This week we talk with the CEO of the new Roadtrek Inc. and how the company is counting on a new emphasis on quality to overturn the tarnished reputation left when the once iconic maker of Class B campervans was caught up in a massive financial scandal last year.
We also update you on the recalls and investigations plaguing the old company as the new owners begin production at their Cambridge, Ontario, Canada factory. The old company was known as Roadtrek Motorhomes. The new one is Roadtrek Inc.
This episode of the TV Podcast features a very candid interview with Dane Found, the new CEO of Roadtrek Inc, owned by the Rapido Group of France. Found talks about the challenges involved in restarting production and winning back business following the sudden collapse of the old Roadtrek, once the best-selling Class B manufacturer in North America.
Plus, we have lots of RV news, tips and an off the beaten path report from the Burketts.
Show Notes for Episode #283 Feb. 26 2020 of The RV Podcast:
WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
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RV LIFESTYLE NEWS OF THE WEEK
Lack of Chinese tourists because of coronavirus expected to impact Yellowstone tourism industry this year
Yellowstone National Park tourism groups are preparing for a downturn in visitors this year as a fall out of the coronavirus. About 350,000 to 400,000 Chinese tourists visit Yellowstone each year but because of the virus, the Chinese government has proposed mandatory quarantines on parts of the country and the U.S. government has greatly restricted travel from China. All Chinese tour groups are completely suspended right now. My guess, based on the numbers of Chinese visitors we have seen in our travels, that many U.S. national parks will see their numbers down as Chinese tourism stops until the virus is under control.
Ever wonder how many campsites exist in the National Parks? Take a look!
Ever wonder just how many campgrounds there are in the National Park System? Or ever wonder which of the campgrounds are the busiest? A break down by the National Parks Traveler last week explored the question of whether there are enough spots. It is not easy to get a campsite in many national parks and we found the information so interesting we had to share. We will build in a direct link in the shownotes for this episode at rvlifestyle.com/283
Yosemite's famous fireball phenomenon may be a bust this year
Recently we wrote about the Yosemite National Park's “Firefall” tourist attraction where the Horsetail Waterfall looks like a fire or lava fall in mid-to-late February for a few minutes before sundown. The illusion has become Internet famous and attracts hundreds of visitors, triggering special parking and viewing instructions. But this year it is looking like the attraction of the seasonal waterfall may be a bust. The reason? No water.
Toddler dies after falling into a septic tank at a Texas RV park
A 2-year-old fell into a septic tank at a Texas RV park and died last week in a tragic accident. The toddler was apparently jumping on the lid of the tank when it buckled under her and she fell in. Several news reports (click here) said the lid was not screwed down properly. Family and neighbors at Paradise Lagoons RV Resort in Arkansas Pass tried to reach the toddler with a rope, but the rope wasn't long enough and the toddler died.
About 2,000 recalled Roadtreks need to get second row seatbelt removed
The owners of about 2,000 recalled Roadtreks should take their RVs to a dealer to have the second row seatbelts removed, and a new warning sticker put on. Apparently bankrupt RV manufacturer Erwin Hymer Group North America could not prove the second row seats were safe, and this was the solution provided.
The safety concerns point to some unsafe and highly questionable actions by the management of the Erwin Hymer Group of North America. Those concerns arose last April when the receiver was given a 2016 test report from a former Erwin Hymer Group North America employee that indicated the second-row seats inside certain Roadtrek RVs did not pass Canadian or American motor vehicle safety standards, known as “pull tests.” The receiver, along with certain former employees, conducted an extensive search of the bankrupt company's books and records and spoke with other former employees about the issue, but still could not determine if the seats passed or failed those important safety tests. So they hired an engineering firm to study the problem and it found the design did not pass the tests. The Roadtrek brand was purchased last summer by France-based RV maker Rapido Group, but the purchase agreement included a clause that expressly excluded any liability or obligations related to the recalled RV units. So who is responsible for fixing this? The owners. Erwin Hymer of North America is no more and the new French owners say they had nothing to do with causing the problem.
Isn’t this the second major recall following Erwin Hymer Group North America's closure a year ago?
Yes. Hundreds of new tow-behind trailers were also recalled last year after the court-appointed receiver for the bankrupt Hymer of North America outfit realized the trailers had not received final approval from the Canadian Standards Association for critical hitch and brake components before they were shipped to dealers.
I suspect there will be more bad news still coming because a multimillion dollar insurance claim has been filed by many of the suppliers and creditors left holding the bag when Roadtrek shut down. That suit alleges Roadtrek misrepresented its operations and cash flow in the years leading up to the purchase by Hymer back in 2016. it seems there have been very questionable financial dealing there going back to 2013.
So we probably haven’t heard the last yet about all this?
Not by a long shot And you have to feel sorry for the Rapido Group, which is now trying to move forward with the brand. As you’ll hear in the interview with the new CEO of the new Roadtrek coming up in a few minutes, the main emphasis now is in restoring quality… something that it appears the old Roadtrek suffered greatly from going back to the recent years before the financial collapse.
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LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
This week, we want to share an awesome email we received from one of our listeners:
Hello Mike, and thank you for the content both you and your lovely bride Jennifer provide, though I am new to your Instagram and podcast programs it always a joy to hear you speak
On what got me into the world of RVing, it’s kind of long-winded, however it has stayed with me for many years.
Several years ago working as a mechanic I had a customer that brought her motorhome to us for a repair. She asked if it was alright that her and her husband remained in the coach while I performed the repair. This is not normally a practice that is accepted by professionals for many reasons. However I agreed to it. In conversation I asked the woman just what got her into RVing. She said it was never her real desire to leave her home and to do this, however she told me when her and her husband first got married he had told her when they retire he wanted to travel the United States so he could show her just how wonderfull this country is.
She said he always treated her as a queen and that he worked so hard to provide a home for her and their children. However, just before he got to retire he was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Knowing he would never be able to fulfill his promise to her she decided to sell their home of many years and all their belongings. She then took classes on her own to learn how to drive and manage their 40 ft RV and to give to him what he had always wanted to do for her.
She told me that this was the best experience she had ever had and declared that although it was sometimes challenging tending to her disabled husband (she stated he was never a burden) and trying to find a honest mechanic that would be able to fix there rig, she said to me that they should have done this YEARS AGO. Then she went on to describe things they had seen and done while on the road.
I can honestly say it still hard after all these years to tell this story and not get choked up. You can tell looking into someone’s eyes when they are speaking the truth and that day, when she was holding her husband’s hand and relating that story to me I knew how real she was being.
That experience has moved me in several ways, which I will spare you the details, however I can tell you that her words from that day have stayed with me.
That’s what is moving me to be a fulltime RVer, and that’s why I am trying so hard to get on the road.
Thank you for bringing a voice to this every expanding way of life and for helping everyday people learn of the joys of this freedom – Rik Whitfield
Do you have a question you’d like us to answer, or a comment on the things we’re discussing. If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990. If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at rvlifestyle.com and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.
This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at https://rvlifestyle.com/lithium
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Our Interview of the week is with Dane Found, the new CEO of Roadtrek Inc. Roadtrek is now owned by a French firm – Rapido, and Dane updates us about resumed production as the company restarts from its Cambridge, Ontario, Canada factory following the receivership and shut down caused by financial problems by the previous corporate owner, the Erwin Hymer Group of North America.
Found’s experience in the RV industry spans more than three decades in both Canada and United States. Most notably, in 2006 he co-founded Pacific Coachworks, Inc., a towable manufacturing company in Riverside, California.
Here’s a video version of the interview, with some photos of the new Roadtrek production line:
Here’s a transcript of the interview with Roadtrek CEO Dane Found:
Announcer: Time now for the RV Podcast interview of the week. Interesting, entertaining, and helpful information about the RV lifestyle. Here's Mike with this week's interview.
Mike Wendland: It was about one year ago right now that the RV industry was stunned with the sudden insolvency, bankruptcy, receivership and the shutdown, the firing of all their employees, from Roadtrek Motorhomes in Ontario. Roadtrek has been, for almost 50 years now, and I conic brand in the camper van/RV industry and the collapse of that company last year, and the hundreds of people who lost their jobs, was stunning because it was totally unexpected.
Mike Wendland: Last summer it was announced in the receivership of the company that it's assets and its name had been purchased by a new company in the North America, but a familiar company in Europe called, Repetto, a French company, but they had bought the assets and would be building Roadtreks again in North America. That was a long process that occupied much of the industry's attention last year.
Mike Wendland: Well a year has come and gone and as this podcast interview is being released, Roadtreks are once more showing up in dealer showrooms around North America. The new CEO of the new Roadtrek is Dane Found. He is our guest today in a very candid discussion about what happened to the old company and its assets, and where the new company is now, and its special emphasis on quality.
Mike Wendland: Give us a quick overview of when you came onboard and the amount of work that you've had to do and take us up to date on where Roadtrek is today.
Dane Found: Well, I was first approached last summer to see if I might be interested in this type of operation and took several months to finally get things worked out, and I started
officially on the 15th of October.
Dane Found: Much of the team had already been put together prior to that, but basically the focus was to get the plant up and running but get it running at a much lower pace than we were used to, so that we could develop some process and procedures that were sustainable and scalable as we grow the company, because I think the previous company had traded away quality for quantity for a little while, and we all know that Roadtrek had a history in the past of being a very high quality unit. But I think that had gone a little bit.
Dane Found: We committed to the dealers that we would get the quality back to what they expected it to be and there's no better time to do it then as we're starting production. If you get up to a fairly large number per day, it's really hard then to instill quality procedures that you can grow with, so [crosstalk 00:03:26].
Mike Wendland: I think a lot of people just didn't realize what a job that you really had there. You basically are starting from the ground up.
Dane Found: We did. I think even people within the organization didn't really realize that this is a brand new company and none of the licensing or the approvals from the old Roadtrek company carried forward. When we did a purchase, we did an asset purchase that got us equipment, materials, and the brand name. But essentially that's it.
Dane Found: We had to go through getting RVIA certification, which in order to get RVIA we have to get NITSA approval. The same thing here in Canada, to get CSA approval you have to get Transport Canada. Then every one of the states, well I shouldn't say every one, but pretty well all of the US States, require licensing, and some of the forms are just a rubber stamp, other ones require FBI background checks and it's quite a procedure.
Dane Found: We were no different then somebody starting with absolutely nothing. And I think there was a bit of maybe a hope within the organization that they'd be able to piggy back some of the stuff that was there before. But that certainly wasn't the case.
Mike Wendland: Tell us where you are located now. When last we left, Roadtrek had a number of different facilities. One of them had grown huge. What factory are you in? And then if you could update us on the process of hiring, how many people now roughly work there? I know it's a fluid number as you're growing. Were you able to get back a lot of the craftsmen and women that were part of the old Roadtrek?
Dane Found: Well, that was important for the startup to get some people that had a lot of the knowledge. So yes, we did hire a number of people that I had previously been here, but we've also added a number of new people as well.
Dane Found: But I would say the core of our people had experience building the Roadtrek product, which is, I think it would have been a very difficult start up not having that. Especially with the amount of vertical integration this company has, where they build a lot of the components that actually end up in the units themselves, being whether it's vacuum formed plastic parts, or whether it's some of the CNC stuff that we do, or what have you, but there is a definitely a benefit to having those people that knew what they were doing.
Mike Wendland: And there's so many there that had been with the company for so long and, and I know that that really helped. Now when last we talked at the Elkhart Open House with the new Roadtrek, and I'm calling it that, that's not its official name, it's Roadtrek. But when we last talked, there was a command to build on the Sprinter chassis, on the Dodge ProMaster chassis, and there was some work about maybe down the line on the Ford Transit chassis. The one chassis that seemed to have gone away was the Chevy chassis. So, update us about the Roadtrek models that are out there, and then we're production is now.
Dane Found: Yeah. Well, we did make the decision to focus on what we felt was the core products [inaudible 00:07:12] the ProMaster is obviously the most popular out there right now. More than likely because of the price point. But it's a good chassis and it comes in two different lengths and certainly the demand is with that.
Dane Found: Sprinter obviously is another one that has quite a following of people, but at a higher price point the volume isn't quite as much as it's going to be in the ProMaster. We did make a conscious decision to get out of the Chevy business. And the Ford that you referred to, we do see that as a viable product, but we've actually put some other projects ahead of that because there's an awful lot of development left to do on that. And to really understand what that means, you'd have to see what goes into making a Roadtrek, a Roadtrek.
Dane Found: We're not typically the company that just goes and buys an off the shelf water tank and puts it underneath it a seat. We engineer a water tank to use up space that otherwise it's just dead space in a van. Some of the shapes of these tanks become very proprietary to us, but it really maximizes what would be dead space in most manufacturer's units, and that way it frees up other space underneath sofas or beds for storage.
Mike Wendland: Tell us what models are out there now that you're making and have they started to ship? I know you sold a couple at the Toronto RV Show not long ago.
Dane Found: We did.
Mike Wendland: How about coming into the US part of North America?
Dane Found: We did just start, because of the licensing that I said we were going through, we did just start shipping within the last three weeks or so to some different marketplaces. But if you ship now to the US, ProMasters are the first ones shipping out. Both our Zion and our Zion SRT, which is the shorter version. And both of those models have been shipping.
Dane Found: We're just setting up our second assembly line in here. This facility is designed to have three different manufacturing lines and we made the decision that we're going to just keep the ProMaster going on the one line that we already have started and now we're opening up the second one, which we'll build the Mercedes on, and it will be exclusive to Mercedes, which we should start seeing some units out of that line probably about the first week of March sometime starting to come off.
Mike Wendland: I would imagine that in a sense, the shortage of Sprinter chassis that has plagued almost all class B manufacturers, as frustrating that is for all class B manufacturers as a whole, in a sense that has probably helped you guys because no one else really is getting them. You're getting them now, as are the others, so in that sense you probably really won't be missing a beat in delivering the very popular Sprinter class BS.
Dane Found: No, that's correct. That part really hasn't hurt us and most of the inventory that was in the field has been flushed out. So there's a demand out there now to replenish some of that stock as the unit started coming off line.
Mike Wendland: How about dealers? You've probably had to go back and reestablish relationships with all of the dealers that you need to get out there and compete.
Dane Found: Yeah, but I can honestly say that the dealers have been really excited about this product coming back in. We actually have more demand from dealers than we're willing to take on at this time. It's the worst thing that we could do is enter into this and not be able to supply the dealers we commit to. And so we've actually pretty much limited ourselves.
Dane Found: Where are right now we've got a couple of little holes we're filling in, but we won't sign anywhere near the number of dealers that we have interest from for the product at this time. Now as we grow production, we can certainly add to our dealer base.
Mike Wendland: Now how long, if as people see these new Roadtreks that are showing up and we're in the middle of the RV show season there'll be a lot of them. I think, that we'll be seeing them in the next a month or two. How long is the order process? If somebody order today, when are you thinking delivery will come?
Dane Found: It really depends on what it is. Essentially we have commitments for pretty well all of the inventory that we're going to build this year. That doesn't mean that we won't try to get something for a retail customer, but because we're filling dealer inventories, our dealers have made commitments to the product that pretty much eats up everything we've got scheduled for the year.
Mike Wendland: I find that refreshingly optimistic in the sense that you're not pushing through stuff that would cause you to maybe skimp on other processes. That's good.
Mike Wendland: One question and one thing that I know that Repetto did after they bought the name Roadtrek and began to build this company really from the ground up, is they did have some warranty assurances that they offered people who had bought just before the old company went under. Could you update that on people? What's the status of that for those who maybe bought and have a relatively newer Roadtrek from the old company?
Dane Found: Well, first of all, the old warranty is gone because of HYMER. That died when the other company did. However, as a new company and we understand the importance of trying to do something for the customers, the customer's warranty on their chassis and all their major components is still intact from those suppliers, no matter what. The warranty that Repetto offered was we are doing it to $1,500 warranty on parts that we would normally be responsible for as a manufacturer.
Dane Found: It's capped at $1,500 and it's on units that are less than two years old, but it specifically does not cover units that had… They were Sprinter units that had a second row seat in them and there's absolutely no warranty provided by us on those units, and that's because those units had a recall on them for the second row seat. It is nothing to do with us. It's being dealt with through the receiver, but those specific units are carved out of the $1,500 warranty coverage. Everything else that is a Roadtrek, now it doesn't include units that were a HYMER unit, just the stuff that was branded Roadtrek.
Mike Wendland: Well let's look ahead now a little bit. One of the things that I was very impressed with that you just talked about a few minutes ago was this insistence on quality and that is so important in the class B market, particularly as we see technologies like solar, and lithium, and all these other things coming. How about that technology and do you still see that, as many of the others in the class B industry, that off the the grid, as a huge part of the buying public for these vans?
Dane Found: Absolutely. And I think it's only going to continue to become even a larger part of the customer base out there looking for getting off the grid and not needing to go into a campground or something to have hook up. So we will continue to pursue those paths and try to increase the amount of time a customer can stay off the grid.
Dane Found: So that will be an ongoing process that we will continue to try to improve on because technology changes so quickly, as we all know, that there's always a little better mouse trap out there. So, we have to stay on top of it.
Mike Wendland: Well, one of the other things that a lot of people have gotten pretty excited about is some of the European influence that Repetto, your corporate owner, has, particularly their revival of the once very popular Westfalia brand, which we used to see in North America. Now it's just in Europe. Without giving an unfair competitive advantage to your plans that others could capitalize on. But people ask that question. Do you see the Westfalia ever coming back into North America?
Dane Found: We do. I mentioned that this plant is set to house three different production facilities and certainly in our plans down the road is to use the third production facility specifically for that product. But we might be a year and a half, two years away, no definite plans, but it is a plan that we plan to pursue.
Mike Wendland: Well, as we wrap this up, Dane, help folks understand from your heart, the passion that you bring to Roadtrek and the company's commitment to the future. There's a lot of people who probably have a late model Roadtrek and are wondering, should I stick with the company now or should I go on, or others looking to get into the class B. I'm giving you a nice opportunity to make a great pitch for Roadtrek here.
Dane Found: I can answer that a couple of different ways, but I'll just tell you a few weeks ago, I also have a house down in Riverside, California, and I used to drive past a person that had a Roadtrek in their driveway and actually I decided one Sunday morning I was going to stop in and say hello to this person. And I did. I knocked on his door and told him who I was. I just like to connect with some of the owners and find out what it is.
Dane Found: He proceeded to tell me it's a second Roadtrek, 2014. He had over 80,000 miles on this van and thing looked like mint shape and he just said, “We're just so thankful that you guys are continuing on with the product line.” He had nothing negative to say about the old company. He just was so pleased that Roadtrek is back. And even though it's not same company, it has nothing to do with warranty for him or anything. Just having the company here that we can still support his older unit, supply parts for him. And probably supply him a new unit down the road, because I'm sure that that's something that he and his wife would like to do.
Dane Found: But yeah, that to me sums it up that the Roadtrek owners out there, they're a unique family. I've heard of some of the owners that are on their seventh Roadtrek. So when you have that kind of brand loyalty, we need to capitalize off of that and support that as a manufacturer.
Dane Found: One of the things that this company has been able to do is supply parts for 25 year old Roadtreks out there, which there's not too many manufacturers of any RV that can say that they can do that.
Dane Found: I think we will continue to build on that brand loyalty and we look forward to the next 40 years of, I won't be here that long, but we look forward to Roadtrek being a significant part of the landscape for many more years to come.
Mike Wendland: So just to clarify, you mentioned about parts there. So people, if they need parts can still contact you, and if they're available, you supply them? You still have some of the older parts?
Dane Found: Yep.
Mike Wendland: Well then last question, I know this one, the three little windows, they will continue as part of the mystique of Roadtrek, I would think. Right?
Dane Found: They will continue. We have some other things that we're looking at right now too, but yes, they're on every unit going out right now.
Mike Wendland: All right. Dane Found, the new CEO of the new Roadtrek. Thank you so much for making time for us today. I look forward to visiting your factory and we'll be covering a lot of the RV shows over the next couple of months and we'll look forward to showing our viewers some of those new models that you have as well. Thank you so much.
Dane Found: We appreciate that.
Mike Wendland: Thank you so much.
Dane Found: Look forward to having you. Thanks, Mike.
For any retail service support for parts or warranty they can contact the office at 519-745-1160 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
On Facebook follow them at https://www.facebook.com/RoadtrekInc
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OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT
By Tom & Patti Burkett
The Adirondacks are full of surprises, as you might expect form an area that’s been a recreation and vacation land for more than a century. It began in 1885 and over the next fifty years developed in to a state forest preserve. Much of it is owned by the state of New York, but much is also privately held. It’s the largest such piece of protected land in the world, and the regulations that limit development and resource extraction within its boundaries have withstood many legal challenges over the years. It has been so effective, in fact, that it was the model for the federal Wilderness Protection Act passed in 1964.
This mega park contains many attractions for the wandering tourist. Mike and Jennifer outline several of them in their Adirondack seven-day guide, and careful reading of a map will identify others. One of our favorite maps is the National Geographic travel atlas, because it shows a variety of places not shown in other guides. That’s how we came across the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Relatively new (it opened in 2006), the center showcases the life and biodiversity of the Adirondack region. The unique exhibits it offers, especially for families and children, make it worth the rather steep admission cost.
There are high quality displays and hands-on activities in the visitor center, but the showcase of the museum is outside. A ramp near the parking lot leads up to an elevated boardwalk that winds through the treetops of the surrounding forest. It was fun and interesting to look down into the landscape from above, seeing into the nests of birds and watching squirrels and rabbits go about their daily business oblivious to our eyes. The walkway system includes a number of treehouses with climbing opportunities and striking vistas out across the hills.
Our two favorites, hands down, were the nest and the web. A spiral stairway leads up into person-sized nest, apparently built of sticks, that makes one wonder if some giant bird might be on its way with an offering of food. We spent some time talking about what that food might be, and agreed we likely would not be eating it. Yards away, down another swinging walkway, is a spider web constructed of ropes, and large enough for humans to scuttle around on. The surrounding observation platform sports great views and informative displays, as well as a web-sized spider.
Tickets for the center are good for two days, and there are hiking trails and events to fill that time. Just now, in the cold months, you can join an ice fishing excursion, hear stories by a Native American storyteller, learn about the pollinators of the forest, or get up close and personal with some of the residents at an animal encounter. While you’re out there on the trail, look up and you might see us, Patti and Tom Burkett, high above the beaten path.