Spartan Motors Debuts Mid-Engine Chassis, New Suspension System
Chassis manufacturer Spartan Motors Inc., C3322, and motorhome builder Travel Supreme, C8691, have teamed to produce the first motorhome built on Spartan’s new mid-engine chassis, the Me2. The new motorhome made its commercial debut at RVIA’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, December 3 through 5, 2002. A prototype of the chassis appeared at the National RV Trade Show in 2000.
According to literature from Spartan Motors, the mid-engine chassis is designed to give motorhome owners more living space, additional storage, and improved ride and handling. The engine is located below the frame rails on the Me2 platform, enabling manufacturers to build motorhomes with lower floors and additional headroom. According to Spartan officials, the reconfigured chassis design will allow OEMs to include as many as six slideouts in its units, which could increase the average living space by as much as 40 percent. The engine placement also opens up more storage space inside the rear of the motorhome, which can be used to haul a small boat or car, snowmobiles, ATVs, motorcycles, or other leisure items.
The Me2-equipped Travel Supreme model displayed in Louisville was a 41-foot luxury motorhome with double slideouts. It also featured a 12-foot-deep storage garage in the rear of the coach that measured 95.5 inches wide and 56 inches high, and included a hydraulic lift.
Because the Me2 chassis has its heaviest components — the engine and transmission — located in the middle, Spartan officials note that the balance of the motorhome is easier to maintain. Placement of the engine and radiator ahead of the rear wheels is said to positively impact engine maintenance and cooling. In rear-engine platforms, the rear wheels can kick up dust that enters these components.
Richard Schalter, president of Spartan Motors, said the company’s new chassis design may change the way future motorhomes are built. “We believe the Me2 could be the next revolution in RVs, much like the slideout was in the 1990s and basement storage was in the 1980s,” Mr. Schalter said. “While manufacturers are always wary of new products, we believe that the Spartan reputation for quality and innovation will help us build demand for the Me2 over the next five years, as RV owners demand more livable space and better ride and handling. The Me2 delivers both.”
Spartan Motors also unveiled the Spartan Active Ride independent full suspension system during the Louisville event. The new suspension was featured on a Fleetwood 2003 American Eagle motorhome during the show.
According to John Sztykiel, CEO of Spartan Motors, the suspension is designed to actively read and intelligently respond to road conditions. “With Spartan Active Ride, all four wheels and the chassis are constantly responding to the road, keeping the base of the coach on a level plane and providing a smooth ride without tilt or sway in virtually every driving condition,” he said. “This technology is going to revolutionize the way we perceive motorhome driving, making it much easier and more manageable for the average driver.”
By using a combination of hydraulics, electronic sensors, and computer controls, the Spartan Active Ride is said to provide a tight, level, and smooth ride for motorhomes.
Spartan Motors, which is based in Charlotte, Michigan, and also manufactures fire trucks, ambulances, and other specialty vehicles, intends to incorporate the new suspension system on all of its product lines.
Damon Creates New Name, Logo, For Motorhome Division
Damon Corporation, C4690, based in Elkhart, Indiana, announced that its motorhome division will now be called Damon Motor Coach. The company has established a separate logo to coincide with the new name.
Since 1999 when Damon sold its towable division to Keystone RV, the company has concentrated on building motorhomes. Gary Groom, CEO and president of Damon Motor Coach, said the new name will better identify the products made by the company. “We’ve successfully established a solid infrastructure for continued future growth,” he noted. “By changing our name, we want to differentiate Damon’s motorhome division from Damon Corporation, the parent organization.”
Life On Wheels Announces 2003 Conference Schedule
Life on Wheels, an education program developed and directed by RV travel writer/lecturer Gaylord Maxwell, will offer conferences at four college campuses in 2003. The program, which has attracted more than 6,000 students during its eight years of existence, offers attendees the chance to learn about the RV lifestyle from recognized experts in the field.
Besides the main conference, which will be held July 13 through 18 on the Moscow campus of the University of Idaho, extension programs will be held May 16 through 19 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky; September 7 through 10 at Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and September 19 through 22 at Des Moines Area Community College in Des Moines, Iowa.
Conference seminars cover all facets of RVing — for beginners to more advanced RVers — and are grouped into three major categories: lifestyle; technical; and lifestyle enhancements. More than 100 seminars are offered at the University of Idaho, and more than 50 seminars will be presented at each of the extension programs. Among the instructors are authors Joe and Vicki Kieva; Bill Farlow; Ron and Barb Hofmeister; Marilyn Abraham and Sandy McGregor; and Sharlene “Charlie” Minshall.
For more information about the program or to register for a Life on Wheels conference, call (866) 569-4646. Detailed information about the courses offered and participating instructors can be found by visiting www.lifeonwheels.com.
Optimism Abounds At RVIA’s National RV Trade Show
Despite four inches of snow, the 40th National RV Trade Show was a great success judging by attendance records and comments from exhibitors. The show — sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) each year to highlight the products and services of its members — took place December 3 through 5, 2002, at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. This year’s event drew 12,443 exhibitor and buyer personnel, a 14 percent rise in the attendance from the 2001 show, which was a record year-to-year increase. In addition, the total number of attendees was the second highest in the past decade.
The 2002 show attracted 5,017 dealers (representing 2,557 dealerships), an 18 percent increase from 2001. The event also drew 355 accessory store representatives and 124 warehouse distributor representatives, both up from last year. In all, a near-record 749,400 square feet of exhibit space was filled at the exposition center with the latest RV models and accessories.
“To say that we were pleased with attendance would be an understatement,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing with Jayco Inc., C9334. “Dealers’ outlook and attitude were extremely positive.”
Mike Duncan, director of corporate communications with Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, was equally enthusiastic. “Traffic was very strong. Dealers are confident and feel good.”
Despite the overall economic slump, exhibitors agreed that the industry is well positioned for 2003. “The industry had a good year in 2002 and we’re looking forward to another good one in 2003,” said Bruce Hertzke, chairman, CEO, and president of Winnebago Industries, C93. “As the economy improves, the industry should see shipments next year approaching the levels of 1999 and 2000.”
The 2002 National RV Trade Show featured a wide variety of innovations for 2003 and beyond, including more multiple slideouts; motorhomes with full-body paint jobs; a mid-chassis engine designed to create greater space for more interior design options; and a rooftop deck with a built-in staircase.
RVIA is the national organization representing nearly 500 manufacturers and component suppliers producing approximately 98 percent of all RVs made in the United States.
RVIA Honors Travel-Inspiring Pair
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) recognized two veteran travel enthusiasts with special awards on December 3, 2002, during the association’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky.
Arthur Frommer, editor-in-chief of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel and numerous other travel publications, received the 2002 Distinguished Achievement in RV Journalism Award. The award is given annually by RVIA to journalists whose efforts capture the appeal and advantages of RV travel before national audiences. Mr. Frommer, whose publishing empire includes more than 180 travel guidebooks that bear his name, including Frommer’s Exploring America By RV, was recognized as both a “giant” in the travel industry and an RV fan.
Also honored during the Louisville show was CBS News cameraman Isadore Bleckman, who received the RVIA Spirit of America Award in recognition of his career-long coverage of RV travel.
Mr. Bleckman is best known for his work with the late Charles Kuralt, shooting the On The Road television series. Mr. Bleckman, who retired from CBS in May 2002 after 36 years, spent his final assignment on the road — in an RV — with CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist, whose four-week coast-to-coast journey spotlighted the lighter side of America.
Upon accepting the award, Mr. Bleckman said, “I think the years Kuralt and I spent roaming the country’s backroads did a lot to spark interest in the RV lifestyle. We were able to take millions on the road with us.”
Mobile RV Technical Services Takes Repairs On The Road
Motorhomers who live or travel within a 50-mile radius of the Portland, Oregon, area and need service on a troublesome appliance or are having a water leak problem can call Mobile RV Technical Services (503-358-3508) for on-site repairs.
This exclusively mobile (Oregon only) company employs RVDA/RVIA-certified service technicians who can perform repair work — including warranty and extended warranty work — on all of a motorhome’s major systems, including appliances; heating and air conditioning; plumbing; LP-gas systems; electrical systems; hydraulics; satellite systems; and generators. (The company does not do chassis work.) Service technicians also will come to a client’s location to winterize his or her motorhome and perform annual maintenance if necessary.
“One of our core company goals is to educate our customers,” said Dana Stephenson, service manager for the company, which was founded in 1998. “We provide our customers with knowledge that will help them the next time they are in need of service.”
— Jim Brightly
Winnebago Motorhome Featured In Jack Nicholson Movie
A Winnebago Adventurer motorhome plays a prominent role in a new movie starring Academy Award winners Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates that opened throughout the United States in January. The New Line Cinema film, About Schmidt, chronicles the escapades of Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) as he attempts to find meaning in his life after retirement.
The story is told with the help of a series of letters to a 6-year-old orphan he adopted for $22 a month via TV. Warren sets out in his motorhome to attend the wedding of his daughter. Interior and exterior shots of the Adventurer are featured throughout the film.
About Schmidt was directed by Alexander Payne, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his directing work on the 1999 film Election. After the filming of About Schmidt was completed, Mr. Payne bought the Adventurer Nicholson drove in the movie to use as his personal vehicle for future projects.
Bright Outlook Permeates ARVC Convention
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) held its 36th annual convention, Insites 2002, at the Memphis Convention Center, November 20 through 23, in Memphis, Tennessee. During the event, attendees, speakers, and exhibitors all shared the same view: the outdoor hospitality industry is experiencing record growth, booming consumer interest, and an explosion of new products and services available to the camping community.
“The industry is at an exciting crossroads,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of ARVC. “Camping is hot, and consumers are turning to our parks and campgrounds for quality entertainment and the opportunity to spend time with their friends and families. Owners and operators are doing everything they can to make sure the industry is keeping up with the consumers’ demands. That’s what this show — and this gathering of these industry partners — is all about.”
Claire Skinner, chairman, president, and CEO of Coachmen Industries, C328, and chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), was the guest speaker. Ms. Skinner reported that RV sales are at record numbers, and that baby boomers are demanding bigger, better, and more technologically savvy services and equipment for their camping experience. She also stressed the importance of business partnerships within the outdoor hospitality industry to make sure the consumers’ needs are adequately met. “We are business partners in the leisure business,” she said. “Our mutual success and prosperity depend on each other.”
ARVC represents more than 3,600 commercial RV parks and campgrounds throughout the United States and Canada.
New Web Site Assists RVers Traveling To Mexico
Bill and Dorothy Bell have created a new Web site for travelers planning a trip to Mexico. The site, www.ontheroadin.com, provides visitors with travel tips, a list of documents needed when crossing the border, insurance requirements, specific RV park recommendations, and much more information.
“Preparation is the key to safe recreational vehicle travel anywhere in North America, but in Mexico it is vital to a safe and fun trip,” said Dorothy Bell. “Getting a simple oil change in Mexico can be an adventure, but when you camp safely on miles and miles of pristine beaches and snorkel for scallops and clams while on the Baja, it makes the challenges of driving through a foreign country worthwhile.”
The Bells began traveling in Mexico in 1988 and have returned many times since to compile the information found on the Web site.