By Mark Quasius, F333630
This year, Newmar Corporation celebrates its golden anniversary. The company is recognizing this milestone with the theme “A half-century, built one at a time.”
From humble beginnings as a small travel-trailer builder, Newmar has evolved into a highly respected manufacturer of motorhomes. The company’s success can be attributed to its commitment to handcrafting each product one by one.
In 1968 Marvin Miller and Marvin Newcomer (who had worked for Mr. Miller as a sales manager) left their jobs at an established RV manufacturer to found Newmar in the small woodworking town of Nappanee, Indiana. Their goal: to build the best-quality recreation vehicles the world had ever seen.
A lifelong Nappanee resident, Marvin Miller knew the town was home to many skilled and dedicated men and women, many of whom ended up as Newmar employees. The company’s first product, released in 1971, was a Kountry Aire fifth-wheel travel trailer.
When Marvin Miller decided to retire, he entertained many offers and in 1984 sold his 51 percent ownership to Mahlon Miller, then-president of RV manufacturer Holiday Rambler. Marvin knew that Mahlon would not move the company elsewhere. In 1991, Mahlon purchased the remaining 49 percent from a silent partner.
1984 also marked the year Newmar released its first Type A motorhome. When Mahlon first proposed the idea of building motorhomes, not everyone within the company was in favor of it. They were accustomed to building travel trailers. Ultimately they recognized that it marked an opportunity to set a new standard in the Type A motorhome segment. In 2012, as the high-end travel trailer market was changing, Newmar stopped producing fifth-wheels to focus exclusively on building Type A motorhomes.
Newmar has a history of innovation rather than imitation. In 1991 the company unveiled the first motorhome with power slideouts. For the next three years, competitors tried to sell against that idea. By year four, most manufacturers came to the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, with slideouts in their floor plans. Newmar also introduced the flush-floor slideout in motorhomes.
In 1990 Newmar debuted the Dutch Star and Mountain Aire motorhomes, which remain in the company’s lineup today.
The company also introduced Comfort Drive, a self-straightening steering wheel technology for smoother ride and handling; the STAR Foundation, a steel superstructure designed to strengthen an existing chassis frame; and cathedral ceilings, which increase headroom in rear motorhome baths and bedrooms.
Newmar was the first manufacturer to install awnings on the roof and incorporate them into the fascia, as opposed to the traditional practice of hanging them on the side of the coach. The company also launched the True Comfort ducted central air-conditioning system.
Newmar pioneered the use of full body paint on a motorhome, in 1998. And the company debuted the industry’s first nonretrofitted wheelchair-accessible Type A motorhome: the 2012 Canyon Star 3911. Today the Newmar Mobility lineup also includes the Ventana and Dutch Star 4311 diesel models.
The company began with 100 employees. The ranks swelled to 1,200 before the Great Recession in 2009. Currently, Newmar employs around 800. The physical facility also has grown over the years. A 116,000-square-foot assembly plant was built in 1995; a 150,000-square-foot, air-conditioned chassis prep facility was added in 2004.
Mahlon’s son, Matt, worked in engineering and became president of the company in 2006, just in time to weather the economic downturn two years later by reaffirming Newmar’s commitment to its dealers and customers.
The average employee tenure at Newmar is more than 12 years, with a large number of 30– and 40-year veterans. The employees are encouraged to use their creativity to excel and innovate; Matt recognizes them as a large part of Newmar’s success: “Our obsession with constant improvement is ingrained in our culture. Those who bring our coaches to life represent a tight-knit group of people who care deeply about their craft, their families, and the community we all share, and their commitment to excellence could never be understated.”
Newmar’s product development team is looking forward five to 10 years with even more innovations. Perhaps Matt summed it up best: “We are committed to spending the next 50 years in the pursuit of an even brighter future and will stop at nothing to craft the highest quality, most innovative products the RV industry has to offer.”