Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. does’t think the travel trailers it is building for Hurricane Katrina evacuees qualify as recreational vehicles and has refused to apply seals on them denoting manufacturer compliance with more than 500 safety and design standards, according to a report in the Press-Enterprise.
In late September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave Riverside, Calif.-based Fleetwood a $170 million contract to build 7,500 travel trailers. The trailers are being used to shelter Gulf Coast residents left homeless by the hurricane.
“Why would you want RVIA seals on them when they are not truly a definition of what a recreational vehicle is?” Fleetwood spokeswoman Amy Coleman asked. “If someone buys one and thinks they have holding tanks, they will be mistaken. They will have to be retrofitted.”
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) requires the oval seals as a condition of membership and created a task force in September to look into the problem, said association spokesman Ken Sommer.
RVIA president David Humphreys had no comment, Sommer said.
Because they serve as temporary housing, the trailers were designed with house-style plumbing instead of the holding tanks used on typical RVs. They were also built to run on electricity rather than propane, “which is a huge deal,” Coleman said.
They also lack other characteristics and amenities that typically define RVs, she said.
“These are built specifically for disaster relief, not for recreation and camping and that sort of thing,” she said.
The seals are also expensive, Coleman said.
RVIA raises money for a $59 million ad campaign by charging members for each seal: $46 for folding campers; $61 for travel trailers; and $74 for motor homes.
So, to apply the $61 seals to the 7,500 trailers it is building for FEMA, Fleetwood would have to pay $457,500 to the RV industry association.
“There’s a lot of money at stake,” Coleman said.
In 2004, the RVIA board decided the seals wouldn’t be required on travel trailers sold to FEMA after a string of hurricanes hit Florida. But the board reversed itself when FEMA began reselling the trailers or auctioning them off, Coleman said.
RVIA discovered Fleetwood wasn’t applying the seals during a routine inspection at a plant in Kentucky, Coleman said.
“But it wasn’t news to anybody at RVIA that we were doing that,” she added. “We had brought this up at all the committee meetings.”
All 7,500 Fleetwood trailers are scheduled be completed by the end of the year, she said. RVIA’s next seal task force meeting is in March.