Recently returned Country Coach Inc. President Bob Lee said the Junction City, Ore.-based highline motorhome manufacturer will begin building a diesel engine model in January that will retail in the $200,000 range, according to The Register-Guard newspaper of Eugene, Ore.
Currently, Country Coach’s lowest-priced model retails for around $300,000, so Lee, 63, is attempting to tap into a new set of potential buyers who could move up into the company’s higher-priced models in later years, he told the Register-Guard.
Lee also has longer-term plants to build a new factory in Junction City to produce gasoline engine Class A motorhomes that retail in the $100,000 range, he also told the newspaper.
Lee, who founded Country Coach in 1973, has spent the last two years in semi-retirement, developing an upscale RV resort in California and traveling the nation in a Country Coach diesel pusher. However, he agreed late last month to return to full-time responsibilities to help turn around both Country Coach and its parent, National RV Holdings Inc.
National RV, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company, lost $11.5 million in 2001 and another $4.7 million in the first half of this year. The Perris, Calif.-based company anticipates reporting a loss of around $3.4 million for the three months that ended Sept. 30.
National RV will report its third-quarter earnings Tuesday (Oct. 22).
Lee has a financial stake in a National RV turnaround. He owns almost 418,000 shares, or 4.3%, of all of National RV’s outanding stock. Unfortunately for Lee and other National RV investors, the company’s stock has fallen to 52-week lows on several occasions the last few weeks. On Monday (Oct. 14), it sunk to a new 52-week low of $4.87 a share, before closing at $4.95.
In general, Lee believes the highline motorcoach market will remain strong, and he has ordered the hiring of 30 more workers to build Country Coach’s top three models, according to the Register-Guard.
On the subject of introducing a new model in the $200,000 price range, Lee said, “We should have been in the lower-end diesel market a year ago. We didn’t miss the mark yet. It’s still there.”
Adding more Country Coach dealers is another of Lee’s goals. Currently, there are about a dozen dealers, but Lee wants to increase the number to 20.
There are some exceptionally large dealerships that inventory Country Coach models, including Guaranty in Oregon and California, Lazy Days in Florida and Buddy Gregg in Texas and Tennessee.
“We have the big guys but we need some small guys so people don’t have to travel so far to see our product,” Lee said.
Concerning a new factory for producing gas Class A’s, Lee said he would like to have it built within the next two years on 30 acres the company owns immediately south of its existing facility. The $10 million, 120,000-square-foot factory would occupy about 17 or the 30 acres, he said.
Country Coach has had a gas engine motorhome plant on the drawing board for several years, but the expansion program was indefinitely postponed in 2000 when the motorhome sector entered its most recent cyclical downturn.
But Lee’s growth plans will not distract him from a conservative approach to inventory management, he insisted.
“Dealers can smell a company with too much product, and word gets around fast,” he said. “As soon as you build too many and put them against the fence, you become unprofitable.”