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Old 06-14-2018, 11:30 AM   #1
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Senior Management Failures at AS

This post probably should be in a different AS forum, but I'm not sure which one, so I'll post it here, as this is the one I'm most familiar with.

My spouse and I have been and continue to be in the "looking" mode for our first RV trailer. We're both still working (too much) to really enjoy a trailer to warrant its purchase, but we do see that changing in the not-to-distant future. So, we're spending a bit more time looking at potential RV trailers, including AS, and particularly a 23' Flying Cloud.

What I find stunning, and inexplicable, is the common thread of quality issues with AS trailers. And, the recognition and acceptance that's just the way it is in the RV manufacturing world. It doesn't have to be that way and it should not be that way, with AS or others.

One of the key reasons that American car manufacturers transitioned from their awful quality control issues of the late 60's and into the 70's and 80's is that they all adopted the key components of the Toyota Production System (TPS) (a/k/a Lean Manufacturing) whose foundation was developed and inspired by Dr. Deming, an American. The design and manufacturing of American cars today is far superior to the dark days of the late 60's, 70's and 80's. TPS/Lean Manufacturing is the primary reason. And, TPS is the key reason that Toyota had its success in penetrating the world markets in such a relatively short time while also producing staggering amounts of positive cash flow, year after year after year.

I have studied both Dr. Deming and TPS, including visiting several Toyota production facilities. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that AS (and other RV manufacturers) couldn't benefit from TPS and dramatically improve their designs and their quality. And, here's the critical point: By doing so, their financial performance improves---it results in creating additional shareholder value, not less.

The negative financial impacts, to both AS and its Dealers, from their design defects and manufacturing quality issues are not insignificant. Why the Dealers put up with it and have not forced a change in how AS senior management does their job is a mystery.

The "bottom line" point is that AS/Thor could make more money--not less--if they were to institute (deeply, not just cosmetically) TPS or Lean Manufacturing (or something very similar). Perhaps they've tried to do so, and failed (obviously). But, that's not an excuse. Try it again, and this time, do not fail.

I hate the idea of spending $70,000+ on something with the assumption that it will have significant quality issues that I will have to waste countless hours and money to fix. There is nothing else in the marketplace like that---nothing.

And, the damnable point is that it does not have to be that way. The responsibility rests solely with the senior management of AS (and Thor). They can make the necessary changes---and make more money---so why don't they?

Cheers,
Bryan
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Old 06-14-2018, 11:46 AM   #2
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I don't disagree.

You're right.

From Thor's vantage point - they're on their second manufacturing expansion in the past 5 years. They're backlogged on the line. Last month was among their highest in their history in terms of sales.

Translation: there is no sense of urgency to do anything differently.

Frustrating? Short sighted? A violation of trust with customers? Damnable? Inexcusable? Yes - all the above. But practical in the eyes of business owners which just goes to show you can educate some people til the cows come home. What they learn is up to them.

And in fairness to Thorstream - when you're in these forums - the odds of finding people who pop in to announce everything is working as expected are very low. Someone used the analogy of a hospital. If you went there and surveyed how many people were sick, you'd have a high reported percentage of diseased population....people come to these forums like an emergency room visit and hope there are some good doctors here who can help. The rest are out camping and viewing the world. So we can easily skew our view....


Still - Deming who you mention brought this knowledge to the big 3 who rejected him for the same bloated short sighted reasons. Toyota who had nothing to lose picked it up like religion. The rest is history.

If I were in Bob Wheeler's chair, I'd dedicate an hour a day to reading this form and reach i out personally to talk with customers and require the same of my team....as a starting point.....
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Old 06-14-2018, 12:02 PM   #3
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Bryan,
While I understand your concern and input, I must disagree on a whole. Could it help? Probably but,
AS has some QC issues and no one will really argue that.
However you are talking about a complete home bouncing down the road in comparison to a car.
Do you have issues with your house? Leaks, cabinet doors not fitting, etc etc. Then factor in those that “Think” for that much money they should be perfect and they do minimal maintenance. Same person then complains when there is a problem.
I feel the issue is mostly diversity of clientele expectations. Some are maintenance freaks, others do absolutely nothing. The answer lies in the middle somewhere.
I have owned all types of RVs and found the AS to be superior.
I am one that actually inspects my unit thoroughly multiple times a year and immediately address any issue.
As they say, your milage my vary.

Anyway, welcome and hope you find your perfect unit sometime soon while you can still enjoy it.

Dan
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Old 06-14-2018, 12:17 PM   #4
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Clearly, there are QC issues on new production. On the other hand, my 1986 Sovereign has sheltered and entertained me for 14 years now. I do a lot of preventative and restorative maintenance and, like a Timex, she just keeps on ticking. Almost 80000 miles of roaming and who knows prior to my purchase.

I would be willing to bet that the first owner of my unit had issues back in 1986 that took some tedious effort to have rectified. Subsequent owners had issues pop up on a regular basis -- it is the price we pay for dragging our Airstreams hither and yon.

I just don't see many 1986 "some other brand" RV's still making their owners smile.

I have read some horror stories in my many years on this Forum and I feel for people who had to go through them, especially when a conscientious dealer might have prevented most of the problems with a thorough pre-delivery inspection.

If I was looking for a new unit, I'd be shopping for a great dealer and then, and only then, a great deal. But, there are thousands and thousands of miles left on what I have...
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Old 06-14-2018, 12:28 PM   #5
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Poor product quality, unchanged design flaws, poor manufacturing practices and poor dealer sales support after the sale is what happens when you have "Senior Management" making decisions on products designed by "Senior Engineer's" and marketed to "Senior Citizens" who are all set in their ways with no perception or understanding of "Change" in the modern business world!

Profit = Yes!

Change = No!
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Old 06-14-2018, 12:35 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveSueMac View Post
If I were in Bob Wheeler's chair, I'd dedicate an hour a day to reading this form and reach i out personally to talk with customers and require the same of my team....as a starting point.....
Bob Wheeler needs a reality check.

Time for Ole Bob to make his television debut on "Undercover Boss".

Now THAT episode would be "Must See" Television!!
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Old 06-14-2018, 12:49 PM   #7
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Different take ... from my perspective as a client, very minority stockholder, former business owner, engineer ... “The customer is always right”...And in this day of the Internet let the “provider” rather than the “buyer”...beware with a bad product review - where conspiracy and presumption (less than 1% of what is actually true) is rampant. Realizing that I am only one data point.. ..After 30 years of RV travel from Kansas to the northwest starting with a pop up and a 21 foot light weight TT; we purchased a new 2017FC23FB last summer.... 30 days between round trip to the Oregon coast and some K State football games in Manhattan Kansas during the fall... not one issue... have done a few things such as upgrade the converter w/6V batts... which I didn’t really need to... but that is part of an RV project experience... attitude of you get to work on stuff. Have admired the handmade quality, the tow experience, the rivets, the interior design, portable solar easy, and part of the AS history ie. NASA....etc. but most important something like Steve Jobs Philosophy.... provide something the client has never had before and after they get it they can no longer do without...Realizing that not everybody else choses an Apple product... maybe something else for others is just fine for their experience.... for us it has been a perfect fit with the side story that we looked at a number of TT's were OK - similar to what we had just in better shape....then focused on seeing an AS for the first time ....to look at a Basecamp and my wife walked across the parking lot to see the FC23FB... bought it two hours later.... only one within 500 miles and had another customer waiting with a deposit check right behind us (with a market price rather than list price)... that matter of supply and demand...
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Old 06-14-2018, 01:10 PM   #8
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Senior Management Failures at AS

while attending Alumapalosa this past month, AS had senior management fielding questions for over two hours. many questions were the same old cabinet door problems & why are we missing cigarette lighter ports, but one was very surprising and enlightening to them. A lady ask “why do we need to put up with converting dinettes and pullout bed spaces in our trailers? The AS team seemed bewildered by the question as everyone knows why the feature is incorporated in the design. They ask for a raise of hands of those who don’t use the extra bed space. 85% raised their hands! The team was shocked.

This example shows you that management could be doing a better job at listening to their customers instead of following tried and true methodology.

Another man said “I want room for 8 to socialize, 4 for dinner, but please, only 2 are gonna sleep in my trailer.
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Old 06-14-2018, 01:13 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vintageracer View Post
Bob Wheeler needs a reality check.



Time for Ole Bob to make his television debut on "Undercover Boss".



Now THAT episode would be "Must See" Television!!


Seeing you quote my quote makes me realize the lack of quality in my own response!

I meant forum - not form - am that stray "i" is a mystery to me

My only defense is that I make no money from posting
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Old 06-14-2018, 01:38 PM   #10
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In total agreement with both but here’s something to remember, at least in the foreseeable future. Airstream hasn’t asked our opinion on how to run their business. If YOU really want to see a positive change, become a major stockholder, get on the Board, buy the company and run it as it should be run. Until that happens it is buyer, be informed. Also as mentioned, not every AS has problems, I would bet that the majority are in fact functioning just fine. There are way too many units and models that do have big problems especially the first year after that it is often fairly smooth sailing. This isn’t just an Airstream problem it is the industry. If buyers
want to make a significant impact on how the RV industry is doing business then just stop buying them ...but that hasn’t happened and isn’t going to happen. This is an area were good enough is just that..good enough.
I wish I had known more about all of this before I jumped in, my expectations would have been dramatically different, I might not have spent a dime on any RV but then again, after the first year I am enjoying it, don’t have any plans to sell, still learning all kinds of stuff that I would not have known otherwise, I have met some incredibly wonderful folks, I’ve seen things that I probably would not have seen and been to places I would not have been if it weren’t for the Airstream.
Yes, I still get frustrated when something breaks but overall it has been a positive experience but only because of the great people who are here on this forum who are here to help, offer advice, offer tips, experiences. I could not have survived the first year without this site.
I will probably never understand how any member of this forum or someone who had previously owned an RV pops up complaining, venting, what have you about the QA. Nothing has gotten better and it’s probably not any worse than it has been for the last 10 years....maybe longer. Just my opinion.
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Old 06-14-2018, 01:45 PM   #11
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Quote:
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----------------snip-------------------------------

Another man said “I want room for 8 to socialize, 4 for dinner, but please, only 2 are gonna sleep in my trailer.
I'm willing to bet that audience mainly consisted of retiree couples...one of the reasons I now have the current family Airstream is that it only sleeps 4 easily (with dinette made into bed), and son's family is now 5 individuals total. When his kids get bigger, he will need a few more sleeping spaces available...

Having said that, I'm quite sure there are a few things Airstream leadership could do to improve things, particularly if they actually read the forums occasionally and see, not so much only what people are typically complaining about, but what customization and 'clever improvements' are going on with vintage and newer units. Yes, the QC issues need work, but they are just a part of the picture.

The complaint about a lack of cigarette lighter 12 volt outlets rings very true to me. My '07 does not have ANY USB outlets, so I'm installing a few in strategic locations, but leaving ALL the other outlets in place. I'm also thinking about a nice shelf or pocket to put the phone/iPad, whatever, into while charging near sleeping areas. Personally, I'm not in need of a CPAP machine, and hope to never have the need, but if I do, I will still have a place to plug it into 12 volt power in a standard way...that needs to be considered as well.

A while back, somebody asked the question, "..do the people that design Airstreams ever actually CAMP in them?" I think its a darn good, but unanswered question to this day. Simple stuff like a hook to hang keys or a jacket near the entrance door, a place to hang a garbage bag, better storage in the kitchen area--all stuff we have changed, but Thor seems to be unaware of... And while we're on the subject, how about some better drawer latches--I'm using 'childproofing' straps to keep some of my drawers closed in the desk--before I did that, they routinely snap unloaded onto the floor with moderate braking...

Yeah, it's little stuff, but simple and cheap to do at the factory, IMHO.
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Old 06-14-2018, 02:01 PM   #12
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I spent 8 years on my 2006 23 foot Safari to be satisfied with various nuts, bolts, hinges and inexpensive hardware that would hold the interior together. Some things I could not reasonably replace like the 14" wheel/tires for the trailer's axles and the size of the refrigerator, so a 25 foot Airstream purchase.

I have spend 4 years changing the stock hinges to piano hinges that do not vibrate loose. Bolts and better screws for hardware. For some reason Trailer manufacturers do not realize that these are... Travel Trailers and not house trailers that only need to make it to a concrete slab, tires and wheels removed and parked until it totally rots from the leaking roof and taken to a landfill.

This will be our last Airstream. The same hinges and hardware needed to be replaced, as expected. But... the warranty is very difficult to bring to a dealer to diagnose, return some weeks or months later... and a repair, possibly not done properly. So I ask very little in doing all of the work on my own time. When a $10 part is too valuable for Airstream Jackson Center to exchange for the part that failed in my trailer, while under warranty, that was the end of my brand appreciation.

I never had and issue with my Toyota Land Cruisers or Tundras. I wanted more security of towing with a new Ford F350 4x4 Diesel towing a 25 foot. If Ford operates like Airstream... I will buy a new Toyota Tundra and have learned another lesson in life.

I was sold on Airstream Quality in 2006... and it took a week at Jackson Center to finish the list of problems under warranty.

I believed that the 2014 was going to be better, which it has been in comparison, but the simple things that hold the interior together are the same. I am now content of my current Airstream, but was able to get a 97 cent snap switch for my refrigerator fan... but I needed the faulty fan, which was never sent. That was my 3 year warranty... guarantee of Airstream Loyalty.

So much for customer loyalty. If Toyota builds a 'travel trailer'... bye bye.
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Old 06-14-2018, 02:32 PM   #13
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I certainly understand that not everyone has issues with significant design or manufacturing defects with their AS. And, I also understand that customer product reviews on the internet can me misleading, etc.

But, this Forum is different. It isn't Amazon.com, or whatever. I've spent considerable time reading many posts here that go back over the past few years and, yes, there are certainly those AS owners who don't report significant quality problems---but there are more than a few who do. To refer to the hospital analogy, is this a false picture like one you'd get by judging the health of a population by visiting the emergency room or ICU or etc.? It doesn't appear to be so.

I understand, but don't concur, with the notion that AS owners (or other RV owners) should accept the problems with a trailer because it is a house moving down the road at 65 mph. That's the business these manufacturers are in! With an intense focus on design and manufacturing quality (as per TPS/Lean Manufacturing), I am confident they would no longer have to hide behind such an excuse.

As regards Apple, I have been an Apple customer for years. And yes, part of the reason is the product experience (unique), but as importantly, their attention to design and manufacturing excellence. Yes, they have had defective products, etc. but their focus on customer satisfaction is generally outstanding.

Yes, I get it---Thor/AS are having record expansion and sales. So, they must be doing something (alot) right. I won't argue with that. But, they could be doing so much better, particularly as regards striving for 100% customer satisfaction with more attention to design and manufacturing excellence. Why not do so, particularly if it means stronger long-term financial performance?

Cheers,
Bryan
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Old 06-14-2018, 02:54 PM   #14
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Ray, I hear you. Used to do my own wrenching on a veritable fleet of Volvo cars. Total pain in the tail, but working on weird stuff that broke all the time on a supposedly 'practical luxury' vehicle...was not a good sign.

So we gave up and went to Toyota. End of all issues. Just routine oil changes and maintenance...

If Toyota ever decided to go into travel trailers or the like, sign me up!!!

Blacklab, you are correct, to a point, about Apple. The only issue I have, at my age, is the flyspeck-sized print in their sparse documentation and printed on their products. They are designed for the 'under 30' set, and that is rapidly becoming only a part of their install base...
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