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An 8-year-old Ohio manufacturer of specialty diesel Class A motorhome chassis has found a niche marketing to European OEMs and to American RV manufacturers that ship overseas.
“About half our production goes to Europe,” said Matthew Tipple, president of Custom Chassis Inc., Wellington, Ohio, who founded the company in 1994 with vice president and engineering manager Michael Huhn, both graduates of Kettering Institute.
“Nobody builds low-production (volume) custom chassis,” Tipple said. “We are a miniature Spartan Motors, but we handle the specialty markets that they don’t want to deal with.”
Beside building between 65 and 75 heavy truck and motorhome chassis a year, Custom Chassis also designs, engineers and connects run harnesses that allow newer electronic engines to be installed on older chassis, and re-powers motorhomes and heavy trucks by installing new engines and power trains.
About 50% of Custom Chassis’ business is in specialty Class A motorhome chassis. Its primary customers are the Swiss company that builds the Starliner brand of motorhome, and Euro-Liner LLC, Elkhart, Ind., a German-owned company that manufacturers Class A diesel motorhomes in northern Indiana and ships them to Europe.
Although European motorhomes typically are smaller than those that dominate the American RV market, Custom Chassis manufactures chassis for heavy trucks and motorhomes mainly in lengths of 30 to 45 feet, equipped with Allison transmissions and Cummins’ full line of engines.
Units shipped to Europe are powered by Cummins ISBe Euro III 4- or 6-cylinder engines ranging from 135 to 265 hp. Rear garage motorhomes that require a front engine are particularly popular in Europe because of restrictions on towing a vehicle behind a motorhome.
The company also builds mid- and rear-diesel chassis.
“Basically, our European chassis are very similar to an American chassis, but the engine and wiring is completely different,” Tipple said. “And there are tons of restrictions on noise, length and width of RVs in Europe.”
The cost of Custom Chassis chassis, with GVWRs from 18,000 to 50,000 pounds, range from $38,000 to $112,000.
Custom Chassis, which employs nine people, manufactures between two and four units at a time in a 13,000-square-foot factory.
“We don’t want to be a high-production chassis manufacturer,” Tipple said. “You lose your integrity when you do that, and you can’t put the engineering into it when you go into high production.”
Tipple said Custom Chassis’ goal is to expand to manufacture between 200 and 400 RV chassis annually within the next five years.