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King of the Road Expands in the Highline Realm

July 27, 2004 by   - () Leave a Comment

The last several years have brought substantial changes to fifth-wheel manufacturer King of the Road, a York, Neb.-based company long known for its high-end products.
In October 2000, to expand its manufacturing capacity and also be closer to its diversified parent company, Chief Industries Inc., King of the Road packed up and moved from Russell, Kan., where it was founded, to York, 220 miles to the north.
Chief Industries, founded in 1954 as a residential construction company and based in Grand Island, Neb., today has 16 divisions manufacturing products as diverse as steel buildings, intermodal trailer chassis, rail-car accessories, manufactured homes, ethanol and waste-water treatment systems.
The move served another purpose.
“We also wanted to have some purchasing synergies with our Bonnaville Homes manufactured housing division, which is just 15 miles away,” said General Manager Brian Henn.
King of the Road followed the physical move with another bold step by entering the high-end motorized market for the 2004 model year with the Genesis Class A diesel pusher, in part, to take advantage of the additional manufacturing space.
“We wanted to fill the factory,” Henn said. “It was a market that we identified that showed tremendous potential, particularly for us since we already were manufacturing high-end fifth-wheels. Our biggest challenge was selecting and dealing with the chassis. We forged a fairly strong relationship with Freightliner Custom Chassis (Gaffney, S.C).”
The Genesis is built with what the company calls a “box-off” construction method, borrowed from the bus manufacturing industry, Henn said.
“We basically produce the entire coach portion of the motorhome, and then we lift it and merge it to the chassis,” he explained. “When we set the box on the chassis, the amount of camber that comes out settles the chassis into a natural state, and we get a nice, tight box.”
Another benefit, he added, is that Genesis is easier to work on for production people.
“Instead of having to climb up to the floor level of the coach when it’s on a chassis, we are building it on a cart that is only 10 inches off the ground,” he explained.
Henn said Genesis motorhomes and King of the Road fifth-wheels both appeal to fulltime RVers.
“That’s where we have really carved out a niche over the years,” he said. “We initially also manufactured stick-and-tin travel trailers, but the price point continued to edge upward, and we were trying to run travel trailers and fifth-wheels down the same production line, which posed a fair amount of difficulties.”
King of the Road discontinued travel-trailer production in 1990 in favor of fifth-wheel towables exclusively.
The company has 36 dealers, a predominate number of which are located in Arizona, Texas and Florida, all Sunbelt states popular in the winter among fulltimers. In 2002, King of the Road introduced the patent-pending “SlideDeck,” a $2,300 optional retractable porch for fifth-wheels.
“We set out to make the entry and the exit to the coaches easier,” Henn said. “Our customers are not quite as agile as they used to be, and they kept asking us at retail shows why we built the trailer so far off the ground. The SlideDeck offers an approach similar to a traditional residence with a platform before you enter the living area.”

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