At the RV Industry’s Premier Trade Show, There Were Hundreds of Reasons Why The Future Looks Bright
In every industry, there is an event that is recognized as “the one” — a happening that has become so famous, naming it in its entirety is no longer necessary. The Caanes International Film Festival, for example, is now just “Cannes.” The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500, is known by practically every American as “Indy.” And within the RV industry, all you have to say is “Louisville” and everyone knows you mean the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) show, where dozens of manufacturers and thousands of RVs converge on Kentucky’s largest city.
In addition to an ocean of RVs and related products, RVIA is also where industry professionals learn about the health of the RV industry as a whole, and after seeing the year-by-year sales figures since 2007, we can tell you the prognosis is good. After years of cautious optimism, RV sales are definitely on the upswing, and you can see this good news reflected on the gleaming finish of hundreds of new RVs. Not just freshened with a new graphics package and interior décor, mind you, but all new models and floorplans and technologies.
With display halls larger than four football fields, there’s obviously no way we can cover all the new stuff you’ll be seeing at RV dealerships coming this spring, but we did find a great selection of interesting, innovative and exciting products that are certainly worth your attention. Here are just a few, in alphabetical order.
Forest River is one of the biggest names in the RV business, and although its product offerings have always been expansive, the company isn’t particularly well known for its Class A motorhomes — but that’s changing. “In the past year, we have really focused on our motorhome business,” said Forest River’s general manager, Jeff Babcock. “We built motorhomes and trailers for years, but now we’ve become a true motorhome manufacturer. I think we’ve caught a lot of people by surprise.”
Indeed. Take, for example, the company’s FR3 Class A “crossover,” so named because it combines the livability and affordability of a Class C motorhome with the space and convenience of a Class A coach. Available in two floorplans — 25DS and 30DS — the FR3 may be comparatively short for a Class A, but with two slideouts, it lives like a much bigger motorhome. Built on the venerable Ford F53 gas chassis, the FR3 starts around $109,000.
It seems like there’s no limit to what luxury coachbuilders can do these days — but balancing cost, content and capacity has always been one of the industry’s biggest challenges. Freightliner’s new V-Ride Suspension is being billed as a game changer, as it will allow coachbuilders to offer customers more for less.
“V-Ride brings a lot of features and benefits to the RV market,” said John Paul “J.P.” Davis, RV Product Manager for Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC). “It is the first-ever single rear axle suspension rated at 24,000 pounds. This gives motorhome builders the additional capacity to design new floorplans as well as luxury amenities. We should now be able to see bath-and-a-half floorplans with granite countertops and granite floors in a two-axle motorhome configuration. For motorhome owners, it means more capacity to carry their stuff — all without compromising the stable ride and the comfortable driving experience that FCCC products are known for.”
It also means a significant cost savings; adding a tag axle, the traditional way to increase capacity in a large Class A, typically tacks $15,000 onto the retail price.
Taking advantage of the new federal “bridge” laws organized by the RVIA, which now allow recreational vehicles to exceed 20,000 pounds per axle, the V-Ride gets its name from the V-Ride upper-arm connections. “It actually dissipates the suspension forces into the frame and the cross members,” Davis explained, “which increases the durability of the product as well as its longevity. To go along with that, the trailing arms and the transverse beam are integrated together; think of it as a big sway bar. It also reduces the amount of bushings and moving components that you would typically see in a traditional suspension.”
By combining the integrated transverse beam and the V-rod upper connections and adding the volumetric air bags that FCCC is known for, says Davis, customers will get a smooth, stable and comfortable ride that will be especially noticeable in curves and on uneven road surfaces. “That’s the ride that luxury motorhome (owners) expect and demand from FCCC,” said Davis.
Monaco dominated the entrance to one display hall with two familiar names: Dynasty and Vacationer. “When we decided to come back, after we were purchased by Allied Specialty Vehicles, it was kind of a restart,” said Mike Snell, President of Monaco Coach. “What we’re trying to do now is return to the basics of our product portfolio, so we’re starting with the two most iconic names. Dynasty has been around since 1991, and Vacationer has been a mainstay since the ’70s. Later, we’ll be filling in the lineup with our other iconic names like Ambassador, Endeavor, Windsor and Diplomat. We’ll have a total portfolio.” Though only a prototype of the new Vacationer was on display at the show, Snell says it will be available in two 36-foot floorplans, the DBT and SBT.
The biggest focus in the Monaco display, however, was the all-new Dynasty. Adorned with a banner that read, “Return To Power,” the 40-plus-foot diesel pusher sparkled under the hall’s halogen lighting and had a near continuous line of interested onlookers waiting to get on board. “The Dynasty really is a coach that was produced by our owners,” explained Snell. “We actually had 2,800 owners spend an hour filling out our survey, which had 170 questions. We took anything that customers agreed upon at a rate of 70 percent or better, then incorporated it into this product. For example, the kitchen is probably the best kitchen of any motorhome ever produced. Look at the utilization of space — from spice drawers to a pop-up coffeemaker to an appliance garage — these are attributes that you’ll see in a residence. The kitchen is where people always congregate in a home, so we built the coach around it.”
Other interesting survey results? Seventy-eight percent of owners said they would prefer a computer desk and a recliner opposite the sofa — yet roughly 96 percent of the coaches produced by Monaco had two sofas. “So now you’ll see that the Dynasty does not have two sofas,” Snell pointed out. “They didn’t want a TV that they had to turn their head to see, so the TV is directly across from the sofa. Women didn’t want to look at a wall when using the sink — they wanted to look outside — so we added a window there. And no one produces a round (dining) table, but our owners wanted one, because when you’re seated next to someone in a booth, you have to turn your head to talk to them.”
So, you guessed it, the Dynasty has a round dining table, which is also removable — another customer request.
Pleasure-Way appears to be on a relentless pursuit of the ultimate small motorhome, and the all-new Prestige is further evidence that the company has no intention of resting on its laurels. Following the Pursuit model launched just last year, the Prestige is a 22-foot Class C motorhome built on the Ford E-350 chassis with some pretty unusual features. “What we’ve done is create a really large, 32-inch-wide rear bathroom with a stand-up shower that’s completely wrapped in Corian,” said Pleasure-Way’s Dean Rumpel. “There isn’t a bathroom like it in anything of this size. We also developed a new power sofa that mechanically lays down into a queen-size bed at the push of a button. That’s one of the firsts as well. Between the two, they give us a bigger front living room area and a larger bathroom, all within the 22-foot footprint.”
Rumpel also points to the coach’s construction as another unique feature. “We bond all the fiberglass to the steel frame; there are no screws in the exterior of the body holding anything together. So the front cap and rear cap overlap the roof, and the roof overlaps the side walls.” The Prestige retails for $110,000, fully loaded with no options. “It has every conceivable option you could want,” Rumpel concluded.
Winnebago debuted what could be the next big thing in RV paint schemes: matte finish paint. Similar to what you’ll find on high-end automobiles like BMW and Mercedes, the finish looks striking, and has some side benefits, according to Scott Degnan, vice president of sales and product management for Winnebago Industries. “We build as good of a side wall as anyone, but with a gloss finish you will always see a little bit of ripple. All that disappears with this new finish. We also went with a white powder-coated wheel, and did a frosted look on the windows as well. The response has been 100 percent ‘Wow!’ It’s getting a lot of attention.” Although Degnan could not provide confirmation at press time, he believes the matte-finish package will add an extra $8,000-$10,000 to the price of the Ellipse and its sister product, the Winnebago Tour. “It’s a little longer process and requires more attention to detail,” he says. “But with it, you’re also getting fully painted awning covers and rear ladder.” Winnebago also went to 3M for a matte finish to cover the front cap, which is usually finished in a high gloss. “We think we can set a new bar for the industry and move forward with this process.”
In other news, Winnebago seeks to expand on its Touring Coach line (which up until now consisted solely of the Sprinter-based Era) with the new Travato, based on the Ram ProMaster (the Fiat Ducato in Europe). “Even though we see this as a small market, we also see it as an emerging one,” said Degnan. He sees fuel economy as being one driving force, but also sites the most recent GoRVing campaigns, featuring sports families. “The Touring Coach products are perfect for something like that,” he says. “They’re easy to drive, and easy to park.”
And easier to afford, too, as Degnan predicts the gas-powered Travato will be priced some $20,000-$30,000 less than the diesel-powered Era. “In Europe, the Ducato chassis is all you see,” Degnan continued. “So we’re seeing a move to it, as well. We love our Sprinter business and will continue to grow it, but we see (the Travato) as another big piece.”
With new products, new thinking and a multitude of options, the motorhome industry truly offers something for everyone in 2014.