The gas-powered motor home chassis market has belonged to Ford Motor Co. this year, and that has the motor home industry anxious.
General Motors sold its Chevrolet chassis business last December to Workhorse Custom Chassis, a new company spun off from Union City Body Co. Until Workhorse reaches full production at the end of May, Ford is virtually alone in supplying gasoline-powered chassis.
That has put a spotlight on Ken Farr, Ford's new manager of RVs. He follows Jerry Mittman, who led the business for 11 years before retiring last December.
Farr has to let the motor home industry know it can count on Ford's chassis. But chassis availability is limited by the supply of the engine it uses.
The 6.8-liter Triton V-10 engine used in the F-53 motor home also is used in Ford's F-series pickups. This fall, the engine also will go into a big new sport-utility, the Ford Excursion.
BIG PROFITS, HIGH PRIORITY
Pickups equipped with the Triton engine are priced as high as $32,000. Analysts estimate Ford's profit on the big trucks is as high as $10,000 each. Ford declined to say how much profit it makes on the F-53 chassis, which retails for up to $22,000, but it is not likely to be as much.
'I believe that when push comes to shove, the engines will go to the F series and the SUVs,' said Jim Calderbank, director of marketing for Damon Corp., a motor home manufacturer in Elkhart, Ind.
But Farr said his company is committed to the motor home industry.
Last November, Ford promised to build 30,000 F-53 chassis in 1999. In January, Farr said that production target, equal to 2,500 per month, would stay in place only through the first six months of the year.
The RV industry protested, and late last month Farr said the 2,500 production target will last through the first three quarters of 1999. 'We are producing more chassis than we did last year,' Farr said.
Even if Ford stopped making chassis altogether after the first three quarters after maintaining its 2,500-per-month pace, it still would equal its 1998 production of 22,500 units, Farr said. The motor home industry probably is concerned that Workhorse will not get up to full production on schedule, he said.
PRODUCERS NEED SOLID ESTIMATES
But motor home manufacturers depend on production estimates in planning, said Dave Humphreys, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. And Ford is the biggest supplier of gas-powered chassis. Of the 49,000 Class A motor homes sold last year, about 62 percent were gasoline-powered. Before Chevrolet sold its chassis business, Ford controlled more than 40 percent of the Class A chassis business.
Two manufacturers, Coachmen Industries Inc. and Monaco Coach Corp., are building new plants to assemble Class A motor homes. Their decisions to build the plants were based not only on strong demand for RVs, but also on Ford's commitment to build more chassis, Humphreys said. 'These companies are certainly counting on 2,500 (per month) being the number and would be hurt if they could not get them,' he said.
Damon is exploring other options. It has focused on high-end diesel Class A motor homes, Calderbank said, because it predicted troubles in gasoline-chassis supply.
Workhorse expects to run full production of about 240 gas-powered motor home chassis per week by the end of May, building what had been known as the Chevrolet p-32 chassis. The p-32 is rated at 16,500 pounds gross vehicle weight. Ford's F-53 is rated at 20,500 pounds gvw. Many motor homes call for the higher gvw chassis, and the Ford chassis is popular for this reason.