03-17-2006, 09:02 AM
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[FONT=Georgia, 'Times New Roman', Times, serif]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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