Forest River Inc., President Pete Liegl opted to move cautiously and deliberately with the rollout of the Tsunami, the company’s first-ever entry in the high-end diesel Class A motorhome market, since the coach’s introduction by the Elkhart, Ind., manufacturer three years ago.
In the past year, however, that pace quickened as Liegl moved into the next phase with the Tsunami by acquiring a 100,000-square-foot plant in Elkhart specifically for diesel motorized production.
John Cunningham, brought on board in October as general manager to oversee the project, says the move is indicative of Forest River’s commitment to the Tsunami and the motorized segment as a whole.
“A couple of years ago, we were in a situation where we were building all of our motorized products in one plant along with some of our towable lines,” said Cunningham, an industry veteran who most recently was with Monaco Coach Corp.
Cunningham said that situation changed when “Pete began to piecemeal his breakouts in the motorized divisions.” Forest River first acquired a separate Elkhart facility for Class C production followed by the purchase and renovation of a former Skyline Corp., manufactured home plant to house the company’s diesel division.
“Pete has assimilated a very large company and is a dominant player in the towable market,” Cunningham said. “But he has some very lofty long-term goals in terms of growth. In order to achieve that growth, he will have to do it on the motorized side.”
The Tsunami represents a departure for Forest River, placing it in the high-end diesel pusher market. The deluxe 37- to 41-foot line, retailing from $265,000 to $290,000, is built on a 34,000-pound Freightliner XC raised rail chassis powered by a 400-hp Cummins ISL engine mated to an Allison 3000MH, six-speed transmission. Five hardwood interiors are available.
“This is really Forest River’s first vehicle in the high end of the market,” Cunningham said, noting that an earlier diesel entry, the discontinued Reflection, was more of a lower to midline offering. “That’s why it’s so nice to be in this new facility that is dedicated to production of the Tsunami and other diesel products. It shows a commitment by Forest River to the product line.”
After taking over the plant in October, Cunningham and a crew that now includes 45 employees began to “refurbish the entire manufacturing area.”
“We scraped floors, used welding torches to cut equipment off the wall, blew out rafters, repaired the ceiling, repainted, basically just started over,” Cunningham said.
By December, Forest River had begun production in the renovated production area that now features all-new scaffolding and hoists along with a side-saddle dolly system that allows line workers to move the units through 14 stations.
Cunningham said that by early April Forest River would be adding a lamination facility. Meanwhile, the company is looking at other diesel products to run alongside the Tsunami.
“We’re currently in full production on the Tsunami,” Cunningham said. “Our goal is to get one a day out, and we’re looking to be at that level by late summer or fall.”
Cunningham is happy with Tsunami sales.
“Sales are brisk, and we’ve built up a great backlog,” he said. “What separates the product is the perceived value. Our feedback from customers is that they couldn’t find these features on other models in a comparable price range.”