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Bob Olson wasn’t going to pretend that signs of a faltering economy could not be seen in Louisville, Ky., at last week’s National RV Trade Show.
But, as reported by the Forest City (Iowa) Summit, the company’s chairman, CEO and president did feel Winnebago made a big splash at the event.
“I truly believe we were the talk of the show,” Olson said Monday (Dec. 7) morning. “And I think people still look at us as the innovator and the producer of quality products we’ve always been.”
Olson said even in an economy that has ravaged the RV industry, the Louisville show was important for Forest City-based Winnebago because he believes it showed the company is poised to “take advantage of the situation when the economy turns around and it will turn around.”
He said the highlight of the show for the firm was the unveiling of the Winnebago Via, a Class A motorhome that he called “the first of its kind” in the industry. The unit features an industry-leading fuel efficiency that is estimated at better than 15 miles per gallon.
“I’ve often said that I think too many people make too much of gas prices when it comes to our industry,” he said, “but at the same time, this motorhome combines design, space, efficiency and drivability into one very nice 25-foot package. There’s nothing like it out there.”
He also said Winnebago received rave reviews for its Hybrid Concept Adventurer, that utilizes two independent power sources – a diesel engine and an electric motor – and for its new Itasca Sunstar front-engine diesel concept.
Olson said the reviews are a testament to his company’s employees.
“That’s one of the things we take great pride in,” Olson said. “We’ve got great employees who understand how important the right stuff is.”
While in Louisville, Olson and fellow company executives also accepted the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) Quality Circle Award. It marked the 13th straight year Winnebago had received the award.
“It’s something we take a lot of pride in,” Olson said, “and the day we don’t win it will be a sad day around Winnebago Industries. It’s what our culture here is all about.”
The Louisville show came at the end of what has been a trying and difficult year for the Forest City-based RV manufacturer. The company has seen profits plunge, idled its Charles City manufacturing facility and dramatically cut its work force.
But Olson remains optimistic that better days are ahead for Winnebago in particular and for the industry in general.
“I do think we’re going to see a little bit of an up tick with the spring selling season,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s going to be as big as I originally hoped. … The battle right now is to open some lines of credit. To me the so-called credit crunch, that’s what’s really hurting us right now.”