Thor Industries will begin to resume RV production in North America on May 4. The RV manufacturer resumed production at some European RV facilities yesterday, April 14, and will continue to reopen more facilities in Europe later this month.
Thor Industries is likely not the only company in the RV industry planning on a May 4 comeback. Management sources at several companies have indicated that, barring unforeseen circumstances, production across the industry—including manufacturers and suppliers—is planned to resume May 4.
However, as one OEM management source noted, “If states don’t open up economies, that date (May 4) makes no sense.”
“The ‘stay at home’ orders need to be lifted, even though there may be different ground rules with revised health guidelines,” the source said. “Until a vaccine is developed, we need to learn how to coexist with the virus and have an economy at the same time, because the economic damage being done to the country right now is significant.”
Thor Resumes Production
Thor Industries’ North American plants are slated to “resume at varying levels of production on May 4th, assuming no further unforeseen circumstances,” according to a Thor press release.
Thor Industries Senior Director of Marketing Renee Jones said, “Each Thor subsidiary company is planning appropriate production levels for their respective businesses.”
The official Facebook pages for Keystone RV, Jayco and CrossRoads all state production will resume May 4. An apparent Heartland RV employee posted on an RV jobs Facebook page a letter on company stationery from Heartland RV President Ryan Juday informing employees the company would go back to work May 4, too.
During the temporary shutdown, Thor companies, in both Europe and North America, spent considerable time and effort to ensure increased worker safety when production resumes, including adjusting production lines and making other necessary changes to allow for social distancing where possible, and instituting numerous additional health and safety protocols. Also during the shutdown, the Thor companies have worked closely with key suppliers to minimize potential disruptions upon the restart of production.
Thor’s team members are the most valuable part of its organization, the company said in its press release. Maintaining the health of its employees, while protecting them and their families, is a major focus for the company. Accordingly, new, strict safety protocols are being implemented.
These measures include, but are not limited to, providing every production employee with the appropriate personal protection equipment as it pertains to their specific job, including in most instances a personal protection kit complete with eye protection, face mask, personal hand sanitizer and CDC guidelines to maintain health; abundant access to hand sanitizing stations in all common areas; providing full face shields for line workers whose job requires close interactions with team members; thorough and more frequent cleaning and disinfecting throughout all facilities; reduced access to breakrooms and gathering areas and employing social distancing in common areas of production facilities.
Thor said it will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC, WHO and state and federal governments to help ensure the safety of employees, their families and the communities in which they operate. Thor also said it is committed to providing its employees the safest work environment in the industry
Prior to the onset of the coronavirus, Thor said it had been experiencing a strong early start to the selling season and high optimism from both North American and European dealers. Thor’s management team and subsidiary leaders have been in regular communication with dealer partners, closely monitoring sales and dealers’ inventory levels. Dealer inventory levels were appropriate for the spring season prior to the impact of COVID-19.
Within the U.S., several states have specifically restricted dealers’ sales operations in many of the largest RV markets. Dealers in other states across the nation have shifted their focus to provide consumers with online buying experiences and home deliveries, continuing to serve a community that is excited to get back to the outdoors. Thor’s independent dealer network continues to experience sales through this challenging time, albeit not at planned levels. Thor recognizes its essential role in continuing to support its dealer partners and owners. All operating companies are staffed in essential areas and are proud to continue to support dealers and owners through this challenging time.
In the European market, dealers report a strong level of retail sales awaiting delivery upon the reopening of their operations, which is generally expected to occur throughout the month of April in most locations, with Italy being an exception. While performance of the European companies will be materially impacted by COVID-19, the strong retail performance experienced prior to the impact of the virus is expected to gradually resume beginning in the second half of April.
Independent Dealer Inventory Overview
Independent dealer inventory levels continue to be in a balanced position in both North America and Europe as the retail channel navigated the previous excess inventory levels of calendar 2019. In many places, dealers continue to experience retail sales, paving the way for incremental wholesale sales once operations resume.
Thor said it believes the suspension in production, at a time when dealers continue to sell, has helped maintain an overall healthy dealer inventory position. In addition, each Thor company is responsibly planning appropriate production levels once operations resume. This strategy will put Thor’s independent dealer partners in the best position to be successful coming out of the pandemic.
Thor said it believes it has an obligation to provide support to its communities in the effort to combat this virus. Every operating company has contributed to its communities, collectively resulting in the donation of over 8,000 masks, 860 protective suits, 400 sets of protective eye wear and over 16,000 pairs of gloves to ensure the safety of the heroes of this crisis – the health care workers. Thor companies have also provided 12 RVs for use by local healthcare facilities and first responders. The Company intends to continue to work with local governments and its dealer partners to equip additional communities with much needed resources throughout the remainder of the crisis.
“As we work through the coronavirus pandemic, we are positioning our businesses to restart production in a safe and prudent manner,” Thor Industries President and CEO Bob Martin said. “Our flexible business model and highly variable cost structure have been significant benefits as we navigate through this period of uncertainty.
“We are pleased that our European production of caravans and motorcaravans is partly restarting today, and we look forward to our North American operations phasing back online in early May. We have remained positive during this unpredictable and unprecedented time because of our strong belief in the unique benefits that RV travel provides to families and friends throughout North America and Europe and continue to believe that the RV industry has a bright future.”