This year’s choice of the “Best of Show” recreational vehicle on display at RVIA’s National RV Trade Show, December 2-4 at the Kentucky Exhibition Center in Louisville, Ky., was the 25-foot Winnebago Via Class A motorhome, also marketed as the Itasca Reyo (pronounced Ray-O) to a separate dealer body.
“It was a slam dunk because the Via/Reyo is clearly the most complete, integrated concept — from drawing board to finished product — that we’ve seen in quite some time,” said RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, whose staff annually selects what they consider the most innovative and competitive new products on display at the industry’s key trade show. “It seems to gracefully meet the evolving definition of a Class A motorhome in a world in which expectations — and many of the industry’s potential buyers — are rapidly changing.”
In fact, in the view of RVB’s staff, the 2010 Via/Reyo is rivaled only by Damon Motor Coach’s European-inspired Avanti as the kind of over-the-road, Euro-style coach that could help set the pace for what many believe is the imminent transformation of at least part of the U.S. motorhome sector from a larger type of unit to a more compact 21st century kind of motorized traveling and camping vehicle that appeals to a younger generation intent on style, functionality and affordability.
Part of the reason the Via/Reyo appears as such a complete concept, according to Bill O’Leary, vice president of product development for Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, is the fact that it was a project spawned by Winnebago’s senior management fully two years ago — well before the gas price spike and economic downturn of 2008. As a result, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a new economic reality, the Via/Reyo represents more of a far-sighted view of what some motorhome-building insiders see as the American motorhome of the future.
But that, many of them argue, is not to say that the day of the big motorcoach is gone altogether and that many of those heavier models won’t reemerge to an extent after the current downturn passes.
“This was not something that was created overnight,” O’Leary explained. “A vehicle of this magnitude takes a lot of investment as far as design and tooling and testing. This is a new 2010 product that will launch this spring or summer. We think it’s a product for today’s market, being fuel efficient and very highly styled. It should make a huge impact on today’s market.”
O’Leary claims the Via/Reyo, when it goes into production, should be the highest miles-per-gallon vehicle available in the Class A market at more than 15 mpg.
That respectable fuel efficiency is due to a wind-cutting design, light weight construction and the first-time use of a front-diesel Dodge Sprinter F-50 “cowl” chassis, a body-free version of the imported, 11,030-pound-GVWR Mercedes-Benz van chassis currently utilized in FedEx delivery trucks, European ambulances and an increasing number of American-made Class B and C motorhomes. The Via/Reyo, retailing “in the $130,000’s,” is powered by a 154-hp, 3.0-liter Mercedes-Benz turbocharged V-6 diesel engine.
Interiors, meanwhile, reflect a European touch, if not a high-end marine look, with curved cabinets and walls. There’s a large bathroom with an angled shower and a rear bed that can be either twin or queen-size — plus a “studio loft” that drops down from over the cockpit — for maximum flexibility in a small package. In fact, one of the only things that clearly separates the Via/Reyo from its Euro-styled peers is its single roadside slideout room extension because European motorhome enthusiasts have never embraced the slideout concept.
Now we’ll take a look at some of the other new RV’s that caught the RVB staff’s eye at the national show, products that in our opinion are worthy of “Honorable Mention:”
Damon’s Avanti Class A: The 31-foot Avanti from Thor’s Damon Motor Coach division is yet another example of a farsighted motorized concept offering a likely peek into the future. Built on a 16,000-pound GVWR Workhorse W-16D chassis, the ground-hugging Avanti is powered by a 200-hp V-6 International Max Force diesel engine that’s expected to get about 14.5 mpg. Interiors on the $140,000 Avanti, which went into production in November, feature a drop-down cockpit bunk system and a yacht-like decor.
Heartland’s Edge Travel Trailer: A wide array of companies have been busy developing a new wave of smaller — yet stylish and upscale — trailers unlike anything the American consumer has seen before. In fact, these new towables are comparable in so many ways that it was ultimately the cosmetics — top-shelf eye appeal — that made the difference for Heartland RV LLC’s 13-to-21-foot Edge. Weighing less than 2,800 pounds and towable by crossover vehicles, the 18-foot, tandem-axle, fully equipped Edge on display at Louisville retails for $18,500.
Innovator of the Year
As part of a special “Best of Show” distinction for forward-thinking companies who put an extra premium on R& D, our top pick for 2008 is Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. for its aggressive pursuit of a variety of innovative, new-age trailer designs. That’s something Dutchmen started doing in 2003 when it first licensed the design for its [email protected] standup teardrop-style towable. Dutchmen’s latest: a classic [email protected] teardrop, a 12-foot, 800-pound teardrop that can be towed by virtually anything; a 500-pound TOPO crossover basecamp tent trailer that converts with a roof rack to a utility trailer for kayaks or bikes in the travel mode; and an all-composite EcoLogic microlite travel trailer, an 18-footer containing light-weight German windows and several different types of composites that cut the weight down to 2,800 pounds yet keep the retail price at $19,000.
Having said that, there were a number of other contenders:
Gulf Stream Coach Inc. for its elaborate six-slideout-equipped Prairie Schooner fifth-wheel and innovative Montaj Class A mounted on a modified Ford chassis previously available only as a cutaway chassis in minimotorhomes.
FTCA Inc. for its 850-pound, $4,000-plus Coleman Switchback tent trailer, an out-of-the-box concept that combines elements of a conventional bare bones tent with those of a twin-bed folding camping trailer that looks like a cargo trailer in the travel mode.
KZRV LP for its 18-foot GO-LO MXT, a small ramp trailer that employs gas-strut-assisted airbags to lower the unit eight inches when parked to more easily load ATVs, motorcycles or other things.
American Recreational Vehicle Inc. for its dual-axle Way Cool Hauler SURV, a toyhauler with a rigid rear hitch system housed in a separate rear garage area, enabling the towable unit to pull behind it yet another trailer with a boat, car or ATVs.
Airstream Inc. for its small, 16-foot, 2,000-pound Scout concept travel trailer that, beneath its retro-looking interior, utilizes high-strength alloy steel and light-weight European windows to extract 50% of the chassis’ weight under the Scout’s all-composite, wood-free body.
Komfort Corp. for its profuse use of new age composites in its newly introduced 24-31-foot Satellite travel trailer in which the entire structure — even cabinetry — is built with TekModo’s light-weight, formaldehyde-free CosmoLite composite substrate.
Winnebago Industries Inc. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. for utilizing Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s 27,000-pound GVWR ecoFRED hybrid diesel chassis based on technology refined in fleet delivery trucks manufactured by Freightliner’s parent company, Daimler AG. Both showed standard-size concept Class A’s on Freightliner’s front-engine chassis in which a 300-hp Cummins ISB 6.7-liter diesel power plant is coupled to a hybrid Eaton transmission augmented by an electric motor that automatically kicks in at startup or when the chassis is under load.