Kingsley Espouses Benefits of Brawn
Building luxury heavy truck conversions for the RV market wasn’t on Ralph Dickenson’s mind when an electrical engineering firm he founded, Brake Alert Inc., was hired to go to Houston, Texas, to redesign the electrical system of a fleet of trucks being purchased by the U.S. military.
“While we were there, we got the idea to build a coach on a heavy-duty truck frame for ourselves,” said Dickenson, president of publicly owned Kingsley Coach Inc., Middleburg, Pa. “We removed the front clip from a Prevost bus and backed a Peterbilt truck underneath the chassis. We went to the Quartzsite (Ariz.) show that year and people just loved the thing.”
That was in 1995. A year later, Dickenson and members of his family founded Kingsley Coach Inc. to manufacture custom-made luxury truck conversions. The first three Kingsley coaches were purchased by country singer Lee Ann Rimes. “She saw the prototype and her father, Wilbur, gave me a $10,000 check to start building the first one,” Dickenson said. “That gave us a shot in the arm.”
Earlier this year the company introduced its first production model, the Cruiser, which retails in the $200,000 range, and is being built in Kingsley factories in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Dickenson said Kingsley designed the Cruiser to take advantage of production efficiencies not available in custom manufacturing. “The custom coaches literally are handmade,” Dickenson said, noting that 5,000 to 6,000 hours of labor are required to build a Kingsley Coach Lancelot, which accounts for the highest percentage of costs.
“We can put a Cruiser out of here for under 1,000 man-hours,” Dickenson said. “I can build five luxury Cruisers in the time it takes us to build one custom coach. I’d like to be able to put out five Cruisers a month and back off on the other production to eight a year.”
Camelot and Lancelot production currently is about 20 units per year, he said.
The first Cruiser was produced in July, and Dickenson expects to have that line in full production by the first of the year.
The company moved from Houston, Texas, to Middleburg in 1998 to be near Thor’s manufacturing facilities, which at the time produced exclusively the body of the coach for Kingsley to convert. “We originally started by trying to manufacture everything from the ground up,” Dickenson said. “That proved to be quite expensive and difficult.”
Though Kingsley’s bodies are built by Thor and Bonded Engineering Inc., the company last year opened a second factory in Andover, Minn., which eventually is expected to become Kingsley’s major production center, Dickenson said. Coaches are sold at Kingsley’s plants and by truck dealerships in Missouri, Texas and Florida.
Dickenson said converting a heavy-duty truck chassis allows almost unlimited customization.
“There are a lot of advantages to having the motor up front,” Dickenson said. “You can use the entire back end for a lot of things, and its biggest feature is that it is user-friendly. It can be repaired in any truck garage.”
Still, Dickenson said Kingsley Coaches have particular appeal to RV enthusiasts with trucking backgrounds, and to Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners. “The Harley-Davidson Society loves our coach and we have a lot of trucking and construction company owners who buy the coach,” Dickenson said.
He said keeping the new Cruiser line under $200,000 will be a key to its success. “There seems to be a magic line at $200,000. If you come in at $199,000, you’ll get buyers,” he said. “If you come in at $205,000, they start to hesitate.”