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Old 06-23-2012, 10:26 PM   #295
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Pretty cold assessment Redwood Guy, an assumption on your part. How do you know how Bob Wheeler and his people at Airstream feel about the work they do?

You came to us some time ago certain that your new Airstream cabinets and partitions were all MDF. Not true, they are actually all decent quality plywood. This post about the Airstream attitude toward what they do is similarly only opinion based on nothing, and quite mean-spirited at that.

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Old 06-23-2012, 10:27 PM   #296
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You know, I read a few posts here and I have to say, I like what Redwood said, but I have to bitterly disagree with the excuses some folks have made.

Lee Iacoca said it best-- lead, follow or get out of the way.

Frankly I could care less how RV factories are managed, what pressures they are under. When I see an RV that costs upward of $90k, I expect, no scratch that, I demand $90k of quality. If you got the moxie to command that kind of price, you better have your "A" game going strong IMHO.

Simply saying they are better than the box trailers isn't really saying much. I don't expect perfection, but frankly no one can tell me that some (read not all) of the QC issues mentioned in the QC threads couldn't easily be solved on the assembly line. Moreover when you find McDonald's wrappers in the nooks and crannies of the RV when you do the work yourself (as I did in my coach), that tells me that there is a I don't give a sh** attitude among some of the workforce.

I won't own any other trailer, but I sincerely doubt I'd buy another new one again.
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Old 06-23-2012, 11:01 PM   #297
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Might be my problem

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. If the company can't hack it and goes the way of Kodak, well, that's not my problem.
As one who is restoring or rebuilding our 3rd vintage Airstream.....if the company goes the way of Kodak, it will be even harder to find replacement parts......the RV industry has shrunk considerably in the last few years.....so I'm all for Airstream to stay in business and continue to grow, even if I am working on old myths.......and not really contributing to Airstream's bottom line.....don't think they are making a lot of money off of selling old 1982 Airstream Motorhome service manuals or new curtain tracks......paula
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Old 06-24-2012, 03:43 AM   #298
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Quote:
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... How do you know how Bob Wheeler and his people at Airstream feel about the work they do?
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Originally Posted by dkottum View Post
...This post about the Airstream attitude toward what they do is similarly only opinion based on nothing, and quite mean-spirited at that.
doug k
Perhaps he based his opinion on his own experience, which may be different from yours or mine, and is always subject to interpretation. Based on my own experience of buying a new Airstream, having been to the factory several times, having met Mr. Wheeler, having talked to some of the employees outside of the factory setting, any having more negative warranty and quality control issues than I would care to list here (again), I interpret his opinion to be very accurate.

I've heard the presentations and read the literature that refer to the concepts of excellence, pride, tradition, iconic design, premium, etc., but the proof is in the final product, which seems to vary in quality. Although, I respect your staunch defense of your Airstream products, I don't always agree with it. However, your positive attitude may serve you well when you go for warranty work. I understand it's worked quite well for others.
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Old 06-24-2012, 09:25 AM   #299
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With a couple of exceptions, the vast majority of AS owners defending the brand own vintage units. There's a Community Poll here showing almost 75% of respondents own vintage Airstreams. In my mind, this gives a lot of credibility to Redwood Guy's observation that the Airstream mystique is based on perceived value that, in turn, is based on a reputation that Wally successfully promoted years ago before corporate ownership.

How many times has someone stop by your campsite and said, "Gee, I didn't know that they still made Airstreams" or "when I win the lottery, I'm going to buy one"? Someone in a camp ground doesn't know that you can buy a new AS? Duh! However, a lot of people know that they're expensive!

Thanks again Redwood Guy!
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Old 06-24-2012, 09:45 AM   #300
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Originally Posted by dkottum View Post
Pretty cold assessment Redwood Guy, an assumption on your part. How do you know how Bob Wheeler and his people at Airstream feel about the work they do?

You came to us some time ago certain that your new Airstream cabinets and partitions were all MDF. Not true, they are actually all decent quality plywood. This post about the Airstream attitude toward what they do is similarly only opinion based on nothing, and quite mean-spirited at that.

doug k
I came to my answer by considering this question: Why can't AS build a trailer that doesn't leak?

I'd like to hear all the answers you think apply. Are you going to say engineers don't know how to design it? Are you going to say manufacturing doesn't know how to build it? Are you going to say management won't pay for it? What sort of answer would you supply?

My answer spares the people involved by suggesting they have no choice. The business model forced on them by Thor is what ultimately decides their fate.

If "leak proof" isn't at the very top of trailer building 101, I don't know what comes before it. Are you making excuses for that? I wonder.

I could likewise ask, "why not have a rot proof floor?" Isn't this an obvious thing to do? What are the reasons that can be offered for not doing it? What is the most likely reason? - - cost, of course.

Small companies like AS usually (almost always) need to plow most of their profits back into the business in order to remain competitive and grow. What happens when profits get milked instead into a conglomerate owner's treasury? That's easy to answer - - you don't get rot proof floors, because it takes too much R&D money. The first thing conglomerate owners usually do is put caps on R&D expense.

Yes, I am surmising that the problem is Thor's dictate of business model. But, if I am wrong, then the answer for all these horrors is that it falls on incompetent people. I rather like my answer better.

I am a customer, not an apologist for the brand. I'd love to see them making the most fabulous trailers we can imagine. Trailers that live up to the legend. I'd love to have the confidence that if I trade up to a bigger unit in a couple years that I won't get one of the "leaky boats" that come off that line. But, right now, I have no reason to have that confidence. I am keeping my fingers crossed that our good experience so far continues.
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Old 06-24-2012, 10:16 AM   #301
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With a couple of exceptions, the vast majority of AS owners defending the brand own vintage units. There's a Community Poll here showing almost 75% of respondents own vintage Airstreams. In my mind, this gives a lot of credibility to Redwood Guy's observation that the Airstream mystique is based on perceived value that, in turn, is based on a reputation that Wally successfully promoted years ago before corporate ownership.

How many times has someone stop by your campsite and said, "Gee, I didn't know that they still made Airstreams" or "when I win the lottery, I'm going to buy one"? Someone in a camp ground doesn't know that you can buy a new AS? Duh! However, a lot of people know that they're expensive!

Thanks again Redwood Guy!
Exactly. The Legend Lives On, while the actual product trails. Wally was in some sense the "Steve Jobs of the RV business." He built a company by building a legend along side it. Legends die slowly.

On a related note, there is a huge difference between a "business owner" and "CEO." If a business owner found out one of his trailers leaked the first week the customer owned it, he would be so utterly embarrassed that he would move heaven and earth to A) satisfy the customer; B) make sure it never happened again. A CEO however, doesn't report to customers, they report to boards of directors, or worse yet, the "parent company chief." Their embarrassment comes from missing quarterly profit goals. They don't have the same investment of personal ego in the product that an owner has. CEOs are hired to manage numbers - to enforce the profit algorithm. Once in a great moon, they are also visionaries, but not very often. That's a generalization. It isn't aimed at the AS CEO, because I don't know him. But once more, I use reason - - why ELSE would a customer getting a leaky boat NOT be totally taken care of by the company? Why are people having these experiences? I don't know how a CEO would sleep at night knowing a customer paid $75,000 for a leaky boat off his factory floor.

I don't know if trailers off the showroom floor leaked in Wally's day. But I bet the users experience was better if it did happen. Else, how could he face those customers on a caravan? Isn't this obvious?
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Old 06-24-2012, 12:13 PM   #302
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We have had two new Airstreams in recent years, this one better than the first (2007), which was an excellent product. With about 20 months total time in them they have just been extraordinary in every way. Nowhere near as troublesome as owners of other brands we have met along the way. And nowhere near as troublesome as owners here have described.

My perception is today's Airstreams are as good or better than they have ever been, gorgeously designed and beautifully built. The trailer some describe we could never afford, there is a reality there we can live with. The company some describe seems to come out of the sky, never that bad nor that good. To constantly bash the company and its people serves no purpose, they are no different than you or I.

It would be more useful to all if the discussions were less cynical. How can they ever take seriously someone who tells them how to run their company, or describes them as a bunch of heartless bean-counters. It is useful to offer experience and suggestions to improve the product. Beyond that is a waste of time, disheartening to all.

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Old 06-24-2012, 12:28 PM   #303
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Exactly. The Legend Lives On, while the actual product trails. Wally was in some sense the "Steve Jobs of the RV business." He built a company by building a legend along side it. Legends die slowly.

On a related note, there is a huge difference between a "business owner" and "CEO." If a business owner found out one of his trailers leaked the first week the customer owned it, he would be so utterly embarrassed that he would move heaven and earth to A) satisfy the customer; B) make sure it never happened again. A CEO however, doesn't report to customers, they report to boards of directors, or worse yet, the "parent company chief." Their embarrassment comes from missing quarterly profit goals. They don't have the same investment of personal ego in the product that an owner has. CEOs are hired to manage numbers - to enforce the profit algorithm. Once in a great moon, they are also visionaries, but not very often. That's a generalization. It isn't aimed at the AS CEO, because I don't know him. But once more, I use reason - - why ELSE would a customer getting a leaky boat NOT be totally taken care of by the company? Why are people having these experiences? I don't know how a CEO would sleep at night knowing a customer paid $75,000 for a leaky boat off his factory floor.

I don't know if trailers off the showroom floor leaked in Wally's day. But I bet the users experience was better if it did happen. Else, how could he face those customers on a caravan? Isn't this obvious?
To build on your point, a founder/owner such as Wally often owns most of the equity in the company so his focus can be almost 100% on improving customer satisfaction while meeting his personal financial goals. He can choose to lower earnings in a given year as an investment in future growth or to invest in product improvements today knowing that in 2-3 years the enhanced brand reputation will result in higher sales and profits. He will invest a dollar today in the belief (not certainty) he'll see the benefit later. Other than customers, the only outside influencers the owner/founder must answer to are banks providing lines of credit and other equity investors in the private company (often family members and friends who trust the owner). As long as the company is making money, the banks are generally satisfied as long as they have confidence in management. The same is generally true for any outside passive equity partners who are either earning dividends or waiting patiently for the sale of the company at a distant date.

Airstream is a division of Thor, a publicly held holding company. Public companies compete on the stock exchange for investor money. Decades ago investors purchased stocks for the long haul, enjoying both dividend and capital appreciation if the company prospered. Given their investment horizon was long term, investors could stand a temporary earnings downturn due to short term economic issues or the need to incur higher expenses, as an investment in the future. They understood the ups and downs of the economy, marketplace, and the need for the business to invest to adapt. As with a privately held company, equity investors in days past were patient and supported management as long term stewards of the business.

Today the equity marketplace is much different. Large long term investors such as Warren Buffet are rare. Trading of millions of shares in seconds by computer programs responding to the news of the moment or the ticker trend is the norm. Billions of dollars in pension fund and mutual fund money is churned daily looking for a momentum opportunity. Stocks may be held by these institutions for days, minutes or seconds. The traders behind programmed trading are speculators, not long term investors. They could care less what the company makes, the satisfaction level of the customers, the welfare of the employees, or the future plans of the company. All they care about is making a quick buck, then getting out and on to the next thing.

The CEO of Thor is responsible to the board of directors who are by law representing only the interests of the shareholders. Given the US equity markets no longer serve the purpose of making long term capital investments in American companies, CEO's are no longer focused on long term investments in building brand equity. If you are the CEO of Thor and you know the vast majority of the institutional investors only care whether the stock price is rising or falling today, you will operate the business to ensure to the best of your ability the stock price keeps rising.

Consider the situation we've been discussing in this thread. If you were the CEO of Thor and Airstream management told you that for an additional cost of $500 per unit sold they could ensure every trailer exiting the factory would be leakproof for 5 years after purchase but they could not charge more for the trailers because the product price points were already too high in the marketplace, would you approve the $500,000 annual increase in cost knowing that $500,000 cost might keep Thor from hitting Wall Street's expectations for earnings? It might be the CEO of Thor is a visionary, understands the need to keep Airstream's quality equal to its reputation, but if he is having an earnings issue at another division, he will decline the investment in Airstream to cover the miss at the other division. Having worked for a multi-division company for decades I often found that high performing profitable divisions were often starved for capital and cash in order to offset misses in poorer performing businesses. Over time, starving the high performance business of investment capital would kill the performance of the high performance business but in the short term the transfer of resources allowed the corporation to meet Wall Street reporting expectations. There is always a price to be paid for doing the wrong thing but if there is gain today and pain tomorrow, most people will experience happiness today and worry about a tomorrow that may never come later.

For the public company CEO, meeting or beating Wall Street's earning expectation for the next quarter is job #1. An investment that will have huge payoffs in three years is nice, but not at the expense of making the number he needs to hit at the next reporting date. To be specific the board of directors pays out the CEO bonus based on hitting and exceeding earnings targets this year, not for future earnings. The stock options the CEO is granted as incentive compensation are only worth what the stock price is today. Most option plans provide for the termination of options if the CEO is fired so his focus is going to be almost 100% on making his earnings targets in the current year. With this relentless pressure to either deliver next quarter's earning or be fired, it is a rare CEO who will tell the board the company needs to miss its Wall Street expectations and accept a temporary 15-20% drop in the stock price in order to do the right thing for the business in the long term.

Wall Street doesn't care if an economic recession or high fuel prices suppress sales. If Thor grows earnings the program traders will invest in Thor. If Thor's earning are declining the computer trading programs will sell Thor and reinvest the money in other stocks or bonds. Overall times are tough in the RV business due to a depressed economy and high fuel prices. It isn't hard to understand why the trailers are not leakproof, given the priorities of the shareholders.
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Old 06-24-2012, 12:52 PM   #304
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And that about says it all.

Second that??

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Old 06-24-2012, 12:54 PM   #305
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I don't know if trailers off the showroom floor leaked in Wally's day. But I bet the users experience was better if it did happen. Else, how could he face those customers on a caravan? Isn't this obvious?
Back in Wally's day they had lifetime warranties......

Today, there is a 2 year warranty, and of course, you have to read the fine print, because as many have found, a number of things are now considered a "maintenance" issue not covered.

If we are going to compare Wally to Jobs, then why is it that Apple can charge more for it's products and keep the quality up? Don't give me the answer it's automated, because it's not fully automated as has been suggested earlier, as witnessed by the human resource issues with Foxconn where iPads, iPhones, etc are made. There are many human interactions in those builds and the quality of those devices is better than the average of the industry. I can't say the same thing about Airstream.

Wally also had a personal vested interest (like Jobs). I think in some cases, Wally would be pleased with the improvements that have been made, but at the same time, I think Wally would have a coronary if he'd be walking the production floor today......
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Old 06-24-2012, 01:11 PM   #306
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The unfortunate reality of what RWG and others said is very true. Quarterly profits will trump leaks every day. The fact is this is a tough busines to be in. Travel Trailers are a descetionatory item. Wally Byam created a legend. Thor industries builds trailers, for a profit.

To lighten this thread up I thought about asking if anybody would be willing to put up some venture capital for a hostile takeover, but I doubt it.

Harley Davidson went through these same kinds of issues when AMF took them over and it didn't take long for sales and customer confidence to decline. As Honda and others built better bikes HD became a joke. It took Willie Davidson to buy back the company, with some backing and reinvigorate the product back to the iconic brand it once was. They're having problems now too

You're not gonna get your leakproof, non rotting trailers until something similiar happens with the AS division of Thor industries. If this economy continues to stumble or fails again you might be able to get a bargain. Any takers?

If I was younger I'd give it a shot.....

Dan

PS This is starting to sound like a business school class.
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Old 06-24-2012, 02:19 PM   #307
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I agree with dkottom, some of the rest of us have unrealistic expectation, after all this is about an rv, none of us need to have one. Maybe make the best of what you have, or don't have it. No one at AS forced any of us to buy one. Pretty simple. Jim
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Old 06-24-2012, 02:26 PM   #308
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While we can't have robot assembled Airstreams, it is false to assume a business can't step into modern computer-machine milling (CNC) tools. Airstream is plenty big enough to justify upgrading to water or plasma cutters... there are lots of small shops that realize investing in these machines pays off huge in productivity and material use.

It sounds like they are moving towards this... with precise engineering (I know they use AutoCAD) and precise tooling, there is no reason an Airstream can't at least start out it's life nearly perfect.

As far as leaks... the more I work on my trailer, the more I can see poor design is responsible for most of the problems. Yes, sometimes it is also put together sloppily, but the design is meant to fail eventually. The front pano windows are a perfect example... by using an "L" trim to keep the window from falling out, it guarantees and break in the seal lets water in the front. Reversing the "L", using a "Z" or "C" would at least direct water outside.

The vents for the fridge are another example... if they are not vertical, rain runs in the bottom edge and into the trailer. There is no lip on the bottom to stop this (there is now on mine). Further in, they seal the gap from the cutout with aluminum tape... which cracks as soon as it flexes. Now there is one more place for water to get into the floor, channels, and run all over. You can install this vent correctly, and still have it fail in a week. Airstream sides are not vertical. Airstream roofs are not flat.

Maybe instead of the rounded top, they need to have a 4 foot flat section in the middle, and then taper it off to the rounded profile. You'd never tell the difference from the ground.

As many others have noted, getting into the RV building gig is not that hard. Buying Airstream would get you the name, but really the dealer network is fairly small. I'd start over and go to a direct sales model... Airstream doesn't own the patent on aluminum, round, or leaky.
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