Whether it’s sunny or cold, the recreational vehicle industry is sustained by people who seek out the open road, whether the snow is piled high or the highway is lined with palm trees.
In Moreno Valley, Calif., home of Thor California, the beautiful weather is conducive to producing and selling a wide range of RVs, and that’s just what this company does. The company has grown so extensively in its seven-year existence, in fact, that it is tied for sixth place among RV manufacturers in the U.S. Further boosting its position is the fact that Thor California is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thor Industries in Jackson Center, Ohio, the largest manufacturer of RVs in the nation.
Thor California currently produces five brands of RVs: the Tahoe, the Wanderer, the Vortex, the Fury and the Jazz.
The Tahoe features laminated sidewalls with two-inch thick welded aluminum framing and gloss fiberglass exteriors. It includes such items as a barbecue connection, outside phone jack, an awning, a television antenna with booster, a microwave oven and burner range cover, and high density block foam and double roof insulation.
The Wanderer line features a variety of innovative models, from 19-foot conventional travel trailers to 38-foot fifth wheels. All of the Wanderer models are 102 inches wide, wider than any other in the industry, notes Brandon Alexander, the company’s marketing manager. “This wide design allows for more interior space and wider hallways and bathrooms,” he says. “Since there is more space, we can be more modular in design, and provide a greater variety of floor plans. ”The Wanderer also features more cabinet space than many competitors, and a kitchen sink large enough to fit a pasta pot, making it functional as well as comfortable.
Thor California’s flagship line is the Jazz, which culminates many years of manufacturing experience. It includes such features as laminated aluminum frame sidewalls, and a durable fiberglass aerodynamic front profile for easier towing. Built-in entertainment centers, designer fabrics and raised hardwood cabinet door and drawer fronts provide a residential look.
All of these features point toward a major trend in the RV industry, Alexander says. “Buyers are becoming more and more sophisticated, and they want more features for the same price,” he notes. “This is very critical in our industry right now. People used to accept the do-it-yourself mentality, but that has changed. They are willing to pay more for certain features.
“The industry has advanced greatly in what is available,” he continues. “In many respects, the RV industry mirrors the auto industry, and when features become available in cars, they often become available in RVs shortly after.”One prime example of this is the addition of optional surround sound in many Thor California models. “Once DVD players became available in cars, it was only a matter of time until RVs had the same options and then some,” Alexander says.
Another innovation now available in many of Thor California’s models is a power bed. In this system, the bed lifts up into the ceiling, allowing for a larger living space. “Now we can get dual use out of the same space,” Alexander says. “The same space can be used for living during the day and for sleeping at night. ”Alexander also notes that the company’s toybox business has increased in recent years. “Ten years ago toyboxes – those models with a rear ramp that folds down – were very rudimentary. Now, they are being built with many more features, are more luxurious and boast better fit and finish,” he adds.
Three plants in one
Thor California does all its work at its Moreno Valley, Calif. facility, which includes three separate facilities that house the company’s 650 employees: a 150,000-square-foot area for the Tahoe and Wanderer lines, a plant of 80,000 square feet for the Jazz line, and a 50,000-square-foot facility for lamination work.
It is the lamination facility that marks one of Thor California’s milestones. The state-of-the-art site is where the company does all of its lamination work under temperature- and humidity-controlled conditions, in an environment sealed off from the rest of the plant. “We do this work under special circumstances for a number of reasons,” Alexander says. “One is to keep contaminants out. Another is so that waterproof adhesive can be applied under special conditions, and be allowed to cure for several days. It is a very advanced process.”
In addition to the sidewalls, smaller pieces can be worked on in the lamination facility, giving the company more flexibility in design and floor plans, Alexander continues. Once the processes are completed, the coaches are inspected by a number of quality control inspectors, who are in a separate department from production. “We’ve kept these employees separate from our production staff so that they can ensure that strict quality standards are adhered to,” Alexander says. “If there is a problem, it can be immediately detected and corrected.”
The fact that Thor California has its roots on the West Coast has been a great help in terms of sales, Alexander says. “Most RVs are produced in Indiana, which has weather problems for several months of the year,” he says. “In Indiana, the production facility must be housed completely inside to ensure protection from the weather. It’s also difficult to get raw materials in and finished product out during times of poor weather. “However, here in California, we do not have trouble receiving raw materials and materials being damaged by weather” he adds.
Another plus to its California residence is Thor California’s ability to ship product throughout the Southwest for about $500, as opposed to the approximately $1,500 it costs to ship from Indiana. “Our freight costs far less than the competition and we pass this savings on to the customer,” Alexander says. “Needless to say, that’s attractive to many customers.” However, what Alexander believes is the most attractive feature to Thor California’s customers is the company’s innovation, quality and attention to customer needs. “We listen to what our customers are telling us, take their needs into account, and focus our attention on building the best RVs that will meet those needs. We also try and anticipate their needs and come up with innovative new ideas that will keep our customers happy. Finally, we strive to always make our RVs the highest in quality, to keep our customers always coming back to us.”