Newmar Quality

Quality. The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something. Whenever I see this question raised in social media, I wonder whether any standard of quality exists in the RV industry. The RVIA does list a few standards for things like plumbing, propane, fire and life safety, 12 volt and 120 volt electrical systems. Aside from that, quality in the RV industry is decidedly mixed when compared to the automotive industry.

Let’s take a look at this question.

Folks – How’s the build quality on 2021 Dutch Stars? I’m looking for an idea on any known issues and details of how responsive Newmar has been about those issues. Thanks for your advice.

Here are a couple of videos about the new 2021 models. The first one is a relatively brief overview from Newmar:

Angie, from NIRV, provides a very lengthy tour of the 2021 Dutch Star. Covers just about everything you might want to know.

They do look nice, don’t  they?

You may want to spend a large chunk of coin on this new bus. And, naturally, you will have questions. Questions about quality.

Here are a few thoughts.

Newmar is really an assembler of coaches. And they assemble coaches with remarkable speed. Yes, they do build some of the coach, like the shell, the flooring, and the cabinetry but most of the components in their coaches have been manufactured by some other company such as Lippert, HWH, Dometic, Freightliner, Cummins, Magnum, Flexsteel, Winegard, etc.

Newmar does a good job standing behind their products. If you are measuring the quality of a Newmar against the quality of a Toyota, expect to be disappointed. In some cases, very disappointed.

Recent models have had numerous issues including window delamination, entry doors randomly opening while the coach is in motion, DEF header failures (engine failures), water leaks, slide-out malfunctions and the list goes on and on and on.

With literally dozens of different companies providing components to Newmar, there can be issues with almost anything inside and outside the coach.

Problems? We’ve had a few. Some of them are outlined here in this post from 2017.

Fortunately we have never been stranded on the side of the road. Yet every time I start the coach I worry about something going wrong. It’s just part of the journey and gradually you learn to accept it as being normal.

After four years with our current coach, things have settled down. We continue to have a few issues here and there and we take them in stride.

The industry is not all that transparent about quality issues. In the case of Newmar, they sell a product and they know full well that the customer will discover issues. And then Newmar will either resolve the issues if they can or direct the customer to other manufacturers for resolution. Most Newmar owners, including ourselves, are very positive about Newmar’s customer service. Most, but not all.

Some take legal action. One example:

The Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Newmar (an Indiana corporation) and Magnum (a Washington corporation) on June 11, 2015. The Plaintiff asserts that in July 2013, he purchased a 2014 Newmar Mountain Aire RV from North Trail RV, a non-party dealership in Florida. According to the Plaintiff, the RV “spent more than half of its first nine months of ownership out of service due to defects and malfunctions,” culminating in a “major fire incident that was the result of a defect in the RV and/or its components.” The Plaintiff identifies one such component as an inverter provided by Magnum, a supplier for Newmar.

In addition to the inverter, the Plaintiff alleges the following defects in the subject RV: the air conditioning system, the check engine light warning system, the slide out system, interior cabinets, the satellite system, the driver seat control system, the wind sensor, the bathroom flush control panel, the refrigerator, floor tiles, the DVD player, the electrical system, pantry door, bathroom drawer, other drawers, water overflow system, power day/night shade system, the screen door, and the subwoofer.

And another example:

Patrick and Kim Parks (the “Parks”) bring this action against Newmar Corporation (“Newmar”), the manufacturer of the 2018 Newmar Baystar motorhome (the “motorhome”) that the Parks purchased in 2017. In their state court complaint, the Parks alleged that they purchased the new Newmar motorhome from a dealer in Virginia in December 2017. The motorhome came with a one-year factory warranty (from Newmar) that covered, inter alia, “any repairs or replacements needed during the warranty period and/or due to defects in factory materials or workmanship.” Shortly after the purchase, the Parks allege, they noticed various defects in the motorhome, and returned it for service on at least three occasions. Repairing these various defects has caused the motorhome to be out-of-service for at least forty-five days. And, the Parks allege that, notwithstanding these repairs, the motorhome has never been brought into conformity with Newmar’s warranty and is so unsafe that it cannot be driven (i.e., it is not useful or fit for its intended purpose and not of merchantable quality).

If you like the Newmar coach and the RV lifestyle by all means go for it. We did. We have no regrets.

Expect issues. Plan to make some trips to the factory to resolve the issues that will occur in the first year of ownership. For that matter, expect to go back to the factory repeatedly over the life of the coach. Dealers, for the most part, sell the coach. They are not typically the best resource for resolving issues with the coach.

That is the current business model in the industry.

The market seems to live with it.

Newmar doesn’t seem to have too much trouble getting people to buy their products.

Most have a good experience with Newmar.

Some do not.

The Centre

Left or right? Or somewhere in the middle?

There are some interesting questions that people post about their motorcoaches.

I follow the Newmar products closely and I subscribe to dozens of groups that focus on our brand of motorcoach, the Dutch Star.

Here are a couple of shots of our coach. This one was taken last night at our site in Canada.

We looked like this a mere six weeks back. Yikes.

This shot of our coach was taken back in 2016 shortly after we had taken delivery of our brand new Dutch Star. We were staying at what was then the Petoskey Motorcoach Resort in Michigan. Lovely spot.

If you look carefully at the shot of our coach, you will notice something a bit different from the shot of this person’s coach.

Did you notice anything off about the second Dutch Star? As in the Dutch Star logo not being in the center of the front hood?

Someone posted that picture on one of the social media feeds to ask this question:

Is the DUTCH STAR lettering on the front of your coaches centered or off to the left like ours is? It’s about to drive me NUTS!!!! I’m about to pull them off!!!!!!!

Answer? Centered.

Probable cause of the Dutch Star lettering being inserted off to the left? Inept body repair work.

They had bought the coach used. They now suspect that the coach had been involved in some kind of accident. Hopefully they did a more thorough inspection on the rest of the coach before they bought it.

Newmar Layoffs

Newmar laid off roughly 10 percent of its staff. Inevitable really. Class A motorhome wholesale shipments fell by 24 percent year over year. The prevailing view was that the RV industry had overestimated demand and that dealers were sitting on too much inventory. Perhaps. The entire market, towables and motorhomes, was down in 2019.

The RVIA, which needs to put a positive spin on what is happening in the RV market, made the following projection for 2020:

RV shipments are expected to stabilize in 2020, according to a new forecast prepared by longtime RV industry analyst, Richard Curtin, PhD, who is also a professor at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center.

In the Spring 2020 issue of the RV RoadSigns newsletter, Curtin projects total RV shipments will range between 420,200 and 380,300 units this year with the most likely final total being 410,100 units. That total would represent a one percent increase over the 406,100 units shipped in 2019.

Towable RV shipments are anticipated to reach 366,900 units in 2020. Motorhome shipments are projected to finish at 43,200 units by year end.

Curtin believes that steadying RV sales will be due to positive economic indicators, including job and wage growth as well as low interest rates and inflation. The upcoming presidential election and potential impact of the coronavirus are uncertainties that will likely impact the market in the second half of 2020.

Ignoring the towable market, the 2020 RVIA forecast for all motorhomes, at 43,200 units shipped, is less than the 46,629 units shipped in 2019.

I was not surprised to come across this news item from RV Business:

WSBT Report: Newmar Conducted Late Week Layoffs
By: RVBusiness|Published on: Feb 29, 2020|Categories: Today’s Industry News|

Nappanee, Ind.-based motorized RV manufacturer Newmar Corp. has reportedly laid off a number of employees, according to a Friday evening (Feb. 28) report broadcast on WSBT TV, a CBS affiliate in nearby South Bend, Ind.

WSBT indicated that about 10% of Newmar’s workforce was involved, although those numbers, from all RVB could gather, may be overstated. RVBusiness was unable to confirm any details, however, because company officials were unavailable for comment.

Newmar, in response to WSBT’s inquiries, said it does not comment on specific details concerning staffing or production issues, but it did say it continually monitors and adjusts activities to reflect business needs and stay competitive.

When Newmar was acquired on Nov. 8 by Winnebago Industries Inc., the builder of Class A and Super C motorhomes employed 1,060 people at its manufacturing and customer service facilities in Nappanee.

The reaction on social media is that the layoffs are related to the sale of Newmar to Winnebago.

The market data indicates that demand for Class A motorhomes fell in 2019 and it will fall again in 2020.

The economic fallout from the coronavirus will have an impact as fear and uncertainty has reduced consumer confidence.

Newmar had little choice but to adjust the supply side. I suspect more layoffs ahead for Newmar.

London Aire and Lemons

I love the London Aire. It is a beautiful coach and it sits a class above the entry level of Newmar’s luxury coaches. If you are going to buy into the luxury range of Newmar’s coaches, the London Aire is a compelling model.

A good friend of mine often tells me that it only costs a little more to go first class. In Canada, it can cost a lot more to go first class. A new London Aire would sell for north of $800,000 CAD once all of the discounts and taxes are factored into the final selling price. At that price point, one might expect a very high level of quality.

One might be disappointed.

You should get a good coach from Newmar with few issues but some of their coaches, for whatever reason, turn out to be rotten lemons.

I received a media release from Business Wire about a London Aire. The law firm of Markowitz Herbold just achieved an interesting court ruling. If you are not familiar with Markowitz Herbold, the home page of their website says it all:

From the media alert:

A Danger on the Road

In Roblin v. Newmar Corporation, the plaintiff sued Newmar under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the Oregon Lemon Law Act, the Oregon Consumer Warranty Act and the California Unfair Competition Law. The plaintiff alleged that their 2016 London Aire RV, purchased from Guaranty RV in Junction City, Oregon, had suffered numerous failures of its various systems, including the engine cooling system, the electrical system and the room extension slide-out system.

The RV’s flaws manifested in a pattern of repeated breakdowns, unsuccessful repair attempts and lengthy warranty service periods. The vehicle was presented to dealerships for repairs under various warranties approximately nine times between 2015 and 2017, and it was undriveable for more than 130 days.

The plaintiff also claimed that, during the sales process and in its corporate materials, Newmar emphasized a large service network populated with well-trained technicians, which became a significant selling point of the RV. However, personnel at the various authorized service centers, including service centers in both Oregon and California, continually demonstrated that they were not properly trained and lacked the expertise to provide the high level of service promised.

Newmar Laid Blame on Subcomponent Manufacturers

Roblin repeatedly attempted to obtain a refund from Newmar or have the RV replaced. Newmar and its agents declined to provide such remedies, placing responsibility on subcomponent manufacturers and arguing that the plaintiff did not meet all the conditions for repurchase under the Oregon Lemon Law.

Yes. Newmar often points to the subcomponent manufacturers. A problem with your engine? Call Cummins. A problem with the chassis? Call Spartan or Freightliner. A problem with your heating system? Call ITR. A problem with your inverter? Call Magnum.

I can understand why Newmar takes such an approach. Newmar basically assembles a motorcoach from a variety of supplier components.

The 2016 London Aire was purchased new from Guaranty RV in Oregon. The coach experienced multiple failures and it was literally unusable for over two years.

The owner made repeated attempts to obtain a refund or to have the coach replaced. Newmar declined, blaming subcomponent manufacturers for the issues.

The Judge in this case ruled against Newmar and held Newmar accountable for the issues that the owner had experienced. He ruled that under Oregon’s Lemon Law Act the end-manufacturer, not the subcomponent manufacturer(s), is responsible for recovery .

This decision protects an Oregon consumer from having to litigate against each subcomponent manufacturer and ensures that a final manufacturer, like Newmar, cannot contract around Oregon’s Lemon Law.

This interpretation of Oregon’s Lemon Law is consistent with recent decisions in other states.

Not yet determined in this case is the dollar amount to be awarded. A decision is expected soon.

In Canada, there are no Lemon Laws to protect consumers.

Buying expensive RVs can be risky.

RV SuperShow Day 2

I attended a session with the Newmar executive team yesterday.

Kevin Bogan, Vice President of Operations for Newmar, chaired the meeting. Other Newmar executives present included Matt Miller, now a Vice President at Winnebago Industries reporting to Michael Happe, CEO of Winnebago (Matt remains as President of Newmar Corporation), John Sammut, Vice President of Sales (Newmar), Matt Utley, Vice President of Service and Facilities Development (Newmar), Ron Stichter, Vice President of Engineering (Newmar) along with a few other folks.

Kevin opened the session and, as expected, spoke about the acquisition by Winnebago. Kevin provided the standard talking points about how everything will stay the same for customers. Even better for the future.

Kevin then introduced someone else. Someone from Winnebago.

Ashis Bhattacharya.

This is how Ashis describes himself on LinkedIn:

I am a growth-focused business leader who has worked in multiple companies (Winnebago, Honeywell, Moog, Motorola Solutions, Bain & Co) and industries (Outdoor Lifestyle, Industrial Components & Machinery, Telecommunications) around the world. I presently work with Winnebago Industries, the world-renowned brand in RVs, heading strategy, acquisitions, advanced technology and I also head the Specialty Vehicles division of the company.

My approach to business starts with gaining a deep understanding of customers and markets, and using that knowledge to work with product development and marketing teams to develop differentiated offerings and marketing approaches. I am also a big supporter of customer insights research and human-centered design as a way to understand customers better.

At Winnebago, I have worked on closing 2 key acquisitions over the past couple of years, Grand Design RV and Chris-Craft. I work with the leadership and management teams to bring in a more strategic approach to business and growth. I have also led the introduction of an all-electric RV for short-range commercial applications. Digital customer engagement is an area of great passion for me.

From what I gather, Ashis is the point person from Winnebago to oversee the integration efforts with Newmar. Ashis is a peer to Matt Miller, as they both report to the Winnebago CEO.

It was interesting to me that Ashis felt compelled to speak to this group.

Don’t get me wrong. Ashis, although not as strong a communicator as Kevin or Matt, said all the right things. He came across as friendly and seemed focused on ensuring a good customer experience. But, at the end of the day, Ashis is just another MBA; a hired gun with no particular focus or passion about the RV lifestyle. He has been with Winnebago just over three years. He brings no prior experience or exposure to the RV industry. I doubt that he has ever spent any time using an RV.

Newmar is now part of a publicly traded business, accountable to shareholders. Things will change for the company. Hopefully for the better, but, knowing how public corporations work, especially those ones that are run by MBAs, I’m not so sure.

The format of the meeting was largely a Q&A session with the attendees. I did not learn much new except for Newmar’s plans to spin out a mobile service offering in a few select areas starting with Florida.

Later in the day, Lorraine and I spent time looking at the Newmar, Entegra, and Tiffin coaches. That was in between extended sessions talking with people.

In the Newmar section, we really loved the Essex. That was our favourite Newmar coach. In the Entegra section, well, let’s just say that Thor followed through on Bob Martin’s promise to decontent their high-end coaches (Bob is CEO of Thor). We would not buy an Entegra coach. Lorraine and I were really impressed with a 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton coach. Really well done with an expansive floor plan that seemed much larger than our coach. Nice bus. We also enjoyed walking through the Allegro Bus coaches.

We will be back to the show today. We will also be in a meeting with ITR, manufacturer of the OASIS heating system. I wonder if they have any spare pumps? I’ve already replaced two defective ones and I need to replace a third.

Third day dry camping. All good so far. We leave bright and early tomorrow morning.