Canadians go to Plan B and sell a lot of motorhomes
CanWest News Service
Friday, October 20, 2006
KITCHENER, Ont. -- Roadtrek Class B motorhomes are a Canadian success story built in the face of strong competition in both this country and the United States.
Since 1990, Roadtrek, built by Home & Park Motorhomes, has been the no. 1 selling Class B motorhome in North America.
Roadtrek chairman Jeff Hanemaayer said the company will sell more than 1,400 motorhomes this year.
"To maintain our No. 1 position, we need to offer the best combination of design, quality, price and service," Hanemaayer said. "That's also how we achieved such strong export sales."
In addition, "being Canadian helps as well in the eyes of the U.S. consumer from a perception of better quality."
Most Roadtrek motorhomes -- 85 per cent -- are sold outside Canada with the bulk going to the United States. A small percentage is shipped to Japan. The remaining 15 per cent are sold in Canada.
"The size of the vehicle is part of the appeal in Japan," Hanemaayer said, since roads and streets there are narrow. Roadtrek's Class B motorhomes are built on Chevrolet and Dodge Sprinter van chasses, resulting in a vehicle considerably smaller than a Class A motorhome.
"We are on course to record unit sales this year and definitely record dollar sales on the strength of the U.S. market."
Doug Ross, sales manager for Grove RV in Spruce Grove, Alta., said his company is having "great success" with Roadtrek motorhomes, selling nine or 10 in the past 18 months. Most of the buyers are more than 50 years old and often are downsizing from a larger motorhome or trailer.
During his years in the RV business, Ross has sold other brands of Class B motorhomes, but says Roadtrek offers features, such as its storage space, that the others don't have. He says Roadtrek's quality is excellent.
Despite competition from a variety of U.S. firms and several in Canada, Roadtrek moved to the top of the Class B motorhome sales charts. Canadian competitors include Pleasureway in Saskatoon and two Manitoba firms -- Great West Van and Leisure Travel Vans.
"Our strongest competition currently comes from other Canadian manufacturers," Hanemaayer said.
So far, more than 90 per cent of buyers are over 50 years of age, Hanemaayer said, but "we are seeing more families with two children" buying Roadtrek motorhomes. About 60 per cent of motorhomes sold are built on the Chevrolet chassis, with the remainder using the Dodge Sprinter chassis.
Roadtrek has dozens of completed vans parked outside its 120,000-square-foot factory. When a dealer or customer orders a van, options can be installed before the unit is shipped.
U.S. buyers tend to order their motorhomes with more options than do their Canadian counterparts, Hanemaayer said.
Roadtrek orders cargo vans from General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. When the vehicles are to be converted into a motorhome, they're taken into the factory to begin the process.
The Chevrolet express vans receive the most modification with the roof, part of the floor and portions of the lower body being cut away on the 170 and 190 models and almost all of the rear section of the body -- except for the side door and rear door and frame -- removed on the 210 models. A raised roof is installed on the 170 and 190 and a fibreglass rear body added to the 210 after the frame is extended.
While most of the body modifications are handled in the Roadtrek plant, outside suppliers build some components such as the raised fibreglass roofs.
In contrast, the Sprinter -- a Mercedes van that is sold under the Freightliner and Dodge brands in the United States -- requires little modification to the body except for cutting windows in the side of the van.
Hanemaayer said Roadtrek did not offer to create motorhomes from the Sprinter when it first became available in 2004. Instead, the company waited until 2005 when the supply of Sprinters had improved. "When they first came out there were a lot of challenges getting supply."
Supply of the diesel-powered van has improved, but Hanemaayer said: "We didn't get all we wanted for 2006."
The five-cylinder diesel engine provides good fuel economy that the manufacturer puts at 11 litres per 100 kilometres. Power is adequate for most circumstances, but can't match the output of the V-8 engines in the Chevrolet vans.
An updated version of the Sprinter will become available in 2007, but Hanemaayer doesn't expect the changes to greatly alter the motorhome portion of the vehicle.
Squeezing all the features of a motorhome into a cargo van requires careful design and planning. For example, to take advantage of the available space, water tanks have to be built in unusual shapes.
The price of Class B motorhomes can be similar to or even exceed the cost of a Class C or a lower-end Class A.
"What you're paying for (in a Class B) is getting all those features in a van," said Hanemaayer, pointing out that "it's more expensive to build watches than clocks."
As Roadtrek sales grew, the company and motorhome owners worked together to create the Roadtrek International Owners Club in January 1993 which became a chapter of the Family Motor Coach Association in February 1993.
By 2006 the club had over 2,000 vehicles (more than 4,000 people) and is the fifth largest product chapter within the FMCA. Over the years they have made many new friends with common interests; participated in enjoyable group outings, tours, camping and suppers; learned solutions to common problems; and exchanged ideas to improve their Roadtreks.
Class B motorhomes the company builds today are the result of one man's determination to get exactly what he wanted in an RV.
In 1974, Jac Hanemaayer -- Jeff's father -- became interested in an RV for personal use. While he liked the room and comfort offered by Class A and C motorhomes, he didn't want to become a "weekend bus driver."
To enjoy the convenience and mobility of a small vehicle, he checked out the Class B motorhome market. Being unable to find all the comforts of a larger motorhome within the convenient and efficient size of a van, he designed one for himself and had it built by fledgling Home & Park Vehicles. When it was finished, he liked it so much, he bought the company.
After years of personal RVing experience, Jac completely redesigned the product in 1980 with the now-famous low-profile roof and lowered floor. The combination of those features creates a vehicle with a lower profile,s less susceptible to being pushed around by side winds.
In contrast, many competitors at that time were building vans with tall roofs that can make the vehicles a handful to drive in strong crosswinds.
WHAT THEY COST
These are the base MSRPs for the Class B motorhomes in the Roadtrek lineup:
- 170 Popular: $75,225
- 190 Popular: $78,225
- 190 Versatile: $78,600
- 210 Popular: $90,975
- 210 Versatile: $91,475
- RS Adventurous: $94,625
Roadtreks are well equipped for normal use at the base price. Visit www.roadtrek.com