An entourage of 15 Ford Motor Co. executives last week (Mar. 16) paid a visit to the RV-manufacturing center of Elkhart, Ind., and — without public fanfare or media coverage – stopped by a series of high-volume clients before hosting an afternoon meeting at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
During the HOF meeting, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Vice President of Standards Bruce Hopkins provided the Ford contingent, representing both European and U.S. aspects of the Dearborn, Mich.-based firm’s commercial vehicle division, updates on the RV industry’s current status and trends as well as an overview of the year’s Go RVing marketing campaign.
The whole sequence of events, according to those involved, was well received by the RV makers and Ford, which reportedly accounts for almost 46% of all commercial vehicles sold in North America and is the recreational vehicle industry’s sole supplier of F-53 gas strip chassis for Class A motorhomes.
Ford also purveys Transit vans and Transit cutaways on which Class B’s and smaller Class C motorhomes are built, commercial E-Series cutaway chassis used on a major percentage of motorhome builders’ Class C coaches, plus F-450 and F-550 Super Duty chassis cab trucks for motorhomes and shuttle buses and, to a lesser extent, F-650 and F-750 Super Duty trucks utilized for similar applications.
In the wake of that visit, Tim Stoehr, Ford’s general fleet marketing manager, who organized last week’s Elkhart meeting, agreed to answer a few questions on the record from RVBusiness during a time when, he said, business for Ford Commercial Vehicles is about as good as it can get.
RVB: Did last week’s trade mission to Elkhart, from your perspective, go well?
Stoehr: “Yes, our RV market is a very important business to us not only in the U.S. but around the globe, and routinely we immerse ourselves in different commercial segments to further our knowledge of that market. And our visit to Elkhart last week was to do just that – take a deeper look at the RV business, interact with our current customer base and hopefully gain some additional insights that we can use to improve product and our overall RV business.
“One of the ways in which we improve our business is by learning from our clients all over the globe about what works for them and what doesn’t work for them, and we are always looking at improving our business here in the United States. There are other parts of the world, in Europe and Asia-Pacific, that might have an emerging RV market and they wanted to see how we interact with our customers and our upfitters.”
RVB: Which of Ford’s varied product lines, based on market fluctuations and media attention, is generating the most buzz right now for Ford Commercial Vehicles?
Stoehr: “Although it’s not the highest volume, the Transit van in Class B’s and the Transit cutaway in the smaller Class C’s are probably getting the most attention in the media because it is the newest and highest volume van product in the marketplace. And there are new manufacturers that are building on this world-class platform all the time in the U.S. and Canada.”
RVB: With the Transit van and some of its competitors, it almost seems as if we’re seeing at times the evolution of a modern version of what we used to call a van conversion – a touring vehicle not necessarily designed for overnight stays.
Stoehr: “Absolutely, we definitely see tremendous opportunity in new Transit conversion vans, Class B motorhomes or luxury limousine-type products entering the marketplace. The response to them has been overwhelming, and when we launched the Transit back in 2014 for the 2015 model year we in fact built a show piece called a Transit Skyliner which was really an over-the-top luxury personal limousine conversion van.
“And we did that because we believed that this was exactly what was going to happen when people saw the benefits of this new mobile platform, the improved efficiency, the dramatically improved choice with all the different roof heights and wheelbases, and the very surprising improved driving dynamics that people really weren’t expecting from a van equipped with a fuel-efficient power stroke diesel to our very high performing twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6.”
RVB: The Transit is actually an Americanized version of a European Ford van, right?
Stoehr: “We didn’t really Americanize it. You know, Transit has been sold in Europe almost as long as the E-Series van has been sold here — for almost 50 years. So, as dominant as the E-series has been in the U.S., the Transit had a very similar position in the European market.
“So, what we’ve done is take the Transit platform and are now manufacturing and selling it globally. The North American version, manufactured in the Kansas City assembly plant, has power trains that are better suited to what the customers are looking for in North America, and that includes 100% automatic transmission. And while we do offer diesel, the majority of the mix here is still gasoline based.”
RVB: So, in conclusion, you succeeded in building bridges of communication on your Elkhart visit?
Stoehr: “Yes, our main message is, as successful as we’ve been with our E-series cutaway being the highest volume motorhome chassis in the industry right now, we don’t take any of it for granted. We value their current business and wanted to know how we can become an even better supplier of chassis for them as we proceed in our respective businesses.