Tuscany Automotive Solutions President Tom Graber believes the long-suffering van- and pickup-conversion markets have “leveled off,” and he is forecasting 20% volume growth for his firm in 2004.
Graber, who founded Tuscany in 1988, added that he would not have invested $1.5 million to build a new factory in Elkhart, Ind., if he did not believe his firm had a profitable future.
Tuscany moved from nearby Shipshewana, Ind., into a new, 31,000-square-foot facility in Elkhart in July.
The company will produce about 1,200 van conversions and 400 pickup conversions this year, which would represent a 20% decline from its 2002 volume.
Tuscany was not alone as indicated by the fact wholesale shipments of converted vans were down 17% industrywide when the first 10 months of 2003 are compared with the same portion of 2002, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). There were 33,700 van conversions shipped in the first 10 months of this year versus 40,600 in the same portion of last year.
Shipments of converted pickups also declined 3.8% during the first 10 months of this year to 12,800 units, compared with 13,300 in the same portion of 2002, the RVIA reported.
Graber believes Tuscany’s output will grow in 2004 because the company has entered the wheelchair accessible van market and it is working on exporting “family vans” to China.
Tuscany converted a significant number of Dodge Ram full-size vans until the DaimlerChrysler subsidiary discontinued Dodge Ram Van production in June. The elimination of Dodge Ram Van conversion work accounted for 8% to 10% of the 20% output decline Tuscany will experience this year.
However, Tuscany is looking at possibly converting DaimlerChrysler’s Mercedes-Benz Vito van beginning in 2005. The Vito is built in Germany on the same platform as DaimlerChrysler’s Sprinter van, which now is being marketed in North American by Dodge and Freightliner dealers. However, the Vito has a more aesthetic shape than the Sprinter and includes the luxurious trim and upscale equipment found in Mercedes-Benz cars.
Tuscany also is looking at possibly converting the Sprinter into a Class B motorhome, as have some motorhome manufacturers.
Tuscany’s other major van chassis supplier is Ford, which had a difficult 2003 financially; Ford was unable to offer many dealer or retail incentives, which auto dealers increasingly have come to rely upon to move inventory. The lack of incentives had a negative impact on the demand for conversions of Ford vans by Tuscany and other conversion firms.