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Old 03-14-2006, 08:38 AM   #1
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From the We Knew This Was Coming Dept.

Airstream says bye to motorhome

RV maker to focus on smaller models



By Suzelle Tempero
Dayton Business Journal
Updated: 7:00 p.m. ET March 12, 2006

Airstream Inc. is phasing out its largest motorhomes to focus resources on its popular travel trailers and a smaller van-like class of motorhomes.
The shift is a reflection of the softening market for the larger motorhomes and the company's desire to focus on areas with the most growth potential, said Bob Wheeler, president of the Jackson Center-based subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc.

Thor will continue to manufacture Class A motorhomes -- known as the rock star of RVs for their popularity as touring vehicles for celebrities -- through its other subsidiaries and Airstream will continue to service those Class A's that already have been sold to customers as well as those that are on dealers' lots, Wheeler said. Airstream will continue to produce the smaller Class B motorhome, which is often described as a van conversion because it looks more like a pop-top camper.

Wheeler said production of the Class A's had been slowing for Airstream for quite some time, as the company has made fewer than one per week during the past 24 months or so, although the decision to phase out the line came earlier this fall. Tim Champ, marketing director for Airstream, said towables have always been Airstream's best product, and that the Class A's only represented 15 to 20 percent of the company's business at their peak.
The majority of the workforce focused on the product -- about 60 people -- already has been spending at least a part of their time producing the towable trailers, which is where they will be shifted to full-time, Wheeler said. The company currently employs about 300.

"The whole thing really is driven by a whole plethora of outstanding opportunities we see in the towable side and opportunities that we have kind of had on the back burner for years for a lack of resources," Wheeler said. "We see the time is right to pursue some of these."

Airstream's presence in the Class A market was never large, said Amy Coleman, spokeswoman for competitor Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., a Riverside, Calif.-based RV manufacturer. In fact, the phase-out has drawn little attention, if any, in the industry because Airstream manufactured such a token amount of Class A's, said Rachel Parsons, public relations manager for the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. She added that Airstream gets more play from its towable line and seemed to be doing what much of the industry has already done -- focusing on one product area, such as travel trailers or large motor homes.

Airstream has streamlined the design of its towable silver bullet trailers to meet European standards and recently introduced the unit to the overseas market, Champ said. It also has developed a new tent-trailer hybrid for the American market called the BaseCamp, which production will start on later this month with the first trailers hitting dealerships in early April.
The company's future development plans will center on growing the new BaseCamp family and explore new products past its current offering, which consists of a single, 16-foot trailer, Wheeler said. He added that Airstream will also be looking at how to reinvent its iconic silver bullet trailer.

"In the future we are talking about the need for a lower cost, lighter-weight trailer in the traditional shell," Wheeler said. "Something that is ... more easily towable by the cross-over vehicles and hybrids that have lower towing capacities."
2006 Dallas Business Journal
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Old 03-14-2006, 08:44 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by jcanavera
"In the future we are talking about the need for a lower cost, lighter-weight trailer in the traditional shell," Wheeler said. "Something that is ... more easily towable by the cross-over vehicles and hybrids that have lower towing capacities."
That's a good idea. I wonder how they will accomplish cutting costs and weight, besides the Base Camp that is.
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Old 03-14-2006, 08:45 AM   #3
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It sure makes sense in the scheme of things. The riveted Classic style motorhomes are rare and growing in value and will probably grow more so( not saying that because I own one mind you), I just wonder what the resale value will be on the more generic AS branded Mohos, will they end up like Oldsmobiles?
Some very good buys may develop on Cutters, and newer model styles.
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Old 03-14-2006, 08:59 AM   #4
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"In the future we are talking about the need for a lower cost, lighter-weight trailer in the traditional shell," Wheeler said.
That word "shell" says it all, to anyone who has been an observer on this planet for more than 5 minutes. It is the usual way to exploit an iconic brand, to produce a short term increase in share price, and in the longer term to destroy the brand reputation. Does anyone remember the Lotus 7, series 4 "sports car"?? It appeared to have the "shell" of the superb series 1, 2 and 3, but it was "de-engineered" to increase profits while exploiting the "shell" image. I wouldn't have one as a gift. The company ceased production of the model line shortly after that.
I wonder what Wally B. would have said.
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Old 03-14-2006, 09:03 AM   #5
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That's a good idea. I wonder how they will accomplish cutting costs and weight, besides the Base Camp that is.
Can you say AR-GO-SY?

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Old 03-14-2006, 09:19 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by nickcrowhurst
That word "shell" says it all, to anyone who has been an observer on this planet for more than 5 minutes. It is the usual way to exploit an iconic brand, to produce a short term increase in share price, and in the longer term to destroy the brand reputation.
I wonder what Wally B. would have said.
Nick.
I would have to surmise that its really an evolutionary thing. The current product offering is really an evolved form of Wally's original trailer. The fact that we have seen various versions of that shell, from Classics to Safaris, to Internationals is a prime example.

The future of the towable market truly is in the hands of the tow vehicle manufacturers and the oil companies. Airstream is in the position of having to understand where that market is going and what products they will have to have available to stay viable in that market.

It isn't Wally's era anymore and there are probably a ton of external factors that go into the equation of what do we build for the future. If he were still around today, I'm sure he would find the process much more demanding.

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Old 03-14-2006, 10:19 AM   #7
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I hate to admit it, but I really don't have a clue what the construction of modern Airstream towables is like. I think I peeked into a new "Bambi" 4-5 years ago before I knew very much, so I didn't notice.

Now that I own three vintage trailers, I assumed that the shells were all riveted, even today's production models. I need to find a source that can educated me on CCD and other terms that I'm not familiar with.

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Old 03-15-2006, 08:03 AM   #8
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I hate to admit it, but I really don't have a clue what the construction of modern Airstream towables is like. I think I peeked into a new "Bambi" 4-5 years ago before I knew very much, so I didn't notice.

Now that I own three vintage trailers, I assumed that the shells were all riveted, even today's production models. I need to find a source that can educated me on CCD and other terms that I'm not familiar with.

Led
During my recent plant visit I saw only rivets being used. In fact the construction was very much the same as I remember my 75 to have been put together. What really looked out of place at the plant was this big square fiberglass clad motorhome sitting in the middle of all the aluminum. I think it is a good move to discontinue the class A motorhome since they do not make the Classic or even the Landyacht any more, those square things just do not look like Airstreams. Although it would not surprise me if they rebadged another Thor model for the WBCCI officers to drive around during their reign.
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Old 03-15-2006, 09:30 AM   #9
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Thor Industries stock price has done rather well over the last year, in spite of the cost of fuel. They are riding a demographic wave (like Harley-Davidson), and have figured out that it makes no sense to compete against themselves in a shrinking market by producing too many Class A units, however branded.

It may be true that the value of existing used Airstream shinys is rising in the market. That probably won't last, but retaining value could be a long term trend. There are probably opportunities coming in the repair and parts business for Airstreams.

What Thor and the other domestic manufacturers have to fear most is the day when a foreign manufacturer, with much lower per unit labor cost and decent quality control, figures out how they can manufacture and ship for less than the cost of US domestic manufacture. MH's are essentially a low volume business, so they don't need to build US plants as the auto manufacturers have.

Look on the bright side: Strong stock performance by Thor makes it less likely they will be bought out by someone foreign. Thor has a track record of profitability with Airstream. They are trying to continue it. That is good for every AS owner.

PS I don't own their stock. I own the shiny part!

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Old 03-15-2006, 10:14 AM   #10
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I don't think that Airstream is building many of the 34' Classics anymore either. We were at the factory about a month ago and there weren't any on the line and I got the feeling that they don't build even one per week. I think it's becoming a special order model. With the price of petrol and desiel going up and the downsizing of SUV,s, the 34' may become as rare as the motorhomes.
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Old 03-15-2006, 10:32 AM   #11
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"In the future we are talking about the need for a lower cost, lighter-weight trailer in the traditional shell," Wheeler said. "Something that is ... more easily towable by the cross-over vehicles and hybrids that have lower towing capacities."
© 2006 Dallas Business Journal
...then bring back the Minuet (just leave the Pacer out of the marketing material! The base camp is a cute gimmick. The Minuet's are a better alternative. Just look at the prices that the Minuets bring today after 25+ years!

Oh by the way, Casita cannot make enough small lightweight fiberglas trailers to keep up with demand. Maybe there is something there.............(of course Thor could always buy Casita and make it part of Airstream.)
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Old 03-15-2006, 10:56 AM   #12
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Oh by the way, Casita cannot make enough small lightweight fiberglas trailers to keep up with demand. Maybe there is something there.............(of course Thor could always buy Casita and make it part of Airstream.)
I understand that the Base Camp is aluminum-sheathed fiberglass, as is the slideout on the big Airstreams. If they can produce the Base Camp for $20k, they should be able to produce an aluminum-sheathed Casita-sized low-end trailer in the same price range with a simple, Casita-like, interior. Keep it about 16' and 6' wide like the Casita. Perhaps they could use the stretch-forming that was to be used on the new Classic motorhome to form thinner aluminum for rivet-free end caps.

That would make a perfect lowend European product, as well.
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Old 03-15-2006, 11:04 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Chaplain Kent
During my recent plant visit I saw only rivets being used. In fact the construction was very much the same as I remember my 75 to have been put together. What really looked out of place at the plant was this big square fiberglass clad motorhome sitting in the middle of all the aluminum. I think it is a good move to discontinue the class A motorhome since they do not make the Classic or even the Landyacht any more, those square things just do not look like Airstreams. Although it would not surprise me if they rebadged another Thor model for the WBCCI officers to drive around during their reign.
I sure hope so. Hate to see them get confused for commoners.
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Old 03-15-2006, 11:20 AM   #14
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Oh by the way, Casita cannot make enough small lightweight fiberglas trailers to keep up with demand. Maybe there is something there.............(of course Thor could always buy Casita and make it part of Airstream.)
I came very close to getting a Casita, before I decided to do the right thing. With fuel prices and projections, Airstream is probably making a good move by focusing on the lighter trailers. However, I am having a hard time getting used to the look of the Basecamp. It will be interesting to see if it takes off.
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