oversize headlights with
LED accent lighting, a front slideout generator access door and revised colors and graphics. Inside is a more automotive wraparound dash with faux-wood inlays and soft-touch surfaces, while new interior décors and wood options have been added.
Bruce Hampson has been writing about cars, boats and RVs for more than 30 years. A former senior managing editor at MotorHome, he lives in the “RV Capital of the World,” Elkhart, Ind.