Highline fifth-wheel manufacturer King of the Road got 2001 off to a fast start in its new manufacturing plant in York, Neb.

The division of Grand Island, Neb.-based Chief Industries Inc. moved late last year from Russell, Kan., 225 miles north to York. The first unit came off the production line in York in mid-January, said Jim Jacobs, sales manager.

King of the Road builds the Crown Marquis and Royalite brands of fifth-wheels that retail for $40,000 and above, Jacobs said.

The move to Nebraska was made so King of the Road could “expand our product offerings,” said Jacobs, who declined to reveal which categories the company is thinking of entering.

King of the Road felt limited in Kansas because its factory was small, 72,000 square feet compared with 145,000 square feet in Nebraska. Additionally, the population around Russell was not large enough to support production growth the company hopes to achieve, Jacobs said.

Currently, King of the Road employes around 125 people in York, including 20 production workers who agreed to re-locate from Kansas. Demand has been strong and Jacobs added, “We have an eight- to 10-week lead time” on product deliveries to dealers.

The move to a new factory, and the inevitable interruption of production, turned out to be well-timed due to the industry’s downturn late last year, Jacobs said.

Although fifth-wheel shipments gained 3% for the full year 2000, fifth-wheel shipments plunged 22.2% in December, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

In terms of retail sales, King of the Road ranked 21st last year, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. There were 527 King of the Road fifth-wheels retailed during 2000, a 1.7% increase over the 518 units sold during 1999.

King of the Road’s retail market share was 0.9% in 2000 and 1999, Statistical Surveys reported.

In York, King of the Road moved into the plant formerly occupied by BonnaVilla Homes, another Chief Industries division.

BonnaVilla consolidated production in Aurora, Neb.

Chief Industries is a 2,000-employee diversified manufacturer making products ranging from grain bins and ethanol fuels to intermodal chassis, electronic messaging centers and security doors for jails and prisons.