Highline Firm Marathon Coach Goes the Distance

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November 23, 2004 by   - () Leave a Comment

A story in the Eugene (Ore.) Register Guard noted recently that RV manufacturing is on the verge of becoming the No. 1 employer in Lane County, Ore., where the timber industry once reigned as king.
Privately owned Marathon Coach Inc., Coburg, Ore., a converter of luxury Prevost buses that retail for upward of $2 million, is among the RV manufacturers responsible for establishing Oregon as the third largest RV producer behind Indiana and California.
Converting Prevost H3-45 and XLII diesel-pusher shells into ultraluxurious motorcoaches became a second career for Robert Schoellhorn, now 76, the retired chief of Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories. In the early 1990s, he bought 23% of Marathon from the original owners – Herb Nill and Tom Nestell – after visiting the Oregon plant for service on a Marathon coach he had purchased.
In 1994, he bought the whole company. Later he acquired a majority stake in Outdoor Resorts, a network of country-club quality RV resorts that is operated separately from Marathon. Marathon also oversees three dealerships – at the Oregon factory, Grand Prairie, Texas and San Antonio, Fla.
“With what we do with the price of our product, we are factory direct so that we can be involved in the entire process, whether it’s manufacturing, sales or service,” said Steve Schoellhorn, Marathon executive vice president. “We feel it is important to the satisfaction of the customer to have top-level service at every turn.”
Underscoring the type of highline equipment Marathon deals with is the fact that Prevost chassis and the 515-hp Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines are built to commercial standards. The chassis alone can be expected to get as many as 2 million miles.
“Although a Marathon coach is not inexpensive, there’s a lot of value,” Schoellhorn said, noting that Marathon Coach has converted other bus shells in the past. “But it’s been several years since we built anything on something other than a Prevost. They are set up for manufacturing shells and providing support services afterward. Prevost really committed to the conversion industry. The same can’t be said about other bus companies at this point.
“We also tried more of an assembly-line coach 15 years ago. And we’ve occasionally looked at building other product lines. But we are very concerned about our own image and what we do with our own customers and what we do with regard to service and other things for them.”
Marathon coaches are among the priciest in the industry, retailing for $1.4 million to $2 million.
Marathon Coach sells about 60 new coaches a year, and 20 to 22 bus shells are being converted on the Coburg factory floor at any given time.
Additionally, Marathon sells 90 to 100 used coaches annually at the company’s dealerships, and Schoellhorn makes the case that even retailing for over $1 million, a Marathon unit isn’t that much more expensive than a conventional diesel pusher.
“If you look at the cost of ownership over five years, we do better than others in the RV industry because of the commercial bus chassis,” he said. “A Marathon coach will hold up longer and only depreciate maybe 30% over that five years.”
Used units, he said, retail for $150,000 for a 1980s vintage Marathon to $900,000 for a more recent model.
Marathon conversions are particularly popular on the NASCAR racing circuit. Drivers Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Bill Elliot are Marathon owners.
“We have many celebrities who own Marathon coaches who we can’t talk about because of confidentiality agreements,” Schoellhorn said. “But celebrities are less than 5% of our business. Our average customer is retired or semiretired and has been a very successful businessman who wants the very best that money can buy.”

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