If it isn’t an Airstream, it’s hard for most people to discern what brand of RV is coming toward them on the highway because so many look similar. But when you see the new Brave or Tribute on the road, you will know it is from Winnebago. The brand that became synonymous with motorhomes in the 1960s and ‘70s is back with models that are updated versions of some of the company’s first motorhomes, with the distinctive flying W on the side and the “eyebrow” above the windshield.
Scott Degnan, vice president of sales and product management, said the idea of a Winnebago with a retro design had been kicked around for years and while employees liked the idea, there were always other priorities. So it never went beyond the talking stage.
After Degnan joined Winnebago two years ago, one of the tasks he was given was to find a way to make Winnebago a “cool” brand. The company was known for building solid, reliable, even superior products, but “we weren’t getting the cool factor,” Degnan said.
When company President and CEO Randy Potts pulled out the retro design concept as an option this time, it struck Degnan and product manager John Millis as “awesome” and a way to put “cool” back in the brand. But would the public share that enthusiasm, or, as Degnan put it, “Is it just us who think this is the coolest thing in the world?” After more than a year of work on the project, they got their answer in April when the retro Winnebago was unveiled at a meeting of dealers and drew a standing ovation. Since then, orders have rolled in.
Developing the Design
With the popularity of Throwback Thursdays on social media and a widespread affection for nostalgia, this seemed like the right time for Winnebago to go back its roots. The challenge in designing a retro model was to come up with a motorhome that evoked the past but contained the advances of the present.
Did they want a rubber roof, a two-piece windshield and corrugated aluminum siding? No. Those elements worked in the 1960s and ‘70s, but Winnebago had moved to fiberglass and a big one-piece windshield and there was no reason to go back.
But they had to retain those visual elements that made the Winnebago of the late 1960s and early ‘70s so distinctive. Degnan said the design had to evoke the brand. “When you saw the motorhome, you had to know instantly it was a Winnebago.”
So they retained the “eyebrow” above the windshield, kept the big “W’” and stripe along the side, and designed a front cap and side windows that captured the retro look.
Millis, the product manager, said the interior retro touches include a generous use of wood, sliding cabinet doors, and accent colors that reflect the ‘60s and ‘70s. But the new models have all the modern features, too, from LED lighting and a GPS navigation system to swiveling cab seats, and a novel flex sofa/bed that can flip up against the wall for extra space or serve as a sofa, a bed or a table.
In Degnan’s mind, the beauty of the Brave and Tribute is that their appeal extends across generations. Generally, he said, young families look for low-priced RVs, and older couples opt for luxury coaches. With suggested retail prices starting under $100,000, these new Winnebago models can be affordable for families, while also attracting older couples with their nostalgic appeal and simplicity of operation (no slideouts in one floor plan).
Other RV manufacturers are also counting on nostalgia to boost sales. Shasta RV, whose history dates back to 1941, has gone back a half century to pattern new trailers after the design of its 1961 Airflyte. And Genesis Supreme RV in Perris, California, is building a retro version of the canned ham trailer that was popular in the 1950s. Called the Genesis Classic, it beautifully captures the look of that era. It comes with a choice of either a gray or white exterior, accented in Rockin’ Robin Blue, Candy Apple Red, Mint Julep Green, Canary Yellow or Flamingo Pink.
The trailers were designed by company president Pablo Carmona, who started in the RV business 20 years ago as a production worker, moved up to oversee production at Thor California and now heads up Genesis Supreme RV. In designing the trailer, Carmona’s aim was to create an RV that was light enough to be towed by an ordinary automobile, be affordably priced and contain everything you might need for a vacation trip. At 2,200 pounds, it can be easily towed, and at a retail price of $19,950, the 16-foot, six-inch version called the Genesis Classic Malibu is certainly within reach of many consumers.
The retro look is there, from the rounded front and back to the porthole window in the entry door. And the interior, too, has echoes of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s a design that Carmona says not only has nostalgic appeal for older buyers but also attracts people in their 20s and 30s.
With lots of people buying and restoring old RVs, it stands to reason that there should be a market for new RVs that have that classic look, but include modern features. In the case of the Genesis Supreme Classic, the many updates even include a solar panel.
You can read more about the retro Winnebago motorhomes and Genesis Classic trailers in our report on new RVs in this issue. n
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find “First Glance” online at rvlife.com.