Monday, January 19, 2009

Economy Runs Two Luxury RV Makers into Ditch
JUNCTION CITY, Ore. (AP) — In 1968, four friends pooled their wealth — about $20,000 in cash, two pickup trucks and a prototype camper — and started Caribou Manufacturing Co.

The company started out building campers of aluminum and wood that fit on the back of pickup trucks. A few years later, they bought a van chassis and built an integrated camper on the back, sold under a new brand: Monaco.

After one of the partners, Bob Lee, was ousted by the others, he formed his own company, which he dubbed Country Camper, the name lifted from a Barbie doll play set. He later changed the name to Country Coach.

Such were the humble beginnings of Lane County's recreational vehicle industry.

Over the ensuing decades, the builders of RVs became a powerhouse of the local economy, rivaled only by the wood products industry in terms of corporate employers. And Monaco Coach and Country Coach evolved into fierce rivals that spawned competitors and became national industry leaders known for building luxurious land yachts featuring all the amenities of home.

Now the two companies, battered by a withering economic downturn, find themselves at a crossroads with their very survival at stake.

The RV industry is historically, and notoriously, a cyclical business, and a classic bellwether of the economy. But it has never found itself in a ditch as deep and as long as the one it now finds itself in.
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