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You didn’t have to look very far to find new motorhome chassis manufacturers promising higher fuel mileage during the 46th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. Ditto for several of the RV manufacturers who were quick to adapt the new platforms in production and concept RVs.
Workhorse Custom Chassis Corp., Union City, Ind., Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich., and Germany-based Daimler AG – through Chrysler LLC’s Dodge division – all debuted front-engine Class A chassis with lighter GVWRs aimed at providing motorhomes with better fuel mileage. At the same time, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Gaffney, S.C., rolled out the concept front-engine ecoFRED, the RV industry’s first Class A diesel/electric hybrid platform.
Among the surprises at the show were the two chassis from Daimler AG and Ford that previously served solely as Class C or B platforms that are now being adapted for use as Class A rails.
Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, introduced the Winnebago Via/Itasca Reyo on a Class A version of Daimler’s, 11,030-pound GVWR Sprinter chassis. Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind., assembled the new Montaj motorhome on a 14,500-pound Ford E-series 5.4-liter gas chassis that previously had been available only as a Class C cutaway platform.
The 2010 Via/Reyo, available later this year, will get up to 15 mpg from its Mercedes-Benz diesel powerplant mated to a new-to-the-industry Sprinter F-50 ‘cowl’ chassis, while Gulf Stream reports similar results from the new Ford chassis that is equipped with a 300-hp V-8 gas-fueled engine.
Gulf Stream also introduced a 2010 Silver Bullet Class C on a 19,500-pound GVWR Dodge Ram 5500 cab chassis equipped with a 305-hp Cummins ISM diesel engine that the builder estimates will get 17 mpg.
Meanwhile, Winnebago and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Riverside, Calif., are exploring their options with Freightliner’s 27,000-pound GVWR ecoFred chassis equipped with a diesel engine coupled to a hybrid Eaton transmission augmented by an electric motor that automatically kicks in at startup or when the chassis is under load.
Winnebago displayed a concept Winnebago Adventurer Class A on the Freightliner ecoFRED in the previously all-gas Winnebago Adventurer series, while Fleetwood introduced the concept Fleetwood Hybrid on the Freightliner diesel/electric chassis. The Adventurer is equipped with an optional auxiliary power generation system that uses the diesel engine to charge the chassis 12-volt battery system and do away with the need for a stand-alone generator.
Freightliner executives said the ecoFRED (ecological front-engine diesel) hybrid system was adapted for RVs from a chassis developed by Daimler AG for fleet delivery trucks. “EcoFred was developed to address environmental concerns as well as fuel-saving opportunities that are important to our customers,” said Tony Sippel, Freightliner RV product manager.
Development of the chassis is in line with Germany-based Daimler AG’s “Shaping Future Transportation” global initiative that focuses on reducing engine pollutants and fuel consumption, according to Jonathan Randall, FCC director of sales and marketing.
“Even in this down market, we are not inclined to rest on our laurels or wait for better times,” Randall told a crowd of onlookers at his company’s commercial display in Louisville. “Instead, we’ve seized the opportunity and made strategic decisions to better position ourselves to serve our markets.”
The ecoFRED is powered by a standard 300-hp Cummins ISB 6.7-liter diesel engine augmented by an Eaton automated manual transmission and equipped with an HEV electric motor run by 340-volt lithium-ion batteries that are constantly charged by the operation of the diesel engine.
The system seamlessly decides whether to use diesel, electric or both to power the chassis.
“Depending on the vehicle load and power demands, the hybrid controller determines how much diesel engine power versus electric motor power is required for optimum efficiency,” Sippel said.
Workhorse was also busy with the introduction of several new platforms, including the 22,000-pound GVWR W-20D and 22,500-pound GVWR W-22D front-engine diesel chassis, both equipped with 230-hp Navistar MaxxForce 7, 6.4-liter V-8 diesel engines. The new chassis, projected to get better fuel mileage, are derived from Workhorse W-series gas rails.
Winnebago during the show introduced an Itasca Sunstar floorplan on the Workhorse W-20D chassis while Elkhart, Ind.-based Four Winds International Corp. is assembling its new Serrano Class A motorhome on the new rail.
“It’s the same proven platform that we’ve been building since 2001 but we’re leveraging what we have across the Navistar family of brands,” said Bill Walmsley, Workhorse director of marketing and product planning. “Manufacturers already know how to build on this platform, and we’ve added a fuel-efficient diesel engine that’s already set up for the new 2010 EPA emission requirements.”
Timed with the Louisville Show, Workhorse and General Motors Corp. also announced that the GVWR for the 2009 Chevy Workhorse Class C chassis has been increased by 150 pounds to 14,200 pounds. With an accompanying increased GVCR from 17,600 to 20,000 pounds and with 5,800 pounds towing capacity, the 2009 Chevy Workhorse minimotorhome chassis can tow many SUVs and most cars, Walmsley noted. Cab features include new radio/MP3 controllers along with front bumper steps for cleaning windshields, over-sized map pockets and driver information clusters that include an oil life monitors.
Also making its trade debut at Louisville was a lighter 16,000-pound GVWR Workhorse W-16D chassis with a 200-hp MaxxForce V-6 diesel engine developed in conjunction with Damon Motor Coach, Elkhart, Ind., for the lightweight Avanti front-end Class A diesel coach that went into production in November.
Bill Fenech, president of Thor’s Damon subsidiary, said the fuel mileage offered by the W-16D chassis was key to development of the 31 1/2-foot Avanti that gets an estimated 14.5 mpg. “Fuel prices, whatever they are, still are significant,” said Fenech. “We think there is a market out there for high-fuel-mileage units, especially with the whole ‘green’ movement.”
Fenech added that the medium-sized Avanti on a chassis that’s easy to drive should appeal to consumers downsizing from 40- or 45-foot motorhomes. “There are buyers out there who are getting older who like the RV lifestyle but they don’t want to drive a big monster anymore,” he said.