People who own a high-end gasoline chassis motor home and want to trade up face a reality check: Motor homes built on diesel chassis are priced as much as $60,000 more.
But Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. last month introduced a diesel-powered chassis that is priced between high-end gasoline chassis and more expensive diesel chassis.
Freightliner's XCS chassis joins Spartan Motors Inc.'s Summit chassis in the low end of the diesel-powered chassis market, where retail prices for motor homes range about $100,000.
High-end diesel motor homes accounted for 25.8 percent of the 42,900 Class-A deliveries last year, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association said. In 1997, the figure was 19.5 percent.
Freightliner, which is owned by DaimlerChrysler, said a low-cost diesel chassis will boost diesel sales even more.
'If it wasn't for the price, virtually everybody would buy a diesel. And (the XCS) is a step to letting everyone afford what before only the very rich could afford,' said Jim Calderbank, communications director for motor home manufacturer Damon Corp.
Diesel chassis long have been considered the Cadillac of motor home foundations. The engines have more torque, and the chassis can carry more weight. Diesel chassis also offer a stiffer frame and pressurized air suspension systems.
But all of those features come at a hefty premium. A motor home built on a high-end diesel chassis starts at around $140,000. High-end gasoline chassis motor homes cost around $85,000. A motor home built on the XCS chassis probably will start under $100,000, said Dean Schaper, Freightliner's manager of RV products.
But success is not guaranteed for the XCS chassis. Until now, diesel customers have demanded high horsepower motor homes, Schaper said. Diesel customers also demanded topnotch ride and handling.
The XCS, powered by Cummins' ISB 260, makes 260 hp and 550 pounds-feet of torque. Spartan, for comparison, makes a high-end diesel chassis that generates 500 hp and 1,450 pounds-feet of torque.
The XCS also features a parabolic spring suspension, a design that is cheaper than air-ride suspension but that some manufacturers say does not deliver the same ride quality. The XCS is available with a wheelbase of 190 inches, 208 inches or 228 inches.
Spartan uses the same engine and transmission in its low-end diesel chassis. But the Summit is a custom-built model, said John Sztykiel, Spartan's president. Manufacturers can specify any wheelbase length between 200 inches and 228 inches. Spartan also can build chassis with additional supports and bulkheads for easier installation of the coach body. It also can prewire the chassis so manufacturers simply can plug in their coach assembly. The Summit features air-ride suspension.
The XCS chassis is rated for up to 22,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. The Summit is rated for up to 24,000 pounds gvw.
The Summit chassis costs between $34,000 and $36,000, Sztykiel said. The XCS chassis will cost between $31,000 and $34,000.
Damon Corp.'s product planners see diesel motor homes in the $90,000 range as the key to growth, Calderbank said. Freightliner's XCS, along with Spartan's Summit chassis, are a perfect match for some of Damon's future product plans.
'All of a sudden, diesels are affordable to people who had been shopping in the high-end gas market,' Calderbank said. 'I think the lightweight chassis can help diesel penetration reach 50 percent of Class-A motor home sales in the next few years.'