Conversion-vehicle deliveries declined 3.7 percent last month, but the sport-utility segment remains ahead of its 1996 pace through the first four months. Deliveries of motor homes were flat in April.
Manufacturers delivered 12,600 van conversions to dealers in April, unchanged from April 1996. For the first four months of 1997, retailers received 45,000 vans, off 1.5 percent from the corresponding period in 1996.
The 4,800 pickup truck conversions delivered in April represented an 11.1 percent decline from April 1996. Through the first four months, pickup truck deliveries to dealers totaled 21,800, off 13.5 percent from the year-ago total.
Dealers recently have received a better supply of pickups from the factory and are less likely to turn to converters for inventory, said Andy Porritt, sales manager for Ford products at Centurion Vehicles Inc. in White Pigeon, Mich.
Sport-utility conversions slipped 10 percent in April, to 900 units. But through the first four months of 1997, the segment is up 10.4 percent from last year, to 5,300 units delivered to dealers.
Converters are seeing increased demand from a new generation of younger buyers, the children and grandchildren of the first van-conversion buyers, said Barney Simon, president of Archer Coach Corp. in Elkhart, Ind.
'Now we're seeing the boomers' kids in the small pickups and sport-utilities,' he said.
And with more feature-loaded trucks, sport-utilities and minivans on the road, converters are seeking ways to make these vehicles stand out.
Archer Coach converts Chevrolet Suburbans, Tahoes, Blazers and S10 small pickups. Some dealers, Simon said, want a minimal conversion, with just enough trim, graphics and ground effects to create a special look.
But Waldoch Crafts Inc. of Forest Lake, Minn., is experiencing strong demand in the middle- and upper-price ranges for feature-loaded conversion vehicles, including full-sized vans, said Dave Hefko, national sales manager.
'The units that are selling the best are the units that are fully converted in the top end of the market,' Hefko said.
A year ago, Waldoch introduced what it calls a Boundary Waters Ford Explorer, complete with TV, heated leather seats and walnut interior trim. Some sport-utility owners, who might pay $30,000 or more for a vehicle, do not seem to mind paying extra for conversions to get a special look, Hefko said. An owner of a new Ford Expedition recently drove into one of Waldoch's aftermarket facilities in the Twin Cities and bought a $14,500 conversion package, he said.
'It's all fun, and it's all something to get the customer excited,' Hefko said.
In the motor home market, April deliveries were unchanged from April 1996. Through the first four months of 1997, deliveries were off 7.4 percent from the year-ago period.