An Elkhart, Ind.-based manufacturer of specialty vehicles and lifts for people with mobility problems purchased the assets of Xplorer Motor Homes, Brown City, Mich., during an April 23 auction and intends to move production of the pioneering Xplorer brand to the Elkhart area.
In addition to its current products, the company intends to focus future Xplorer minimotorhome development on the four-wheel drive market while expanding the Xplorer Xtreme’s one-piece molded fiberglass chassis-mount construction into areas outside the RV industry, reported Starship Custom Vehicles Inc. President Bob Helvie.
“We will open a factory in Elkhart soon,” Helvie said. “What Xplorer developed was a little different than anything in the RV industry. And the possibilities of what it can be used for are greater than what they were using it for.”
Most recently, Xplorer, a division of Frank Industries Inc., was producing the Xcursion van camper, based on the imported Mercedes-Benz Sprinter commercial van, and an Xtreme “chassis mount” minimotorhome based on Dodge or Ford cutaway pick-up chassis.
Helvie said both lines will continue to be manufactured, although he intends to develop the C-body Xtreme on high-GVWR Ford and Dodge pickup and Chevrolet Kodiak mid-sized truck chassis.
“We don’t want to take anything away from what they were doing,” Helvie said. “We want to enhance it.”
A target date to launch production has not been set. “The sooner the better for me,” Helvie said, adding that employment in Elkhart had been offered to some of Xplorer’s Brown City workers. Helvie said he expects to be able to assume Xplorer’s toll-free telephone number and website to allow a smooth transition.
“We haven’t decided if we are going to set up a separate corporation,” Helvie said.
Starship Custom Vehicles builds and equips units for specialty purposes such as medical labs and clinics, while a sister company – Startrack Custom Lifts Inc. – manufactures lifts that assist people into vehicles.
Helvie purchased Xplorer’s molds, Xplorer and Xcursion trademarks, patents and miscellaneous manufacturing equipment for an unspecified sum during an auction at Xplorer’s 42,000-square-foot factory in Brown City, a small community that bills itself on welcoming signs as the “Birthplace of the Motor Home.”
The company’s building remained unsold at the close of the auction, according to auctioneer John Tomaschko of Mid-Thumb Auctions, although post-auction negotiations continued with a Hoosier company that makes parts for the RV industry.
“We think that it’s unfortunate that Xplorer found no alternative to closing the doors in Brown City,” said Clint Holmes, city manager of the east-central Michigan community of 1,300 people.
The company shut down with little fanfare late last year, but the Brown City factory had been expected to reopen April 1 and continue to manufacture motorhomes, according to Holmes.
Helvie said his interest increased after a deal to sell Xplorer to another Indiana company fell through on April 1.
Xplorer was founded by industry pioneer Ray Frank as Frank Motor Home Corp. in 1958 when motorhomes were still called “house cars.”
The company’s name was later changed to Travco Corp., and in 1979 was sold to Foretravel Inc., Nacogdoches, Texas.
That same year, Frank founded Frank Industries Inc., which did business as Xplorer Motor Homes. Ray Frank’s son, Ron, sold controlling interest in Frank Industries in 1995 to Joe Murray, the company’s national sales manager at the time, and David Bockstanz, a Michigan Chrysler dealer.