Workhorse Custom Chassis LLC, which acquired rights to the General Motors motorhome chassis just two years ago, is focusing on customer service to cement itself as the primary supplier of gasoline-powered motorhome chassis.

Union City, Ind.-based Workhorse, which achieved ISO 9001 status eight months into its existence, recently certified its 500th service center. About half are RV dealers; the others are GM dealers and independent service centers. The achievement is noteworthy, considering that Workhorse started basically from ground zero when GM got out of the RV chassis business.

“Out of the blocks, in addition to putting up the largest RV chassis facility in the world, the goal was to get a service organization up and running,” said Richard Fish, Workhorse vice president of sales and marketing. “One of the things that the company recognized was there was a unique opportunity for someone out there to focus on RV customers.

“For the dealer,” added Fish, a former Fleetwood executive, “providing good service allows us to be of a valued part of the their business because of the opportunities that service brings to them. Service is the lifeblood of the business.”

With a solid service center base established, Workhorse intends to shift emphasis to training. “Where we are now is that we want continued refinement of the overall quality of the dealers that we have,” he explained. “We want dealers trained to the best possible level. We will add some dealers, but one thing we are very sensitive to is that we don’t want to have service facilities on every corner. That would dilute the business opportunities for dealers who already have made the investment.”

Workhorse has established a two-pronged training structure. Regional account managers with service and engineering backgrounds train dealers’ sales staffs about the features that Workhorse chassis offer. On the technical side, Workhorse has created training centers in conjunction with community colleges in Bethlehem, Pa.; Lakeland, Fla.; Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo.; Cypress, Calif. and Hamilton, Ontario, to teach a six-day course for technicians on Workhorse chassis repair.

At the consumer level, Workhorse offers a three-year 36,000-mile warranty that includes around-the-clock roadside service through a toll-free telephone number. Fish said the company expects that its focus on service will lead owners to look for Workhorse chassis when they buy their next RV. “The savvy consumer, particularly the repeat owner, absolutely understands the importance of the chassis,” Fish said. Workhorse’s focus on service has been in tandem with the development of two heavyweight motorhome chassis – the W20 and W22, rated at 20,700 and 22,000 pounds GVWR respectively – and the revamping of General Motors P-series lightweight chassis.

“We are seeing a lot more focus from the consumer level on the chassis than in the 17 or 18 years that I’ve been in the industry,” said Fish.

“That’s good. We have to go out and educate people on the differences and the advantages of Workhorse chassis,” he added. “Our goal is to not have the customer run around from the dealer to a separate service center and back to the dealer again. We want to be able to repair the vehicle quickly and get the RV owner back on his way.”

With the introduction of the Workhorse W20, the second Workhorse heavyweight chassis, the company has more than doubled its penetration into the gasoline-powered motorhome market in the last year – from being the platform in 38% of RV floor plans in the 2001 model year to more than 70% for 2002, Fish said.

Workhorse, a subsidiary of privately owned Grand Vehicle Works Inc., Highland Park, Ill., operates a 209,000-square-foot factory campus in Union City, where about 400 people are employed. Sister company Union City Body Inc., a manufacturer of commercial truck chassis, operates another Union City plant of similar size.

In addition to developing the two W-series chassis, Workhorse has completely revamped General Motors’ P-series for motorhomes up to 18,000 GVWR. “The only similarity between what we are building now and what General Motors was building is the ‘P’ nomenclature,” Fish said. New P-series chassis have a wider wheel base, heavier front and rear axles and are offered in more lengths. Most recently, General Motors’ 8100 Vortec 8.1-liter engine was added as a standard feature to the P-series.