I went to visit the Winnebago Industries exhibit early on day 2 expecting to spend some quality time with the people that in my opinion that make the motorhome industry what it is today and I was not disappointed.
Walking into the exhibit, the novice or the seasoned professional’s head would as if on a swivel The entrance is flanked by the flagship 42 foot coaches which by all accounts appears to have gained traction of the past model year and has expanded the floorplan now offering the “new” 42QD. Both the Winnebago Tour and Itasca Ellipse funnel the show attendees toward a number of sales, technical and marketing people that comprise the welcoming committee. I saw many recognizable faces which were greeted with a brief how do you do and a handshake.
The entire display and trade show is all about welcoming corporate sales representatives and showcasing new products. Clearly the attendance was up. In making an observation, I would say that it appeared that there was a lot of activity going on in the display. There were people sitting at smaller tables, business was being discussed at standing tables and the counter tops at the kiosks were bustling with activity. You could see people waiting for the next available representative as black shirted Winnebago reps focused on the person in front of them.
Interior view of the Era looking over the top of the sofa bed. The galley is on the left and the bath and shower room is on the right. The 4 front bucket seats can swivel around to a moveable pedestal base table.
In a Winnebago Tour, a camera crew was busy and I saw one of the marketing folks taking part in an interview with stage lights glowing. At that time I also focused on Bob Olson and Shelia Davis who were engaged in a conversation and I approached and stopped well short until they concluded their conversation. Sheila turned toward and greeted me and I walked up a shook Bob’s hand and he offered a warm greeting and a friendly smile. I began my comments by offering that it was nice to see him again and I thanked him for speaking with me. I told Bob and Sheila that the last time that I saw them they were standing on the podium and the New York Stock Exchange to which Sheila replied that it was a lot of fun. I wanted to focus on 2 issues that I though Bob might have time to comment on and that was the letter that was published about the interest in SunnyBrook and following up on the “Open Letter to the RV Industry” that Bob signed.
As regard the SunnyBrook question Bob said that the letter of intent was issued since Winnebago is a publicly traded company so any move in the direction of talking about these types of issues has to be disclosed. Bob said that SunnyBrook is a company in the heart of the Indiana RV Industry and it appears to present a good opportunity for additional business. If SunnyBrook were acquired they would pretty much carry on their business as they always had however they would have access to much better resources to develop new product. In time it may come to pass that a Winnebago influenced or branded towable might make an appearance again if the company were acquired. It would seem that Winnebago Industries would turn full circle again since they began in the towable business over 50 years ago. In 1958 the founder John K. Hanson convinced a travel trailer company to open a factory in Forest City. Like they would say, the rest was history. There isn’t anything further that can be said about the issue other than the opportunity is continuing to be explored.
On November 10, 2010 an “Open Letter to the RV Industry” was signed by Bob Olson and I asked him to comment on the document. In our conversation Bob shared that SCR is the way to go because the technology assures that emissions are as clean as possible and they meet the 2010 emission standards. Our conversation was pretty much on track with the Open Letter. The key concepts that were shared with me is that SCR will provide Winnebago owners with a proven solution that has been tested over millions of miles. Winnebago owners can expect better fuel economy over the previously offered 2007 emission compliant engines. Diesel exhaust fluid is a widely available, inexpensive and safe additive that will last a long time before it need replenishing and it’s easy to work with. For 2011 Winnebago owners can expect excellent performance due to increases in horsepower and torque from new motorhomes products that are equipped with SCR. The rear engine diesel powered Winnebago Class A motorhomes that are coming off the line at this time are 2010 emission compliant and will have SCR solutions installed.
I met up with Chad Reece the Director of Marketing for Winnebago Industries and I asked him if he would have the time to show me around which he was glad to do. The first motorhome that we visited was the 2012 Era 170X. The Era is a Class B diesel which is built on the dual rear wheel 11,030 GVWR Mercedes Sprinter Chassis. The Era has more wardrobe and overhead storage than prior years and allows the owner more cargo flexibility. The 4 forward seats face inboard to a moveable pedestal table for family meals and activities. A new 70×80 sofa bed is standard and gives plenty of room the stretch out. A flat panel TV is mounted on the street side wall. For the first time on any of these types of vehicles a 13 foot long patio awning is provided. The vehicle has a total seat belted capacity of 7 persons with 3 belted positions on the couch. Era options include a GPS and a rear view camera. A 22 inch LED LCD HD TV is standard as is a 120v/LP water heater. The Era will be arriving on dealer lots in the spring of 2011.
The next coach we visited was new floorplan for Winnebago Industries, the 2011 Sunova Model 36V. The 36V entry door is directly behind the passenger seat and features all tile floors throughout the living and galley space up until the threshold to the bedroom. Optioned in this coach was a Euro Chair with an Ottoman. A folding desk is provided which can be used for computer use of other purposes. A 110 volt plug is provided on the side of the galley counter as is a 12 volt power point and a cup holder. In the galley, a 3 burner stove was installed as well as a Sharp Convection/Microwave in the overhead. Large drawers on extended slides were provided below the cook top. A large double sink is featured with a single handle faucet. The newest seating feature that is fitted to this coach is called the “Extendible Sectional Sofa” which creates seating for 7. The seating surfaces are Ultraleather. For the first time in this class of coach pleated day/night shades have been replaced by MCD American Solo blackout shades. An impressive 40” LCD HD TV is installed on the back wall of the compartment directly behind the booth dinette. The bedroom has a standard queen size bed but it can be optioned for a king size bed. There are 4 other floorplans in the Sightseer and Sunova from 31 to 37 feet all built on the Ford 363 HP V10 Chassis.
Lunch time came around and I had the opportunity to sit with some guys from McGeorge’s RV from Virginia and Stephen Evenson. We were just chatting back and forth when an interesting topic came up about Specialty Vehicles. These motorhomes are custom built for use in many fields to include hospital, dental and law enforcement. These vehicles are often provided with double density flooring, stronger walls and framing, additional jack and leveling systems which add stability to the vehicle and complete customizable interiors for any purpose. Completely self contained, these vehicles bring services to people that previously were not able to go to the doctor or the dentist. It was interesting to find out how big of a contribution that Winnebago makes toward this industry and how essential these vehicles have become. The topic of discussion drifted toward the use of motorhomes abroad. Winnebago Industries motorhomes can be seen faraway places like China and are most likely sold through other agencies or specialty retailers. If you search for RV rentals in China like I did, one of the available RVs that pop up is a Winnebago Class A. We spoke about other aspects of the global market for instance like left and right hand drive. Winnebago has excellent computer resources that facilitate the creation of specialty vehicles and other vehicles that might be produced for use in different countries. We also spoke about accessibility or “Ability Equipped Vehicles.” These vehicles are completely customized and enable people to travel that are mobility challenged by incorporating devices like lifts and featuring amenities like open showers enclosures, assist bars and grab handles, and other features that can make life on the road manageable and enjoyable. Winnebago offers the opportunity for fun and adventure to people who may have only dreamed about getting on the road.
After lunch I hooked up with Chad again and we went about the newest 42 foot floorplan the Itasca Ellipse 42QD. The 42QD is a tag axle, rear engine diesel, class A motorhome built on a Maxum Freightliner 44,320 GVWR chassis featuring the ISL 8.9 Cummins with either 400 or 450 horsepower. Exterior features include better visibility using stacked headlamps and LED running and turning lamps. Chrome exterior mirrors include turn cameras and signal lamps. The coach features enhanced true-Air Maximum Comfort A/C which is supplied my 3 roof mounted air conditioning units. The Aqua-Hot® 450 hydronic dual-zone heating system w/continuous hot water interior comfort on the coldest days. The 42QD opens up via 3 slideouts given the greatest interior volume of any of the Winnebago Motorhomes. Featuring a full wall street side slideout with an opposing curbside galley and seating area slideout the floorspace in the QD is phenomenal.
Some of the key features that make this space enviable are the Extendible Sectional Sofa which seats 7 people, the innovative office module featuring a pull up table perfect for use with a laptop, a pop-up 40 inch LCD HD flat panel TV and an electric fireplace. The QD has a bath and a half with a full width rear bath featuring a stackable washer and dryer. The bedroom offers excellent storage for personal items in several drawers and twin shirt closets flanking a center wall mounted HD TV. The king size bed has an Ideal Rest 50 position digital controller to get that just right feeling. In the galley, a Maytag French door residential style 4 door refrigerators is installed. The galley space has an extendible island feature and tucked under the cabinetry is a dishwasher.
There are 3 other floorplans in this line of motorhomes the 40BD, 40CD and the 42AD which I wrote about in 2009. The option for 6 external full paint schemes, 3 interior fabric choices and 6 cabinetry choices can offer a buyer a lot of flexibility when they build their dream motorhome.
Winnebago Industries has placed continued to invest millions in Research and Development despite the recession. Winnebago continues to be focused on the products that consumers want and it’s evident in the dozens of more standard features including wide use of MCD Roller Shares and the new BIG Shower.
The guys at Winnebago publish numbers for storage space. Why not show the numbers using real space? The structure in the picture has a 48″x48″ footplint and rises some 12 to 15 feet off the floor. Note the capacity of the Journey 40U which has 237.6 cu ft of storage.
2011 Itasca Ellipse’s vertical headlamp details and LED accent lighting.
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