Amid the busy aisles of the annual Work Truck Show, which drew an estimated crowd of about 12,000 and some 500 exhibitors to the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, RVBUSINESS.com caught up with a spokesman for one of a host of exhibitors who play a role in both the commercial truck and RV markets — Bryan Henke, manager of product marketing for Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC).
Henke, in a quick interview with RVB Director of Photography Shawn Spence, had some timely things to say about the company’s newest product, an S2RV chassis based on a conventional S2 commercial truck platform tailored for “Super C” motorhomes. The S2RV was first introduced in late November at RVIA’s National RV Trade Show at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., and was more recently showcased on REV Group’s new Renegade Valencia Super C motorhome debuting at the Family Motor Coach Association’s (FMCA) Arizona rally.
Standing on the floor of the March 14-17 show, sponsored by NTEA (“The Association for the Work Truck Industry”) and held in conjunction with an innovative Green Truck Summit, Henke also touched on the long-rumored plans of the Gaffney, S.C., truck builder — a Mercedes-Benz subsidiary — to potentially enter the Class A gas chassis marketplace at some point down the road.
RVB: So, Bryan, the S2RV’s the hot ticket here in Indy for FCCC, right?
Henke: Yes, what makes it interesting for the RV industry is that Super C’s have obviously always been dominated by truck platforms. There’s a clientele that likes the serviceability, the visibility. They like that feel versus a conventional Type A. When we launched the S2RV we had an edge with us fully understanding the RV market, the ride and handling, the support that customers want.
Not knocking the truck side, but this customer has expectations that the truck side really can’t fulfill. So the S2RV, which launched at RVIA, has been very successful. Several OEMs are on board. Renegade, a good partner, just debuted their vehicle at FMCA. It’s fantastic, and I think we’re going to do real well with that product.
RVB: So, what sets the S2RV chassis apart from the rest of the market?
Henke: The S2RV addresses the RV market. It meets their expectations, and it’s not a standard truck from a support, design, and ride and handling standpoint because we understand the RV market. That’s our forte. That’s why it’s special – primarily due to our support.
I mean, any other commercial truck company, if you call them at 3 o’clock in the morning, are you going to get a factory technician? No. The S2RV, on the other hand, falls under the 24/7 direct support program. It also has ride and handling characteristics that are not truck, but are RV-related. Those are the types of things that customers are looking for – things that a normal commercial vehicle doesn’t offer.
RVB: Shifting gears on you for a moment, Bryan, your management team has hinted over the years about the possibility of FCCC getting into the gas Class A chassis business — a niche now exclusively occupied by Ford Motor Co. Any chance of that happening?
RVB: Can you elaborate on that?
Henke: Well the gasoline market has always been a good market, with gas motorized sales generally fluctuating at a rate of about 60/40, if not 70/30 over diesel. Back in the day, however, there were times when it was 55% diesel and the remaining was gas. Well it’s not like that anymore. So, today it’s about 68% to 70% gas, 32% diesel, and we want a better solution than what they have now. Expectations have changed. So we’re doing it right. Gas is definitely something that will be in our portfolio, but we have to do it right.
RVB: What’s your timetable?
Henke: Well, I mean, if I had my way we would have had it years ago, but unfortunately we have more federal emissions tiers coming up, too, now and then again in 2020. So, what you just designed for today might not be applicable for 2020. Obviously, we have to be careful with that. Taking all that into account, all I can say is that you’re going to see something on the market that fits the needs of the RV customer very soon.
RVB: What if President Trump throws out these emission standards. Could you bring something to the market even quicker?
Henke: Hypothetically speaking, whatever we would bring to market, then we wouldn’t have to design for both today and 2020. We have to design with 2020 in mind. So that’s causing some of the delay. I mean, yeah, if those restrictions weren’t there, our project load would be less. Then again, it’s more about doing it right than doing it quickly. It’s our own quality standards that drive everything — making sure that those quality standards are met, regardless of what fuel is doing.
Having said that, we’ve done a lot of customer surveys over the past couple years. We’ve talked to thousands and thousands of customers about what they like about gas, what they would like to have improved if they had a wish list, and we’ve been listening, and that’s the kind of focus we have — not bringing out a me-too product – and doing it right the first time.
RVB: One more thing: your thoughts on this Indy convention center as a venue for a national convention?
Henke: Well, the good thing about Indianapolis is this facility. Everything is very compact, it’s walkable. When the Convention Center hosts an event like this, everyone seems to want to make sure that our jobs are easy. I like Indianapolis, although I’m not too thrilled about it in the middle of the winter. In Louisville, you’re usually driving 20 or 30 minutes to have dinner or to get to your hotel downtown. We’re used to that. Here, everything is very convenient, so I like Indianapolis.