Four Winds Growing in High-End Diesel Niche
Four Winds International Corp.’s introduction in 2003 of the midpriced Mandalay, its first diesel-pusher Class A motorhome, signaled the firm’s entry into the competitive higher-priced diesel market, and to an extent, a new identify.
“We looked for where a majority of the business is and where we thought we would be able to enter the market more easily,” said Dana Simon, vice president of sales and marketing for Four Winds of Elkhart, Ind., and a division of Thor Industries Inc.. “We didn’t want to enter the high, high end immediately. Our goal is to be in both the gasoline and diesel markets and be very aggressive with our pricing.”
The Mandalay’s success is spawning the addition of another yet-to-be named entry-level diesel-pusher line that will debut this summer with the 2005 model-year rollout, Simon said.
“Basically, our entry into the diesel market was evolutionary,” he said. “The market is expanding and that was where we needed to go.”
Four Winds, originally a Class C manufacturer, was founded in 1990 by Dave Hoeffer, one of the founders of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., and longtime RV company executives Steve Hicks and Ken Geljack. Thor of Jackson Center, Ohio purchased Four Winds in 1992.
Four Winds manufactures Class A gas-powered motorhomes under the Hurricane, Windsport and Infinity brands, and Class C and B+-style minimotorhomes under the entry-level Four Winds, Chateau, Dutchmen and Fun Mover brands. The industry’s only motorized SURV, the Fun Mover Class C, debuted in advance of the 1996 Olympics in a deal with RV rental company Cruise America Inc., of Mesa, Ariz.. Cruise America provided RVs for the nationwide Olympic torch relay.
“Some of our dealers asked that we build them for the RV market,” Simon said. “We took them up on it. We always are keen on new ideas.”
Around the time Thor entered the picture, Four Winds also built travel trailers and truck campers.
“We only did that for a couple of years,” Simon said. “We found out we needed to stick to what we know, which is motorhomes.”
The entry into the diesel market brought structural changes to Four Winds. The Mandalay is managed by a separate division within the company that handles sales, service, parts and warranties and is finished in a plant opened last year solely for that purpose.
“Often a customer’s mindset is on diesel, and you really need to focus on the product,” Simon said. “A separate division can focus and have the right answers for the right people.”
The expansion of its brands, Simon said, doesn’t mean Four Winds will lessen its involvement in the Class C market. For 2004, Four Winds expanded its Class C offerings with two B+ models and three new Class C floorplans.
Four Winds Class Cs, with customers that include Cruise America and El Monte RV of Sante Fe Springs, Calif., and Switzerland-based Moturis LTD, are popular in the RV rental segment
“Rental customers are starting to get into units with slideouts,” Simon said. “You didn’t see much of that until the last couple of years. It used to be that everybody would buy 21- or 28-footers without slideouts for rentals. But they are finding renters out there who want to have more spacious quarters.”
With the opening of the Mandalay plant, Simon explained, Four Winds has built a compact manufacturing campus that can be managed effectively even though the company builds a wide variety of motorhomes.
“There is a cohesion to what we do,” Simon said. “The Mandalay is built on a separate line in the same location where our gas units are built but finished on another line nearby. When everything is in the same location, it is conducive to running a good, tight ship.”
Simon said Four Winds is given wide latitude to develop product and systems by Thor, which also owns Airstream Inc., Dutchmen, Keystone RV Co. and Damon Motor Homes, among other divisions. “Thor encourages us to grow and to use our own experiences and ideas,” Simon said. “And they fully support everything that we do. That’s unique and exciting for us.”