Three months after incorporating, Thor CC Inc., Irvine, Calif., dba Thor Credit Corp., has begun accepting retail loan applications from customers at about 200 Thor Industries Inc. dealerships in eight Southeast and East Coast states.

”We are rolling out in a prudent fashion,” said Thor Credit President Ed Arienti. ”It’s better to roll out in a regional manner rather than trying to do it all at once and not getting it right. We are bringing a well-needed service to Thor dealers.”

States included in the initial rollout are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. 

When the national rollout is complete, Thor Credit intends to make retail credit available to ”prime” and ”super-prime” consumers at some 1,600 Thor and MVP RV Inc. dealers.

Arienti declined to speculate when Thor CC will expand into other states or which states the company will target next.

The company will finance new RVs manufactured by Thor subsidiaries that include Keystone RV Co., Airstream Inc., Damon Motor Coach, Dutchmen Manufacturing Ind., Komfort Corp., Breckenridge, CrossRoads RV, Four Winds International Corp. and Mandalay Luxury Division. In addition, Thor Credit will offer financing for Thor dealers on qualified used products built by other companies.

Arienti will lead a team of former GE Money executives that include Margaret Gandolfo, senior vice president of finance and operations; Nancy Hartmann, senior vice president of sales; Bob Kennedy, senior vice president of credit; and Mike Rapp, senior vice president of marketing. Bruce Richards has been named Thor Credit’s East Coast sales manager and will be located in Worcester, Mass.

Thor and GE Money ended a lending partnership in May 2008 following GE’s decision that it would no longer make retail RV loans, although GE continues wholesale dealer financing with tighter policies. Following the dissolution of the partnership, Thor announced in November that it would create its own stand-alone financing unit for dealers that sold its products.

”We’ve had a lot of good fortune,” Arienti said. ”Start a business in this environment is challenging — particularly in the capital marks sector.”

Thor Credit is being assisted in the rollout by Carillon Capital Partners, which will manage Thor’s capital market efforts by coordinating the purchase of loans that Thor makes to other lending institutions. ”The on-going strategy is for us to introduce banks to Thor and help educate them on the RV loan product,” said Rob Snow, Carillon Capital managing partner.

”Most of the banks that we are talking to will put them on their balance sheet and hold them there,” said Snow, who also has been a financial adviser to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and companies in the marine sector.

”Overall, the economy is still incredibly weak,” Snow said. ”Ultimately, the RV industry won’t come back in full until there is some underlying strength in the financial industry.”

Although Snow predicted that the recent expansion of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for dealer floorplan financing will help the RV industry, it won’t happen quickly. “The traditional SBA lenders are not immediately set up to do floorplan financing and the traditional floorplan financiers are not SBA lenders,” Snow said. “The big lenders are trying to figure out how to integrate SBA loans into the mix. It will take awhile, but in the long run it will be positive. It will take three to four months before there is any noticeable impact from it.”