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Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. has opened a new full-body paint facility near its headquarters in Riverside, Calif., enabling the motorhome manufacturer to keep better pace with the exploding trend toward more polished, all-painted, exteriors.
At the same time, Fleetwood spokesmen reported that the added paint facilities allow the company to begin producing diesel-powered motorhomes on the West Coast by October.
“We’re actually going to start building the Discovery (diesel pusher) here next month,” Fleetwood President and CEO Ed Caudill told RVBusiness in an interview following the grand opening of the new facility on Thursday (Sept. 9).
The 125,000-square-foot paint facility, located in the same complex of buildings where production of the Southwind began in 1972 and the Pace Arrow in 1974, is the company’s third full-body paint plant. Fleetwood held a grand opening for its 140,000-square-foot full-body paint facility in Paxinos, Pa. in August, and its 123,000-square-foot Decatur, Ind., paint shop opened in the summer of 2002.
The Riverside and Paxinos paint facilities were built at a cost of roughly $13 million each, while the Decatur facility cost $7 million.
Caudill said Fleetwood needed a paint facility on the West Coast to keep up with rising consumer demand for both diesel- and gasoline-powered units with full-body paint and to make the company more competitive with other manufacturers that already have full-body paint facilities.
He added that the new Riverside facility also enables Fleetwood to add full-body paint to its gas-powered Southwind and Pace Arrow Class A’s.
Fleetwood already has hired 70 employees to staff the Riverside facility, although the numbers are expected to grow considerably over time, Caudill said.
He added that he expected demand for full-body paint to continue working its way into lower-priced units.
“We could take it all the way down the Class A’s, and maybe even down into some high-end Class Cs,” he said. “You’ll see us looking at that from a strategic standpoint over time.”
During Thursday’s grand-opening ceremony, attended by more than 1,000 Fleetwood employees, Caudill praised the quality of the company’s latest facility, which uses paint processes and equipment that were developed in cooperation with DuPont Performance Coatings.
“There’s not an automotive company in the world that has a better paint system than we’ve got here in Riverside with the help of all the partners who helped put this in. Now, we’re capable of painting 16 units a day. And we expect that as Fleetwood continues to gain marketshare (that we will) continue to grow and add to this facility.”
Caudill said Fleetwood’s success in opening a full-body paint facility in California sends powerful messages, not only about the company’s willingness and ability to compete against other RV manufacturers with full-body paint capabilities, but about California’s improved business climate under Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger.
“A couple of years ago,” Caudill said, “(the new full-body paint facility) probably wouldn’t have happened. Under (former Gov. Gray) Davis, he just would have blocked it.”
But thanks to Schwartzenegger’s pro-business attitude, Caudill said, Fleetwood officials found allies in state government where they previously thought they would have none.
“The state didn’t do anything financially for us. But they really worked hard to make this happen,” he said. “There were a lot of people in the state that said they really didn’t want us to do this. They tried to build some artificial roadblocks.
“But working with Schwartzenegger’s staff and some of the new people he’s bringing in to head up some of the agencies, and then getting a lot of local support out of the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the County of Riverside,” he added, “they really helped us overcome some hurdles. Instead of finding reasons why it shouldn’t happen, they found reasons why it should.”
Caudill also praised the city of Riverside for its support as well as several Fleetwood executives involved in the project. “Quite honestly,” he said, “every state around here watched what was happening, and every one of them sent me letters, including offering a free factory if we moved to their state.”
Fortunately for Fleetwood’s employees, the company sees new strategic value in its Riverside facilities. “Our goal here now,” Caudill told company employees Thursday, “is to continue to want to invest and modernize this facility so it will not only have the best paint system in the world, but be the best manufacturing system in the world.”