Manufacturers continue to develop more fully equipped, easy-to-drive motorhomes, while consumers also see the return of some old favorites
If you need any more convincing that comfortable camping is back in vogue, consider this: the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) — the trade group that, among other things, works to promote the RV industry nationally through its public relations efforts and its Go RVing campaign — estimates that more than 400,000 RVs were shipped to dealers by the end of 2016.
That’s a number that hasn’t been seen since RVIA began reporting on wholesale shipments in 1978.
Granted, the majority of RVs are towable units, but motorized models continue to grow in popularity among outdoor enthusiasts — particularly Class B and Class B-plus motorhomes. In fact, while Elkhart, Indiana-based Thor Motor Coach (TMC) has branded its Class B-plus Gemini and Compass and even its 25- to 27-foot Class A Axis and Vegas lines as recreational utility vehicles (RUVs), the Class B segment as a whole is fast becoming a viable alternative to traditional sport utility vehicles.
There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is a Class B’s maneuverability. With a footprint about the size of a traditional full-size SUV and oftentimes diesel-powered, they’re also more economical to drive — and without the typical graphics treatments found on the exterior of Class A and Class C motorhomes, they tend to pass through neighborhoods without undue notice.
And, let’s face it: they are smaller than the stereotypical motorhome. While there will always be a market for larger motorhomes, the downsizing trend continues to propel the RV industry — even though these smaller motorhomes, unlike towables, may not represent the greatest bang for the buck. Many of them, however, are equipped as opulently as a high-end Class A — but just try parking a big diesel pusher at the grocery store.
Insofar as debuting new models across the motorized spectrum, 2017 isn’t exactly a high-water mark. Following a dramatic surge last year — TMC, for example, introduced five different brands last fall — the focus for the coming season appears primarily to be one of refinement as OEMs fine-tune existing nameplates with more amenities and floorplans. However, we did spy a cache of new designs at September’s Hershey Show in Pennsylvania and Indiana’s Elkhart RV Open House trade show.
These included the new Legend from 15-year-old Midwest Automotive Designs, an Elkhart-based upfitter that originally specialized in luxury vehicle conversions and business-class limos on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis before later turning to the Class B market.
“We debuted the Daycruiser two years ago, and at first people didn’t understand why it didn’t have a shower in it,” said Jason Sullivan, an East Coast sales representative for the firm. “But it’s a growing segment of the market, enough so that we also are debuting a similar floorplan on a Ram ProMaster — our first. We call it the Legend. We feel that we’ll sell most of them without showers, but we’re offering a shower option. So we’ve brought our high-end fit-and-finish to the market on a chassis that’s around $20,000 less (than the Sprinter) and we feel that we can pick up another, different buyer segment from the B market.” MSRP on the Legend starts at about $105,000.
Eliminating last year’s Country Coach as part of its name, for 2017 Coachmen RV introduced a new-and-improved Sportscoach Class A diesel pusher that is a “luxury coach competing in the entry-level diesel engine market,” said Joe Mullen, Coachmen’s Sportscoach account manager for the East Coast.
The Sportscoach debuts with five floorplans, all on Freightliner chassis: two 36-foot-long straight-rail SRS models in the retail range of about $280,000, with a 340-hp Cummins ISP engine and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,000 pounds; and three 40-foot raised-rail models with a 31,000-pound GVWR at about the $300,000 price point, but with a 360-hp Cummins ISP engine.
A newly designed front cap with a slide-out generator tray gives the Sportscoach a bus look, Mullen pointed out. With a host of features — including glazed porcelain tile flooring, Sentrel shower walls, Sikkens-brand high-end automotive paint with four clear coats, myRV systems control, three wood choices for the glazed cabinetry, induction cooktops, convection microwave, optional 15,000-Btu air conditioners with heat pumps and a 10-gallon gas/electric water heater, among other items — the Sportscoach has created a buzz among consumers and dealers, according to Mullen.
Building on the popularity of its Sprinter-based Galleria — the first true Class B from a Forest River company — Coachmen RV also debuted its new Prism Elite. According to Mike Bear, Class B-C general manager for Coachmen RV, the top of the Class B market took about a $10,000 step up in 2015 — leaving a price void in the market that the manufacturer filled with the Prism Elite, a $100,000 (MSRP) unit on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. Augmenting Coachmen’s Prism lineup, the Elite debuts with three floorplans, including the 24EV with its slide-in-a-slide, curbside galley and cabover bed. The full-wall streetside slideout houses a U-shaped dinette in the living area and a large bed in the rear bedroom. In between the dinette and bed is the slide-within-the-full-wall slide, which actually retracts into the motorhome and houses the TV, stereo and additional storage.
After taking a yearlong hiatus from Class C production, Decatur, Indiana-based REV Recreation Group (parent company of Fleetwood RV, Holiday Rambler, Monaco and American Coach) is applying its skills at building higher-end Class A’s to its new Class C offerings, the Fleetwood Jamboree and Holiday Rambler Vesta.
“When we talked about getting back into building Class C’s, our goal was to not necessarily be that entry-level,” said Jamie Buckmeier, REV director of product development, engineering and design. “We felt that there was a market for people who wanted nicer features in a Class C — things that owners in the diesel market or high-end gas Class A’s were used to.”
The changes are apparent outside, where the Ford E-450-based motorhome sports a rounded, aerodynamic front cap “versus the typical side walls and just sticking a nose front on it; it makes it more appealing, more automotive-like,” Buckmeier said. The Jamboree/Vesta also features an integrated roof awning and Class A-style baggage doors.
Upgrades include all hardwood raised-panel cabinets, solid-surface countertops, solid-surface sink covers, glass tops above the range, a whole-house water-filtration system and flush-mount LED lighting throughout. Fleetwood also upgraded the Ford cockpit by removing the dash fascia and sending it out to be dipped in a process similar to that used by high-end automobiles. MSRP for the Jamboree is about $119,000, with a pair of two-slideout floorplans currently available — the 30D bunk model and the 31U.
Entegra Coach, a division of Middlebury, Indiana-based Jayco, both of which were acquired by Thor Industries last summer, reintroduced the new Insignia to its lineup. The Insignia nameplate had been dropped by Entegra about four years ago, but according to Tadd Jenkins, president of the Jayco Motorhome Group, changes and upgrades to Entegra’s former “entry-level” diesel pusher, the Aspire, caused it to move into a higher price point. The Insignia, with its $400,000 MSRP, is priced about $35,000 less than the Aspire.
The Insignia debuts with two 44-foot, 11-inch floorplans — the 44B and the 44W — both built on a Spartan K2 raised-rail chassis with a GVWR of 47,660 pounds and powered by a Cummins ISL turbocharged 450-hp diesel engine backed up by an Allison 3000MH six-speed automatic transmission. Both have four slides and offer 1½ bathrooms, while the 44B features an L-shaped sofa in the living area and the 44W comes with opposing sofas and a televator TV behind the curbside couch.
The Insignia offers a choice of three interior color combinations and four full-body paint schemes. Features include wood-grain porcelain floor tiles, Aqua-Hot hydronic water and heating system (with in-floor heat throughout), three 13,500-Btu air conditioners with heat pumps, a 3,000-watt true sine-wave power inverter, keyless entry, multiplex-controlled lighting, LED-lit solid-surface countertops and a residential Whirpool 20-cubic-foot refrigerator.
For 2017, Jayco also added the 36T floorplan to its four-model Precept lineup, giving the manufacturer a four-slide, two-full-bath unit that can sleep up to nine people thanks in part to its bunk-bed configuration. Built on Ford’s F-53 chassis with a GVWR of 24,000 pounds, the 36T is 38 feet, 2 inches long with an MSRP at about $160,000 depending on options, which include theater seating in place of the sofa, cabover bed and a bump up from the standard 8-cubic-foot refrigerator to a 22-cubic-foot residential model.
“It will sleep a big family, and it’s just so spacious, with a place for everything,” said Jenkins, adding that the newest Precept features the company’s JRide Plus ride and handling package.
The folks at Roadtrek — now a brand under Kitchener, Ontario-based Erwin Hymer Group North America (EHGNA), — believe their new Simplicity SRT on the Ram ProMaster 3500 chassis is a “game changer” for the Class B market.
With a base MSRP of about $69,550, EHGNA President and CEO Jim Hammill said the Simplicity SRT puts a well-appointed Class B within reach of anyone who can afford a monthly payment of about $300-$350 a month. Features of the entry-level model include a full galley with two-burner cooktop, microwave, 5-cubic-foot refrigerator and plenty of storage with a space-saving slide-out pantry and large pot drawer. The motorhome offers seating for five passengers and a rear power sofa that easily coverts to a king-size bed.
Hammill noted that being part of the EHG corporate umbrella, which buys some 36,000 ProMaster chassis annually, allowed Roadtrek to debut the Simplicity SRT at the lower price point.
Meanwhile, EHGNA has also fulfilled its promise to begin bringing stateside products from one of 10 different towable and motorized manufacturers under the German-based company’s corporate umbrella.
The first of those imported products — modified for the North American market — is the Hymer Aktiv Class B motorhome, already in production at EHGNA’s facilities in Kitchener, Ontario. Built on a Ram ProMaster chassis, the Hymer Aktiv boasts an open-aisle floorplan and comes equipped with a full galley, entertainment system, ample interior storage, premium mattress for the queen-size bed and a spacious full bathroom with shower. The Aktiv exterior sports European design and warm butter cream interior tones. Base MSRP is about $90,994.
Since motorhome purchases tend to be a compromise between what you want and what you can afford, for 2017 REV Recreation Group also has taken the most popular floorplan in its more expensive 40-foot Fleetwood Discovery LXE, moved it down a price point and created the Fleetwood Discovery 39G.
“No one offers a family-style floorplan quite like this,” said Lenny Razo, vice president of sales. “Up front, you have a nice residential kitchen/living room area with big sofa, big U-shaped dinette and the TV is in the center of the coach — so when the slides are closed and you’re in transit the kids can be buckled in and still watch a movie behind the driver.”
The 39 G’s bunk room rides in a full-wall slide along with the rear king-size bed and, up front, the sofa and dinette. An opposing streetside slide houses the galley.
The bathroom, by the way, also has three doors, with access not only from the kid’s bunks but from the rear master suite and the front cabin.
Built on a Freightliner chassis with a 36,400-pound GVWR and a 360-hp Cummins, the 39-foot, 11-inch 39G retails for about $296,000.
Winnebago Industries was one of the first manufacturers to build on the new Ford Transit when the company debuted the Class C Fuse. For 2017, the Forest City, Iowa, manufacturer turned its attention to the Class B market with the Transit-based Paseo.
Winnebago started with a fully powered and equipped 310-hp Transit van with a 10,360-pound GVWR (including the Ford Sync 3 touchscreen navigation system and lane-keeping assist) and included extra insulation before adding a raft of molded plastic inserts.
Retailing for about $120,000 “well-equipped,” the rear dinette 48P floorplan includes a 19-inch HDTV in back, with Corian countertops throughout. The galley is equipped with a two-burner range, microwave/convection oven, dual-powered refrigerator/freezer and cold-water filtration system. There’s also a Truma Combi eco plus heating system, 13,500-Btu roof air conditioner, 45-amp converter/charger, 2.8-kW Cummins Onan AC generator and powered patio awning with LED lighting. The bath/shower location is forward, just behind the driver’s seat, along with a wardrobe.
The first of the new-wave Chinook motorhomes are the Countryside and its business-class Bayside cousin.
Built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in a variety of wood finishes and seat color options, the Countryside is fitted with high-end componentry — and a number of unique upgrades.
“We have a lot of redundancy in my vans,” said Phil Rizzio, owner of Chinook. “I have installed the largest set of batteries of any van that’s out there (what they call a Lifeline 8D battery) and Countryside uses two of them, along with a 3,000-watt inverter that will run everything inside this van while you’re not hooked up to electricity.”
The Countryside also includes an onboard generator and 13,500-Btu roof air-conditioning system, “but probably the most important part is what we call ProAir. The ProAir system runs off of the engine, so when you’re driving down the road you have a 60,000-Btu air conditioning and heating system that runs off of the engine. So you’re not having to run the generator, and the system is charging everything.”
All this is not without cost. According to Rizzio, MSRPs will run from $165,000 to $250,000.
Thor Motor Coach continues the Italian-themed monikers for its diesel motorhomes with the debut of the Aria, a new midlevel motorhome that, pricewise, fits within TMC’s lineup above the Palazzo but below the Venetian.
The Aria is available in two floorplans, the 3901 ($281,330 MSRP) and the 3601 ($265,930 MSRP), both riding on a 360-hp Cummins ISB-XT-powered Freightliner raised-rail chassis. The primary difference between the two is size — the 3601 stretches 36 feet, 3 inches, versus the 39-foot, 11-inch 3901 — though there also are significant floorplan differences. The smaller coach features four slides, with opposing slides in both the main cabin and rear master bedroom, while the three-slide 3901 sports a full-wall slide curbside.
Both versions boast similar componentry and accessories, from the rear king beds and multiple TVs (32-inch LED in the bedroom, 40-inch LED exterior unit and a 43-inch LED HDTV above the fireplace in the main cabin) to the optional power drop-down hide-away overhead bunk above the cockpit.
The 3901 also offers a few key features not found on the smaller model, including a retractable 50-inch LED TV in the living area and a Tilt-A-View inclining king-size bed.
According to Brian Clemens, general manager of Forest River’s Dynamax division, the Elkhart-based OEM is familiar with building the Isata on the Ford E-450 chassis, “but we’re basically reintroducing it at a better price point under the 4 Series badge.”
When it came time for the redesign, however, Clemens’ crew took a novel approach.
“Instead of us doing the redesign, we reached out to the dealer body and said, ‘OK, what do you want to see?’” he said.
Based on the feedback, one of the things that Isata previously lacked was full pass-through storage — so the new 4 Series has three separate pass-through storage locations.
“We now have roughly 140 cubic feet of exterior storage on a 30-foot Class C with double slides,” said Clemens. Retail on the Isata 4 Series starts at about $105,000, but Clemens believes most buyers will opt for the unit fully equipped with four-point leveling jacks, solar-power system and Dynamax’s well-known automotive-type paint schemes, all of which would push the MSRP to about $130,000.
Jayco chose the 2016 fall California RV Show in Pomona to introduce a new Envoy brand of higher-end Class C motorhomes that, if all goes according to plan, will ultimately evolve into a new line of low-profile gas-powered Class A’s and perhaps lower-priced diesel pushers.
“We can offer some things in the Envoy that we aren’t offering in the traditional Jayco Class C,” said Nic Martin, national sales manager for the manufacturer’s new Jayco Envoy Division.
Primary among them is a 30-by-80-inch panoramic windshield built into a fiberglass front cap reinforced with aluminum for greater front-end integrity.
The new lineup currently consists of two series — the entry-level Envoy 100, available in three 27½-foot and 31½-foot floorplans, and the Envoy 200 with two 31-foot layouts.
Both are built on Ford F-450 chassis with a GVWR of 14,500 pounds and equipped with V-10 Triton engines. A 300 Series Class C expected to be available in the spring will be mounted on a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis.
With a contemporary maple interior, the 100 features recessed LED lighting and power shades for MSRPs beginning at $95,000. Equipped with solid-surface countertops, raised-panel cabinets and rear back-up cameras, the 200 retails from $115,000.