As Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels joined executives from Electric Motors Corp. and Gulf Stream Coach Inc. at the podium today (May 14) to announce what amounts to sensational news for beleaguered Elkhart County – the possible creation of thousands of new jobs from a new hybrid electric engine initiative – some in the crowd wondered what all this means for the future of the RV industry.
Is Gulf Stream, in an understandable need to diversify, preparing to exit the RV sector altogether? Is the sun setting on the recreational vehicle business just as it appears that a rebound for RV manufacturers and suppliers is on the horizon?
The answer, in a word, is “no,” according to those in attendance at this morning’s press conference in a vacant Wakarusa, Ind., RV dealership – just down the street from an expansive closed Monaco Coach Corp. plant that some suspect may be about to reopen under Monaco’s new Navistar owners.
Indeed, those involved see nothing but good news for everyone involved with the new initiative, including several partner companies currently seeking funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which should appreciably expedite job creation in Elkhart County.
However, they caution, the direct industry impact — other than diversification and insulation from the next economic downturn — won’t be as immediate as the jobs it might create. Officials expect to add as many as 1,100 to 1,500 jobs throughout the area’s whole supply chain by 2011-12. Long haul estimates range from 3,900 to 6,000 new hires.
“With all of the affiliated industry in the supply chain, we see that by 2012, if everything goes according to plan, (the addition of) up to 6,000 jobs (in the area),” says Mark Smith, vice president and chief information officer for Gulf Stream and project manager for the electric hybridization vehicle project for the Nappanee-based manufacturer.
Smith and others see the move toward electrification as a boon to the RV business in general over the next few years.
“Electrification in the recreational vehicle business would make a big difference because you’re increasing fuel efficiency and there will be emissions legislation coming down over the next decade that will encumber the industry if they don’t make changes,” says EMC President Brad Rinehart. “And this entire effort will definitely help out the industry in existing business and create new markets of opportunity within the RV business.”
And as technology develops, Rinehart explained, heavier-duty vehicles will be involved beyond the light-duty trucks into which Gulf Stream plans to begin installing parallel hybrid electric engines by 2010. “The first program we have is a light duty truck,” he noted. “Our plans are to produce about 40,000 vehicles over the next 48 months here in Elkhart County in partnership with Gulf Stream. We have several other projects that I’m not at liberty to talk about with other partners at this point, but our plans are to become a facilitator, an integrator of electrification products into the RV industry and into the light, medium-duty and heavy truck business.”
Of course, 40,000 vehicles is a stunning number for an area that has seen so much idle manufacturing capacity of late. “But,” adds, Rinehart, (EMC CEO) “Wil Cashen is a pretty stunning guy. He’s been able to bring together a collective group of people, some world class engineering companies and the resources needed to make something like this a reality.”
So don’t look to today’s announcement as a signal that Gulf Stream is looking to get out of the RV business by serving as a lead partner in what amounts to an unprecedented partnership in these parts. On the contrary, Gulf Stream is looking to get farther into the towable and motorized RV arena, according to Smith and Gulf Stream Motorized Division President Brian Shea.
“Absolutely,” said Smith. “Our vision, actually, is to bring back the RV industry in a way that may have taken many more years of this economic recovery.”
“What it means is job growth here again,” added Shea. “We’re (Gulf Stream) getting into a new technology, which we’re excited about. You know, we’ve always felt like we’ve been on the cutting edge in recreational vehicles. Now, this puts us on the cutting edge in technology as applied to vehicles.”