With the recent purchase of Europe’s Erwin Hymer Group, US-based Thor Industries has become the largest RV manufacturer in the world, with dozens of brands and billions in assets. CEO Bob Martin is an avid RVer himself, now owning his sixth RV. We got a chance to sit him down for a one-on-one interview at the recent RVX industry show in Salt Lake City and talked about Thor’s vision for the RV future, which Martin says will be dominated by Class B and smaller RVs.
We asked him to talk about rumors that Thor may still eventually buy Roadtrek Motorhomes, and while he conceded the brand had lots of value, he was careful not to imply anything. But he did note that Thor plans to soon introduce an entire new line of Class B motorhomes. The photo above is of a Thor concept Class B shown at the RVX show called the Sequence.
Listen up for Bob Martin from Thor industries in our interview of the week, coming up shortly.
But also this week, lots of RV news,your questions about the RV lifestyle, an off the beaten path report and much more.
Show Notes for Episode #235 March 27, 2019 of The RV Podcast:
WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
- We update our travels to date, including our recent stay in New Orleans.
- We’re still getting used to our new 2019 Leisure Travel Vans Unity FX, which we purchased last week.
- We're excited about a fun video we will be releasing this Thursday. It's all about Harvest Hosts, and how we used this awesome service to find three phenomenal spots to overnight on our recent trip west. Make sure you subscribe to the RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube and check out the video, which should post about noon Thursday.
We'll have a special coupon code that will save you 15% of the cost of a Harvest Hosts membership, which lets you stay overnight for free at over 700 awesome attractions, farms, wineries, and orchards all across North America.
Use the code RVLS at checkout on the Harvest Hosts website to save!
- We invite listener calls on our special Podcast Voicemail at 586-372-6990.
RV LIFESTYLE NEWS OF THE WEEK
Record floods leave Nebraska officials closing many parks, campgrounds, as damage is accessed
Extreme flooding in the Midwest has been in the news this past week as homes, farms and large areas of many communities are underwater after melting snow and record rains fell on frozen land, particularly in Nebraska. Among the damage are state campgrounds, with many state parks closed until further notice as Nebraska officials evaluate damage. seek help.
The sale of Erwin Hymer Group could be completed next month
An Ontario newspaper is reporting the Erwin Hymer Group North America, the makers of Roadtrek, could have a new owner as soon as next month. The company went bankrupt earlier this year, closing the doors and laying off 850 employees, after financial irregularities were discovered. Some $273 million is owed to more than 900 creditors.
Grizzly bears are starting to wake so be prepared when traveling outdoors
Grizzly bears are starting to wake out west from their winter hibernation and officials are urging outdoor enthusiasts to travel in groups, be alert and bring bear spray. For tips on bear spray safety from an expert we interviewed a while back, click here.
Five state parks one newspaper says are among the most stunning in the U.S.
Earlier this month we visited a breathtakingly beautiful state park in Utah that many consider one of the best in the U.S. (see story here). So it was with interest that I saw this article in the Chicago Tribune last week, that highlighted five other state parks in five different states all breathtakingly beautiful.
More wolves headed for Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park
At least four wolves captured on a seculuded Canadian island in Lake Superior were headed to Isle Royale National Park in Michugan.The four were caught Friday, where they were thought to face starvation as their main prey, caribou, no longer existed there.
This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping
LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
We got a great question from Dan, who drives a 20 foot long Class B. He’d love having the extra room in a B-Plus van but has serious concerns about navigating narrow streets, finding parking spots or even stopping at fast food restaurants.
We do our best to answer based in our experience over the past couple of months driving B+ vans.
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Here’s our interview with Bob Martin, the CEO of Thor Industries, which is now the largest RV manufacturer in the world.
Mike Wendland: Bob Martin, Thor Industries, thanks for making some time. First question though, how does it feel to be the CEO of the world's largest RV manufacturer?
Bob Martin: I try not to think about it. It is a very large company. For me, it's a big challenge. We have a lot of companies that have some great brands, great managers. Really, the way that we run the company is very decentralized. Even though we're the largest in the world now, there's still less than 60 people at our corporate office, out of 20 thousand, so we're highly decentralized. Really, we let our companies, with their management team, run their brand and their companies, so behind us, we have Airstream, one of the strongest brands in the industry, and they just have a phenomenal team, that I get updates, I know what they're doing, but for product and dealer relationship, they do everything that they need to do. For us, it's been fun. It's a challenge. It's a different thing for me every day, but I enjoy it because I love the industry.
Mike Wendland: Well, you guys are working so actively, now, for the future. Tell us a little bit about the initiatives that you have started, and where that will be in the RV industry over the next couple of years.
Bob Martin: For us, I mean, even at this show, we rebranded Thor Industries, so Thor Industries has a new website, a new logo, a new tagline, and it's really to reach out to a very much more diverse demographic. Our industry is really targeted on the baby boomers for many years, and now we have Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials starting to come in, and they communicate in a different way, and a lot of it's social media. Here, at the show, you've seen us really increase our exposure in a lot of interviews and a lot of Instagram posts, things that we've never done in the past, but that's the future, and I think, for us to reach those new buyers, we're trying everything that we can, just to expose people to the RV industry and the lifestyle.
Mike Wendland: Now, the designs that they have for RVs, the new ones, the young demographic that seems to be buying, the designs that they're asking for, how is that changing the way all RVs are going to be over the next few years?
Bob Martin: It seems a lot of them are looking at … They're smaller, not quite utilitarian. Some are, but they still want their technology. People still want Wifi. They wanna be able to get their emails, so we're looking at that in all products, connected vehicles. Behind us, we've got Airstream. They won the award for the connected vehicle. It's just making camping easier for people that don't know what it is. You take down those barriers, and that's how you attract more people to the industry.
Mike Wendland: Now, it looks like a new Class B, out there, in your display.[inaudible 00:02:59] Mike Snell, who is doing some work with that. Tell us about that. That's-
Bob Martin: Well, that's a product that we've had in design for quite some time. For us, Airstream was our only entrant into the B van segment.
Mike Wendland: With the Interstate and the Atlas?
Bob Martin: With the Interstate and the Atlas, but Thor Motor Coach wanted to get into the B van business, so we started, many months ago, designing their new product, and this is the prototype. We brought it here to get feedback. Dealers have been happy. It's obviously a growing part of the segment. For us, we had great response, and when it goes into production, all that, we'll figure out over the next couple months here, but hopefully, by this fall, at open house, we'll have a nice lineup of B vans through Thor Motor Coach.
Mike Wendland: The brand names that they're going to be sold under, have you figured that out yet?
Bob Martin: They've got a brand name on here, but they're not even saying that that's definitely what it is. At Thor, we have a book of names that we can use, throughout the years.
Mike Wendland: Come on, a book of names?
Bob Martin: Well, we have names that … We trademark names when we come up with them, and it's valuable, because there are names that come and go, and as the companies have come and gone throughout the years, we've been able to get some of their names. Under ThorTech, we have quite a few brand names that people can look at, or many times, they find a new one, they-
Mike Wendland: Let's call it this.
Bob Martin: Yeah, and then it resonates, but then we trademark it, and so, with that, it has a name on it today, but right now it's the Thor B. We'll see what it is in the future.
Mike Wendland: Tell us the future of the Hymer brand, now that you own that brand, and Hymer vans. The Loft was doing quite well, and a lot of buzz about that.
Bob Martin: Yeah, I mean, for us, Hymer, the purchase was Europe. There was Hymer North America. That was carved out of the deal at the very end, so our focus has been Europe. I was just there last week, and their variety of B vans are incredible, from urban B vans that are barely an RV, built on a Toyota [inaudible 00:05:08]. They just released their Crosscamp, and I saw it while I was there, and it's basically like a Loft. It has a popup top, but it really only has a sink and a stove, no toilet, and you can take that sink and stove out, and it's a minivan, so some very creative concepts in Europe that our teams will go look at. We'll see what resonates here, in the United States, but the market in Europe, it's 75% motorized, and the vast majority are B vans.
Mike Wendland: Now, with the Hymer Europe, and the Hymer North America being carved out, I have to ask you the question about all the rumors about what happens to the brand Roadtrek, in particular, and I know the lawyers aren't gonna let you say much, but the rumor is that you guys still may get them.
Bob Martin: Yeah, I mean, I can't ever comment on rumors, but right now there's a lot going on. We did change the deal at the last second, for several reasons, and we just felt it was the best thing for Thor to focus on Europe. A lot of things going on in Canada right now. We'll see, it's something that they're great brands that I think everybody would like to see them in the future. There are just a lot of details I can't get into, that I don't even know all the details. For us, we're focused on our business here and in Europe.
Mike Wendland: Well, we'll follow up with you later in the year on all that. We'll see where that goes, but this small motor home market, it seems to be a continuing, very bright spot in the RV industry. Where do you see that moving forward over the next couple of years?
Bob Martin: Well, part of it's been interesting, getting involved in Europe, watching the European market change from travel trailers, as they call a caravan, to Class B motor care van, so it's much more small motor home. Their roads are smaller there. But even here, we noticed it in our Access and Vegas lines, a few years ago, when we introduced that. It's a downsized Class A, very affordable, easy to drive, very maneuverable. It's only 22 to 26 feet, and people have really gravitated towards those smaller Class As.
Bob Martin: Now, the fastest growing segment is Class B. I think that's something we'll just see a wide variety of what people are building, from an Interstate that's top of the line, has all the features, has every option Mercedes offers, to the four-wheel drive vehicles that I've seen several, here, of, at the show. It's what that customer's looking for. There's such an array, that I think that'll be some great options for everybody in the future.
Mike Wendland: The connectivity part of all this stuff, I know you're continuing to do a lot of research, everything from artificial intelligence on. We've been talking about kickoff to the 2019 camping season, here, at this show, but I know a lot of them, including Thor, a lot of you, are looking five, six years out from now.
Bob Martin: Yeah, for us, we started, also, our joint venture, called TH2, last year, which is a technology platform, which has connectivity features. They're working with our companies. There are sharing platforms, a lot of different ways that industry is going. A great example, if you go back to Keystone, they unveiled a partnership, exclusively, with GM and ASA, so now, in the new 2020 GM pickups, they have the in-command connectivity system. From the dash of your truck, you can turn on your air conditioning, you can look at your levels of your tanks.
Mike Wendland: In the Caravan, in the trailer?
Bob Martin: Yes, the levels of the fifth wheel-
Mike Wendland: That's behind you.
Bob Martin: -that's behind you, but you can do it through your GM dashboard, or through your GM app, and part of that, it's a partnership we started three years ago, with General Motors, and it really came to fruition, here, this spring, when they announced their 2020 redesign. Now, Keystone is the official vehicle that will be in every General Motors ad this year. As you're watching ads for whatever this year, you'll see a nice Keystone brand, one of Thor's companies, in all the GM ads, but I had the GM people take me through it yesterday, and it truly is … There's a series of cameras, there's safety features. It's really interesting, when you look at the connected vehicle. It takes it to a whole other level. To have a partner like GM really help us lead that, it took a while, three years, but the product is unbelievable.
Mike Wendland: This initiative is T2, they're calling it?
Bob Martin: Well, that's different. That's a whole other one.
Mike Wendland: But that's part of the advanced technology that you [inaudible 00:10:17]?
Bob Martin: It is, but it's not part of the GM.
Mike Wendland: No, right.
Bob Martin: It's a little different. We're working on many different spectrums, technology, every company, whether it's T2, TH2, or some of our other companies are working with other vendors as well, through ASA and Command. Everybody is really working on the connected vehicle, so I think you'll see that evolve, and it does. For anybody, anybody that has a smartphone, it just makes sense. I mean, to be able to turn your air conditioner on remotely, to be able to check gauges, tire pressure, there are so many things that are involved with that, that I think just make sense.
Mike Wendland: Last question, for those who are in the market for an RV, and they look at the rebranding, the new momentum that we're really seeing from Thor, what's your advice for them? What does this all mean to them, in terms of their RV lifestyle over the next few years?
Bob Martin: Just for us, we see the lifestyle as a thing that's going to evolve. It's going to grow, and for us to reach different demographics, to go younger, so it could smaller units, but once they try, once people typically try this lifestyle, they continue through, and they trade up. They may trade up to bigger units, smaller units. We just want more people to try the lifestyle, because we live it. We believe in it. I've owned an RV for close to 20 years now. I've had six motor homes. My kids grew up camping. For us, we see it as just a fun lifestyle and a great way to see the United States and our national parks. Our national forests are just great, incredible places to see, that we want everybody to go out and just kind of enjoy the outdoors.
Mike Wendland: The new slogan for Thor, what is it, for Thor Industries, the new slogan?
Bob Martin: For Thor Industries, it is, “Go everywhere, stay anywhere.” For us, it is the RV lifestyle. I've gone a lot of places. I've stayed in beautiful campgrounds, I've stayed in Walmart parking lots. Literally, that's what it is. It gives you the freedom to go to campgrounds, to go boon-dock. People are using RVs in so many different ways, tailgating, concerts, so literally everywhere.
Mike Wendland: Bob Martin, thank you for making time for us today.
Bob Martin: Yeah, thank you.
Mike Wendland: Best of luck in the future.
Bob Martin: Thank you very much.
The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new or used motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country
OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT
By Tom and Patti Burkett
If you’ve done much traveling in the Great Plains, It’s likely you’ve hit the high spots in South Dakota—the Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, the Black Hills, Custer State Park, and maybe one or more of the National Grasslands spread across the state. Rapid City is the urban hub of these varied and beautiful natural wonders, and with so much nature to see, it’s no surprise visitors choose to spend their in-town time watching the shootouts in Deadwood or visiting the casinos in Lead. Still, we know of at least two reasons to give Rapid City a little time in your schedule.
Step into the Chapel In The Hills and you’re immediately struck by two things. First, the smell of wood, no surprise since the chapel appears to made completely of unfinished pine. Second, the resemblance to a boat. You look up and think to yourself, “If I were to turn this upside down it would float.” Sure enough, these traditional Norwegian churches were usually crafted by the boatbuilders from coastal fishing towns.
The Chapel In The Hills built in 1969 as the home of the Lutheran church’s national radio show, it’s a stunning example of a traditional Norwegian stavekirk. It is an exact replica the church in Borgund, which has been standing since 1150. The carvings inside and out were completed by by a Rapid City native of Norwegian descent and a specialist woodworker brought in from Norway especially for the project.
The church is set like a gem amid grassy lawns and sweeping stone walls and walkways. Massive fir trees frame it from many angles, making even a passing snapshot look impressive. We visited in late summer, and the many flower gardens were full of blossoms and butterflies. Set a bit apart from the church is a sod-roofed building that serves as visitor center and gift shop. Its shelves are stocked with Scandinavian decorations, books, art, and foodstuffs. These simple structures, called stabbucks in Norwegian, were home to many thousands of pioneer settlers in the 1800s. My (Tom’s) grandmother grew up in one on the plains of eastern Colorado.
Just across from the visitor center is a small museum of Norwegian pioneer life. Housed in a cabin built in 1876, it contains articles of everyday life—cookware, embroidered linens, simple pewter ware, and tools. Flanking the door of the cabin are a carved man and woman who immediately made us think of Ole and Lena, subjects of many a Norwegian joke. Closer, we noticed that's exactly who they are!
Much of the upper Midwest was settled by Norwegians and Swedes. Take the time to see a bit of the old country and how these hopeful immigrants managed in the New World, here on the edge of Rapid City. It’s a quiet and peaceful spot for a break, a picnic, or an afternoon spent rambling among history and the flowers. If you find us, we’ll even pass along a few choice Ole and Lena stories, out here off the beaten path.
This part of the podcast is brought to you by Leisure Travel Vans, the leader in innovative, compact luxury motorhomes with its Serenity, Unity, and Wonder product lines.
RV CALENDAR OF EVENTS
- March 29-31, Acadiana RV, Sport & Boat Show, Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA
- March 29-31, New Hampshire Camping & RV Show, New Hampshire Sportsplex, Bedford, NH
- March 29-31, Upper Peninsula Boat, Sport & RV Show, Superior Dome, Marquette, MI
This part of the podcast is brought to you by Harvest Hosts – https://rvlifestyle.com/harvesthosts a network of farms, wineries, museums and attractions
Please Subscribe and Give Us a Rating and Review!
Many listeners are asking how they can subscribe, review and rate the Roadtreking Podcast on iTunes. With a new podcast like this, those reviews and ratings are really important to be able to show well in the iTunes listings. So if you can, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d subscribe and leave me your review.
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