SoCal’s National RV Focuses on Class A’s
When RV pioneer Wayne Mertes founded Dolphin Trailer Sales in 1963 in North Hollywood, Calif., he was, above all, adaptable.
“Wayne built this box, and didn’t have enough money to buy a trailer chassis, so he built a truck camper instead,” said Brad Albrechtsen, president of the company, since renamed National RV Inc. and relocated to Perris, Calif. “That was his initial product.”
Forty-two years later, National RV is a major manufacturer of Class A gas-powered and diesel-pusher motorhomes and the subsidiary of publicly owned National RV Holdings Inc., along with luxury motorhome manufacturer Country Coach Inc., Junction City, Ore. From National RV’s truck camper origins, Mertes expanded into Class C motorhomes, and several years later engineered what became known as the microminimotorhome on a Toyota cutaway chassis that the company made until Toyota quit making them in the early 1990s.
In the motorized arena, National RV became an all-Class A maker in 1993, the same year Mertes, who has since retired, created the publicly owned holding company. National RV Holdings acquired Country Coach Inc. in 1996.
In September, National RV ended an 11-year stint making fivers and travel trailers by selling the towable portion of its business to Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc.’s new Rage’n Inc. subsidiary, Perris, for $3 million and 1% of sales in the first year of Rage’n’s ownership. At the time, towables accounted for about 5% of National RV’s business.
“We had varying degrees of success with towables,” Albrechtsen said. “It was always a secondary business to the Class A business.”
Focusing specifically on motorhomes will allow the company to respond better and with more speed to changing consumer attitudes, Albrechtsen said.
Recently, National RV has changed from manufacturing RVs in batches to a lean manufacturing environment that allows a mix of brands to roll through the production line at the same time. “We aren’t the only ones doing that, but it is a significant change for us,” Albrechtsen said.
The reintroduced Tradewinds and Islander diesel pusher reflect those changes, according to Joe McDermott, vice president of sales and marketing.
“If you look at ’04 products, they were an evolution of what we had introduced in the early 1990s,” McDermott said. “What is different with the Islander and Tradewinds is that we started from the ground up with the engineering and design work.
“Three years ago our diesels looked like product from the early 1990s all grown up. The Islander and Tradewinds are new babies altogether.”
Prototypes of the new coaches were shown to the National RV Owners Club, resulting in prerelease changes that included refined floorplans, modified dashboards and padded ceilings.
Typically, buyers of National RV coaches have previously owned other motorhomes. “People tend to gravitate to us by word of mouth,” McDermott said. “Typically our customers are second- or third-time owners.”
The changes also go to internal company systems. Beginning in January, National RV started to phase in an Internet-based parts ordering and warranty claims system that will assist dealers and enhance customer service. The system will include the ability to display the original build order to identify the specific parts used to build a coach.
“There are a lot of good companies out there, and we have a lot of respect for them,” McDermott said. “But dealers are looking for people who are doing business differently. We’ve been surprised to find out many dealers are pulling for us to be that alternative.”