The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in its efforts to supply temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina victims, is mobilizing recreational vehicle builders to ramp up production of specialized travel trailers.
“We have committed to 2,000 units,” said Craig Wanichek, director of corporate communications for Monaco Coach Corp., noting that the Coburg, 0re.-based manufacturer is working with a procurement company to supply FEMA with trailers.
All units will be built at Monaco’s Indiana facilities, which will go into production Monday (Sept. 12) and run through the middle of November.
“We will probably just readjust the line,” Wanichek said. “We may add some temporary employees, but we will just start producing more FEMA units and less of our regular run.
“Hopefully when we come out of this there will be a greater backlog for products that we weren’t manufacturing when we were building for FEMA.”
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which has routinely worked with FEMA during past emergencies, also is readying for an influx of orders once a contract with FEMA can be cemented. The Riverside, Calif., builder already has manufactured an unknown amount of towables for dealers whom, in turn, were selling those units into the affected Gulf Coast area.
“At this point, frankly, we don’t know how exactly how many (units Fleetwood will be manufacturing for FEMA),” said President and CEO Elden Smith. “We have provided FEMA and their contractors with information as to what production availability could be for the next three months or so. And we anticipate that we will receive some orders. But at this point we don’t have anything concrete (in terms of a negotiated FEMA contract).
“We’re obviously going to see that we take care of our dealers’ requests also, so that we’re looking at assigning different periods of times and factories to the manufacturing of both conventional and FEMA units.”
Forest River Inc., Elkhart, Ind., also is facing a balancing act between servicing customers and supplying units to FEMA.
“We couldn’t let down the dealer body, so we didn’t take all we could from FEMA,” said National Sales Manager Jeff Babcock. “We took what we felt we could be responsible for and deliver on a timely basis and still deliver to our dealers. Let’s just say we got everything we bid for and that it was a substantial sum.”
Dealers with FEMA spec sheets are telling Forest River that, despite nationally publicized numbers of 70,000 units being needed for disaster assistance, the real number is closer to 35,000.
Babcock said Forest River is building disaster-directed units out of California, Oregon and Michigan, as well as Indiana, and is working Saturdays to get it done.
On the supplier side, Jason Lippert, president and CEO of Goshen-based Lippert Components Inc., said his company had been “forecasted to build more than 25,000 towable chassis” for OEMs.
“Several manufacturers are ordering extra chassis, and I expect we will keep getting more orders,” Lippert said, adding that the company was also increasing production on related components. “We’re probably going to increase chassis production by a couple hundred units a day.”
Lippert, however, didn’t anticipate an increase in work force, noting, “As the OEMs switch over to FEMA units, our fifth-wheel volume will practically go away.”