Is there “light at the end of the tunnel” at Fleetwood?

For years, Fleetwood was the market share leader in motorhomes and towables. But, recently, it lost its market share leadership in motorhomes and it could loose its leadership position in towable RVs, if the Thor/Keystone merger is finalized.

Additionally, Fleetwood is struggling financially and company executives informed investors three weeks ago that the negative impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the RV market will cause Fleetwood to report its sixth consecutive quarterly loss for the three months ended Oct. 28.

However, prospects at the Riverside, Calif.-based company’s motorhome operations have improved to the point where it now is in the process of hiring 450 motorhome plant workers, including many of the 340 who were laid-off in early October, according to Kathy Snyder, director of investor relations.

The greatest impact will be felt at Fleetwood’s diesel pusher assembly plant in Decatur, Ind., were 200 people will be hired.

The Indiana factory employed 840 people and 83 were laid-off in October. Fleetwood does not currently know how many of the 83 laid-off workers will be available to return, Snyder said.

However, Fleetwood plans to hire more people than were laid-off from Plant 44 in Decatur in order to keep pace with the demand for the company’s diesel engine motorhome models, she said.

Meanwhile, at Fleetwood’s Class C motorhome and entry-level Class A motorhome plant in Riverside, 90 people will be hired in November and another 30 in December.

A total of 130 workers were laid-off from Plant 47 in Riverside during October, Snyder said. Prior to the layoff, 680 people worked at Plant 47.

Also, Fleetwood will hire 126 people in November at its gas engine Class A motohome plant in Paxinos, Pa. There were 129 people laid-off from Plant 71 in Paxinos during October.

Plant 71 employed 487 people prior to the layoff.

The primary reason for the recall was the fact Fleetwood’s dealers apparently were happy with sales during the recent California RV Show in Pomona. For model year 2002, much of Fleetwood’s attention was focused on revamping its motorhome line-up, and at least one dealership, Mike Thompson’s RV Center, a multi-location retailer in South California, reported that Fleetwood’s 2002 models were very well received by consumers during the Pomona show, according to Louk Neinhuis, director of sales at Mike Thompson’s.

A recently issued report by Fleetwood suggests its problems have become concentrated in its towable RV operations. Its travel trailer and fifth-wheel sales revenue declined 26% during the six months ended Oct. 28, while its motorhome revenue was down a more respectable 9% during the same period.

“Sales of motorhomes, particularly diesels, have leveled-off from a previous pattern of decline,” Potter said recently. “The sales of all our RV products at the recent Pomona RV show were quite encouraging,” he added.

Fleetwood will report its earnings for the August-through-October period in late November.