After Spartan Motors Inc. posted record first-quarter sales, which included a 65.7% jump in recreational vehicle chassis sales over the same period last year, CEO John Sztykiel took a road trip last month from company headquarters in Charlotte, Mich., to meet and greet investors from Boston to Chicago.
As his 41-footer swung through Manhattan, he spoke with Julie Rawe of Time Magazine. The following is the recently published interview:
Time: Why aren’t you behind the wheel?
Sztykiel: The last time I drove a coach like this in a big city, I made a turn too tight and took out one of the light towers and put a nice 12-inch rip in the side wall.
Time: Then why make this road trip?
Sztykiel: From an investor-relations perspective, people step inside and say, “Wow, it’s not the motorhome you saw in the movie ‘Spaceballs.’ It’s a lot nicer than that.”
Time: Your sales have been doing well, so why doesn’t your stock price seem to reflect that?
Sztykiel: People perceive that as gas prices go up, then RV sales will drop off. But you don’t buy one of these coaches (which cost $100,000 and up) if you’re concerned about the price of the fuel. And because we’re strictly focused on diesel, gas prices going up forces people to look more at diesel because they know it has better fuel economy. Registrations for diesel motorhomes are up 11% over last year, which was a 25-year high.
Time: Spartan also makes fire truck and ambulance chassis. Has the Department of Homeland Security been good to you?
Sztykiel: The money allocated two to three years ago is just starting to filter down to the states where they’re starting to spend it on fire trucks. But the same demographics that drive the RV business drive the ambulance industry. Eleven thousand Americans turn 50 every day. They’re entering the core buying market for RVs. But this also means more of us are taking rides in ambulances.
Time: Since you have to be in Cleveland by 9 a.m. tomorrow, I take it this is where you’ll be sleeping tonight?
Sztykiel: We don’t sleep in this thing because if you do that or use the toilet, you bring down the resale value (of this vehicle). If it’s a bathroom emergency, I don’t care – go outside and get a ticket. I’ll pay the $150 instead of losing the $5,000 in depreciated value.