... And how it could upset the consumer’s apple cart.
It all started when Thor Inc., an investment company formed by Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein, purchased Airstream back in 1980. Then in the early nineties, Thor began buying everything that had a good price and profitable future to include Dutchmen, Four Winds, Komfort, Keystone, Damon, General Coach, Heartland, Crossroads, K-Z, Livin' Lite, DRV, and Cruiser RV. Gobble, gobble, gobble, continued Thor as it used its massive buying power until it controlled close to 40% of the RV market in the U.S.
But Thor isn't alone in using RVs as part of its investment portfolio. Forest River, a company formed from the ashes of Cobra Industries way back in 1996, has been actively buying everything and anything that looked palatable. It purchased Coachmen, Viking, Dynamax, Prime Time, Palomino, Shasta, Sportscoach, and Georgie Boy. To continue the Thor investment model, Forest River, Inc. and its divisions were acquired by Berkshire Hathaway, a major investment firm owned by Warren Buffett.
Here's an example of 'Big-Buying-Little.' Thor's Airstream division purchased the assets of Nest Caravans in Oregon to get this unique monocoque design.
Then came the bankruptcy of Fleetwood (once the largest RV manufacturer) in 2008. The Fleetwood motor home division became Fleetwood RV, now owned by the REV Group, a conglomerate owned by American Industrial Partners (AIP). To make it still more complicated, AIP is part of an international investment group called Partners Group. The REV Group also purchased American Coach, Monaco, and Holiday Rambler. With Gulf Stream out of the motor home business, REV Group / Partners Group has acquired much influence in the motor home part of the RV arena - which is something that needs watching. Just remember, it's now international.
There have also been a number of smaller RV builders purchased by investment companies other than Thor, Berkshire Hathaway, and REV Group. One of the top rated motor homes, Born Free, was purchased from the Dodgen family by HBF Investments of Des Moines, Iowa. We must not forget Sunnybrook - a high-rated trailer builder - was purchased by Winnebago to begin their new travel trailer line being built at the Middlebury plant. (They eventually dumped the 'Sunnybrook' name.) Then we have Jayco, still a family-owned company, who purchased Entegra motor home from the defunct Travel Supreme, Open Range (which was renamed as Highland Ridge) and Starcraft - a low-end trailer builder. Skyline RV, once a major travel trailer builder, was purchased by Evergreen who also purchased some of the physical assets of Carriage, a high-end RV builder. Using assets from Carriage, Lifestyle Luxury RV (a division of Evergreen) is now building fifth-wheel travel trailers in a new Indiana plant. It is not yet clear who financed this venture, but the money came from somewhere.
Remember these names from the 1990's?
|Sea Breeze (National RV)||Kit|
|Alpenlite||King of the Road|
|Safari||Chinook (Trail Wagons)|
|Weekend Warrior||Fleetwood Travel Trailers|
|Excel (Peterson Industries)||Carriage|
|Hitchhiker (Nu-Wa)||Travel Supreme|
These brands have effectively disappeared.
So, it has been happening right under our noses; and for better or worse, it's something we have to live with. But then, that doesn't mean we have to put up with crap. It also doesn't mean we have to spend our hard-earned money to give giant investment corporations big profits without asking for something in return. What we want is what we've always wanted: A reasonable investment on our dollars spent and quality in the product.
But, friends, it isn't going to come easy. To be sure we get quality in RVs, we have to do what the 'health-nuts' did to the food industry - we demanded good food and good labeling. We all are getting the benefits from those efforts, and we have to do the same with the RV industry. If we want all RVs to be built with techniques known for holding together for the long run and good specifications on the labels and in brochures, we must be diligent in letting the world know what the builders are doing right and what they are doing wrong. We need to do the same as we do with movies and TV shows. We need to rate them. We need to tell the RV builders - whether they're owned by international investment corporations or are family owned businesses - if their products or service are good, mediocre, or bad. It's the only way to talk to investment firms who are in the RV arena only for the profit. Luckily, you can rate your RV right here at rv.org Until next time,