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As the industry appears to be moving toward building smaller, more lightweight units, Phoenix USA should be well-positioned.

Kermit Fisher, Phoenix USA founder and president, alongside 24-foot fiberglass-and-aluminum coach built on a Sprinter platform.

Twelve-year-old Phoenix USA RV found a niche early in the decade manufacturing “B-plus” style Phoenix Cruiser Class C motorhomes — and has faithfully followed founder Kermit Fisher’s vision to build motorhomes that drive like van campers but are outfitted with features found in traditional minimotorhomes.

“Our advantage is that we have built this unit from the ground up to be a B-plus motorhome,” said Stuart Bailey, national sales manager. “The only thing that we are offering less than a Class C is the sleeping position in the cabover. My B-plus has everything that a 45-footer offers, just smaller.”

As the industry appears to be moving toward building smaller, more lightweight units, Phoenix USA should be, by all rights, well-positioned, Bailey said. “If I call a dealer to solicit business right now and say that I’ve got a Class C, he’s probably going to hang up,” he said. “If I tell him that I’ve got a B-plus, he knows that there’s a growing market for that — and he’s probably going to be interested.”

Fisher, the former president and minority owner of International Vehicles Corp. (Intervec), Bristol, Ind., once a well-known manufacturer of Falcon and Horizon van campers, founded Phoenix USA in 1996 in Bristol, Ind.

At first Phoenix USA built classic Class B campers, but the company migrated to heftier Ford Class C chassis in 2000.

Fisher’s thought, though, was to design a minimotorhome with a smaller footprint and an aerodynamic van-camper feel that would be easier to handle.

Liberal use of lighter tones in woodwork and upholstery adds to the feeling of spaciousness in the floorplan of this 2400.

“I believed B-plus motorhomes would become a substantial part of the RV market,” Fisher later recalled. “We are a step up from the typical van camper but we aren’t big and bulky like typical Class C’s or Class A’s.”

As Phoenix USA moved to a new factory in late 2004, Fisher toyed briefly with the idea of building a Class B on the imported Sprinter chassis but didn’t follow through with the van camper concept.

Instead, Phoenix USA waited for Daimler AG to make the 11,030-pound GVWR Sprinter available as a cab chassis before introducing a B-plus style Sprinter minimotorhome for 2009 in December at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville.

“One thing about our Sprinter (is) fully loaded, we actually are the lightest weight on the market (at 9,350 pounds),” Bailey said. “That’s with full fuel, AC, a slideout and generator.”

With base MSRPs starting at $70,000, Bailey said Phoenix Cruiser sits alone in a mid-level price category. “There basically is nobody in our price point,” he said. “Buyers are either spending a lot less money for less motorhome or a lot more money for not as much motorhome.”

Bailey said buyers of Phoenix USA motorhomes usually are looking for their second or third unit and want more than an entry-level coach.

“Our customer is the woman — and the couple is probably going to be 60-years-plus who is downsizing from a Class A,” Bailey said. “She wants to be able to drive the RV when the husband gets ill — and she’s not going to drive a 40-footer. If I get ahold of that customer and talk about height and width, I can get usually get them into our coach.”

Technician Jamie Fisher prepares a Ford E-350 chassis for use as a motorhome platform.

The company built 180 units in 2008, down from 230 in 2007. “Like everybody, things have slowed down for us a little bit,” said Bailey, who added that Phoenix USA is actively recruiting dealers.

Phoenix Cruiser in early 2009 expected to be approved by the Canadian Department of Transportation, Bailey added. “They needed to do pull tests on seat belts and fire tests as far as upholstery,” he said. “Being able to sell in Canada will expand our market so that we can grow.”

Bailey expects the RV market to stabilize in the near future, but with a different look than it had before the recent economic downturn — both at the manufacturing and retail levels. “I think it’s going to go back to what it was in the 1980s when a customer could better afford the RV,” he said. “Banks that have been making loans in the RV market, just like the housing market, went overboard with the financing. They went crazy.

“The future of the RV industry is going to be good, but we are going to lose a lot of manufacturers and a lot of dealers,” he added. “The ones still standing are primarily going to be the smaller dealers who the big manufacturers have shoved aside for all these years.”