By Bob Zagami
In June 2009 the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of Fleetwood Enterprises’ motorhome assets to American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP. Fleetwood had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2009. The sale included two motorhome manufacturing facilities, two motorhome service facilities, and Fleetwood’s Goldshield Fiberglass supply subsidiary, all located in Decatur, Indiana, where the new company maintains its headquarters. The deal also included intellectual property for Fleetwood’s existing motorhome brands and certain machinery and equipment in Riverside, California. Following the purchase in July 2009, the new company, Fleetwood RV Inc., set out to reclaim Fleetwood Enterprises’ former commitment to motorhome manufacturing. John Draheim, Fleetwood RV president and COO, recently shared some thoughts about this process with writer Bob Zagami.
Q: (Zagami) The original Bounder was conceived by John Crean. Was the new Bounder Classic inspired by Crean’s concepts?
A: (Draheim) Absolutely. You will find a lot of John Crean’s philosophy, core principles, and values the company was known for in its heyday will be very imbedded in every thing we do at the new company. John created innovation based on customer needs. He wasn’t afraid to take risks. He built value-oriented products, and we’ll do the same.
Q: What will the new Fleetwood build?
A: We are going to be a full-line motorhome manufacturer, not a niche player. We will build affordable Class Cs through to our luxury American Coach diesel pushers.
Q: Let’s go back to the original Bounder. Why was it such a great success for so many years?
A: It’s all about value. John Crean designed a motorhome for the average RVer, a blue-collar-type worker and his family. He knew they worked hard for their money, and he built a lot of value and innovation into the Bounder.
Q: What makes you think you can duplicate his success with the new Bounder Classic?
A: It follows John’s dream. We’ve gone back to our roots and understand what the RV market is today and why it is different. . . . We are going to reposition all price points, and prices will come down to realistic levels. Our products will be affordable, and you won’t see 20-year loans with little or no down payment or inflated trade-in prices. We will build smaller, less-expensive units driven by the credit environment.
Q: What is happening with dealers that once sold Fleetwood products?
A: We are a new company, and all the former dealer contracts were void. We are working very hard to establish new dealer relationships throughout the country. Former successful Fleetwood dealers have already signed new contracts and have started to receive new inventory. . . . We stepped up to guarantee warranty service and support for consumers who had purchased a Fleetwood product from the former company. We also are covering the warranties for unsold inventory on dealer lots. We believe this strategy was critical to the success of the industry, and it was the responsible thing to do.
Q: Tell us about the company being built right now.
A: We are privately held now and have no debt. We purchased the machinery and equipment from Fleetwood. The employee base is being re-established. We had no employees in July and have over 950 now. Our investors and board of directors are involved in similar industries and bring value to our decision making.
Every brand has been carried over for 2010, but we will simplify brand offerings and floor plans. We have 25 brands and that will probably be reduced 30 to 40 percent in model year 2011. We will be sizing brand models, the dealer channel, and the size of the company for today’s volume.
Q: John Crean is looking down at the RV industry today. What is he saying?
A: Finally, somebody gets it.