Auto-Mate Recreational Products
Bill Wyrick, president of Auto-Mate Recreational Products Inc., made a decision in 1991 to try to avoid the pitfalls of the RV industry's ups and downs by selling AutoMate fifth-wheel and travel trailers factory-direct.
"I wanted to avoid the roller coaster of this industry," said Wyrick, who founded the Los Banos, Calif., company in 1970.
With the move, production decreased from more than 50 units a month to fewer than a dozen. That was OK.
"As a low-volume, factory-direct manufacturer, we have total control," Wyrick said. "When the industry goes soft, we don't have to close for a month or two. We can adjust production up or down, and we don't have to depend on a dealer staying in business when the industry slows down."
Auto-Mate builds highly customized AutoMate towable trailers in the central San Joaquin Valley, 100 miles south of Sacramento, primarily for the California market, although the company's reputation for high-quality products has brought customers from as far away as the East Coast.
"Most of our RVs will go out of here with anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000 in options," Wyrick said. "AutoMates appeal to a guy who has worked all his life, sold his home and the RV has become his home. He wants to be as comfortable in his RV as he was in his home, if not more comfortable. That's why we have such a high number of options."
Among the most popular options are a double-insulation package and hydraulic disc brakes. Although the Auto-Mate Air Suspension System is optional, Wyrick said he hasn't built a fifth-wheel without it in recent memory. The suspension system doubles as a leveling system for setup. Also offered as an option is an Auto-Mate Air Suspension hitch.
The units are built on a custom frame that is manufactured in Auto-Mate's factory. They feature tubular aluminum framing and a fiberglass exterior vacuum-bonded to DOW Blue Foam and molded fiberglass front and end caps. Travel trailers typically are built with a single sofa/dinette slideout, while fifth-wheels can be equipped with up to three slideouts.
Although able to work with more than 50 floorplans, Wyrick encourages customers to customize one of fewer than two dozen models that are the company's base. "Usually, they don't make major changes but they have the opportunity to do their own interior decorating — their own colors, their own fabrics," he said.
Minimum construction time ranges between five and eight weeks, depending on the options that are being installed. "Mostly it has to do with supplier lead time," Wyrick said. "Every coach that we build is one-of-a-kind, so there is more time involved."
Wyrick expected to show a prototype two-story fifth-wheel at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association's consumer show in mid-October in Pomona. The unit will provide 6 feet 6 inches of headroom in both the main living area and the gooseneck, where a bedroom will be located. The second floor, accessible via a staircase, will feature two bedrooms for children with 3-1/2 feet of headroom.
"It would take us into a new market — families," Wyrick said. "And it would put us back where we would establish a dealer network again."
Auto-Mate also has produced custom-designed dressing rooms for Sony Pictures and built units for Tahoe Rentals, which does business with many of California's movie studios. In 1995, the company supplied specially built units to Japan following the Kobe earthquake.