Manufacturers are Filling Dealersâ€™ Lots with Exciting Motorhomes Featuring Fresh Ideas and Forward Thinking
There was a time â€” OK, letâ€™s be frank: it was about four yours ago â€” 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 wonâ€™t be in until next spring, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported that through September 2013, motorÂhome shipments to dealers were just shy of 30,000 coaches. Granted, less-restrictive credit accounts for some of these sales â€” but the great majority have been fueled by innovative product design.
And everybodyâ€™s onboard â€” 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.
â€œWeâ€™ve always been known as a towable company,â€ Forest River General Manager Jeff Babcock recently told the RV trade journal RVBusiness. â€œLooking 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 weâ€™ve put in a really strong effort into our motorhomes â€” and with the addition of Coachmen, we are now the No. 1 motorhome manufacturer, and we are continuing to build that edge every year.â€
Both companies â€” Forest River and its Coachmen RV division, which it acquired in 2008 â€” 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 Countyâ€™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 RVIAâ€™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 â€œcrossoverâ€ line â€”â€œClass A styling with the drivability of a Class C.â€ 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 dÃ©cor, with rotocast bays offering 112 cubic feet of outside storage.
â€œOne of the main things customers notice about the FR3 is its curb appeal,â€ said Product Manager Mike Hums, who developed the coach. â€œIt 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.â€
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. Itâ€™s available in four two-slideout floorplans â€” including a new 27-footer â€” 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). Thereâ€™s also a lighted â€œmudroomâ€ 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: thereâ€™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 â€œentry-levelâ€ price â€” at least, for its segment â€” is Forest Riverâ€™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 Europeâ€™s extremely popular Fiat Ducato platform. The first of these, which debuted to the companyâ€™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 (itâ€™s available in 90- and 101-inch roof heights).
Taking it a step further â€” literally â€” 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.
â€œWeâ€™ve got all the mainstream products at Winnebago, obviously, but we love the niche stuff also,â€ Scott Degnan, Winnebagoâ€™s vice president of sales and product management, told RVBusiness. â€œWeâ€™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 thatâ€™s a natural way to do that.â€
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 StudioÂLoft 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 â€œhigh $80,000s to low $90,000s,â€ 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 â€” options on which include a fireplace, front-powered drop-down bunk and stackable washer and dryer â€” 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 weâ€™d be remiss if we didnâ€™t mention it here as well, if for no other reason than TMCâ€™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 â€” on a bigger scale â€” 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.
â€œThe Miramar is a â€˜couples coachâ€™ intended to be used more than a couple of weekends a year,â€ noted Jon Krider, Thor Motor Coach director of marketing.
For an entirely different look, Jayco introduced an American version of a design itâ€™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 â€œmudâ€ tires and a choice of two striking full-body color schemes, the 31-foot, 7-inch Melbourne 29X includes a comfort lounge, â€œdream dinetteâ€ and, as might be expected, lap belts built into every seating position.
â€œIt appeals to a younger demographic, a different market for those folks who really want to get to places they normally canâ€™t get,â€ said Chuck Lasley, Jayco vice president of corporate marketing. â€œNobodyâ€™s done anything like this in the U.S. market for a very long time.â€
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 Jaycoâ€™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 Jaycoâ€™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 â€” including the high-end Ikon â€” the Bristol, Ind., company went in a different direction with its Villagio. Itâ€™s still every inch a luxury coach â€” 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, itâ€™s been a blockbuster year for motorhome enthusiasts and thereâ€™s even more. Some of the new floorplans and upgrades to a few other major-league nameplates, include:
Â â€¢ Tiffin Motor Homesâ€™ new 37-foot Allegro Bus Class A. The center-aisle coach is built on Tiffinâ€™s proprietary PowerÂGlide chassis, with a Cummins 450 ISL engine mated to a 3000MH Allison transmission. â€œA lot of our customers want something smaller,â€ said Tiffin founder Bob Tiffin. â€œSo, we came up with this 37-footer to take the place of 40s and 45s if thatâ€™s what they want. Itâ€™s got all the equipment that a 45-foot Allegro Bus has â€” heated floors, three air conditioners, diesel generator and more. Itâ€™s the best driving motorÂhome on the road, bar none.â€
â€¢ Fleetwood RVâ€™s restyled 2014 Discovery diesel pusher Class A is the first major upgrade of the companyâ€™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 Fleetwoodâ€™s PowerBridge platform and equipped with a 380-hp Cummins 8.9-liter diesel engine. The exterior sports oversize headlights withÂ
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 dÃ©cors 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 â€œRV Capital of the World,â€ Elkhart, Ind.Â Â Â Â