Charlotte, Mich.-based Spartan Motors Inc. reported today (April 28) that sales for its Spartan Chassis Inc. subsidiary, the company’s largest subsidiary and operating unit, decreased 60% year-over-year to $98.2 million for the quarter ending March 31.

Spartan Chassis represented 85% of Spartan Motors’ total consolidated sales in the quarter.

Spartan Chassis’ sales to the Class A diesel motorhome market decreased 91.7% year-over-year in the quarter, while backlog for RV chassis decreased 75% year-over-year to $4.4 million as of March 31, the company reported.

“As expected, the outlook for motorhomes remains difficult,” said John Sztykiel, president and CEO of Spartan Motors. “We already have appropriately scaled our operations to match demand in the second half of 2009. We believe we have positioned ourselves to weather the storm until the industry eventually recovers. Spartan is continuing new product development and engineering innovations for motorhome chassis, some of which we plan to debut at the RVIA trade show later in 2009.”

Overall, the company, which also makes emergency rescue and military vehicles, reported first quarter net earnings of $6.1 million on net sales of $115.5 million, compared with net earnings of $14.8 million on net sales of $264.1 million in the same quarter of 2008. The decline in revenue is a result of lower sales of vehicles to the defense industry and a sharp decline in the RV market.

Spartan reported consolidated gross margin of 22.6%  of sales in the first quarter, a 46.8% increase over the same period in 2008, and a 7.1% increase over its gross margin in the fourth quarter of 2008. Spartan attributed the gross margin increase to improved product mix that includes more sales related to service, parts and assemblies. Gross margins as a percentage of sales have consistently risen for four quarters in a row, a result of the company’s adherence to lean initiatives across its subsidiary companies and product mix diversification.

“The first quarter was another representation of how our diversified multiple-market strategy, along with our market, operational and strategic agility, will enable Spartan to profitably weather tough economic conditions while positioning the company for future growth,” said Sztykiel. “From a consolidated perspective, the recreational vehicle business continues to be difficult and the next large-scale mine-protected defense vehicle ramp-up is still several months away. Yet, sales of fire truck chassis increased year-over-year, the EVTeam as a whole was profitable in the quarter and consolidated gross margin as a percentage of sales continues to increase. Emergency-rescue remains Spartan’s largest, most stable market, and we expect continuous growth based on increased market share and new product and innovation initiatives.”