Steve Kesler, president of Explorer Van Co., Warsaw, Ind., now marking its 25th full year as a van converter, says today’s headlines are deja vu all over again.
“You could take the same headlines from when my father and I founded the company in September 1980 about the high gas prices and rising interest rates and they are the same today,” Kesler said. “Then, two or three years later, it all subsided. I’m not going to say that’s going to happen again, but a lot of it feels the same.”
Explorer in February marked its 25th anniversary with an event for its 35 sales reps and about 100 dealers in conjunction with the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Orlando, Fla.
Kesler, in turn, contends that “true van converters” are a vanishing breed due to the popularity of SUVs and in some cases Detroit’s own van products.
“We are getting perilously close to single numbers (of van converters),” Kesler said. “It’s somewhere between nine and 15 right now, depending on how they identify themselves.  That’s not good. While everyone thinks we don’t want any competition, if we are the only van sitting on an auto dealer’s lot or if a dealer isn’t carrying any vans at all, it’s difficult to keep the public’s attention.”
Volkswagen and Dodge got out of the van business and the Ford Econoline E-series has not been redesigned in many years. That leaves the twin Chevy Express and GMC Savannah vans as Explorer’s primary conversion platforms at the company’s 150,000-square-foot factory on 33 acres just outside Warsaw.
Explorer will produce more than 3,250 conversions this year – nearly 3,000
which will be Chevy or GMC vans. The balance will be Fords.
Explorer’s high production mark of almost 9,000 vans came in 1995. That year, 151,000 conversion vans were shipped nationally, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). In 2005, only 21,300 conversion vans were shipped, down 23.1% from 2004.