We all spend so much time trying to find a new or used trailer that fits our needs. Much time is spent researching the components, frame size, what slide systems are used, do they have disc brakes and more. Most likely the trailer, no matter what upgraded parts it comes with, are only as good as the people who assemble them. Then we consider if something breaks how easy is it to get repaired under warranty; and repaired right the first time. Then comes consideration whether the company who built the trailer will stand behind their warranty. Like you, I’m spending the necessary time to understand the components of an RV and the reputation of the company that built it.
For my family who reads this blog, and may not be that interest in shinny new RV’s; I’m working on a post regarding Aunt Tancy. Mary, glad Russ was not with us when we looked at the Mercedes class B’s – we never would have gotten out of there.
Karen and I planned to travel from Missouri to Michigan to visit her mother and family. Elkhart Indiana, where something like 80% of the countries RV’s are built, was as easy stop on our journey. I had called three weeks prior to departure and spoke with Product Expert Lindsay Metzger of Augusta RV at (844)830-8349. Her email is email@example.com. I knew the company had recently sold to The RV Factory who are builders of the Weekend Warrior toy hauler and Avion, a class B camper built on the Mercedes Sprinter van chassis. On the day of our visit, the two companies would be in the process of combining their factory into a larger 77,000 square foot facility which was not going to be operational by the time we arrived. Combined this would be 20,000 more square feet than before. No worries, Lindsay kept in contact to make sure they had several built Augusta Ambition fifth wheels on site. Both companies do not mass produce their products and both sell factory direct. So we usually can’t tour an Ambition at a local dealership, although I found out there is a dealership in Hastings Nebraska who stocks Augusta trailers.
Before I go much further I would like to direct you to my last blog post about the Augusta Ambition. I’ll try and avoid repeating any information already covered in the earlier post. The comments section of that blog post is also worth reading. Unexpectedly, once I wrote about the Ambition and started paying closer attention to forum threads on the trailer, I met several others who have purchased or are considering a purchase. In one case they eventually purchased the Vanleigh Vilano because it was $20,000 less expensive. Right or wrong, for our needs I have been comparing the Augusta Ambition against the Heartland Landmark 365 and the DRV Mobile Suites in the 19,500-gross pound and under floor plans. The Vilano is in the 16,500 pound class and competes in a different price point. That’s the best I can do for comparison. It would be a separate topic to compare others against the Ambition so I will not go there. We have not ruled out buying from several other builders or in another weight class but we are getting close to narrowing the list.
Now back to the “factory tour.” Karen booked the motel in Elkhart which was the Motel 6. Everything was easy to get to from the motel and they allowed pets! The room was nice, located at the end of the building on the first floor near an entrance door. The floors in their pet rooms are tiled and they charged $10 extra for each of our dogs. I checked everywhere, to include BringFido, and could not find a city dog park. The boys started off staying in the car during the tour, but were invited in to play with some of the Augusta RV office employees.
I am blown away by how accommodating Augusta RV was. They even had our name on a welcome board in the lobby. I really felt like an individual rather than just another customer coming through the plant. Behind Lindsay’s desk on the wall was a list of six customers who were scheduled to pick-up their new homes. The tour is usually scheduled for 3:00 pm (eastern time!) but Karen and I wanted to hit the road for Michigan as early as possible. Lindsay moved the tour time to 1:00 pm before we left Missouri and then offered to start even earlier by the time we were in Indiana. We took her a salad and treats because we were worried she was sacrificing her lunch time by moving up the meeting time. Lindsay sent us an email the morning of the tour and I texted back to her cell phone confirming the meeting time. She promptly returned messages which was amazing and not expected given her need to pay attention to customers she might have been with at the time. Lindsay has worked on the factory line for other manufacturers to include Forest River so when it comes to RV construction she has firsthand experience. I’ve read on forum posts that Debbie is also awesome to work with if you happen to call Augusta. Pete stopped by Lindsay’s office after I commented I had trouble logging into their newer community forum. He is the Marketing Director. Five minutes later Pete returned with my new website password. Their forum has a long way to go to get even close to what someone like Heartland RV has up and going. Augusta is a relatively small company and I am hoping combining with the RV Factory into a slightly larger company will help with their development and avoiding the pitfalls that took out so many other companies such as the NuWa Hitchhiker, Peterson and Lifestyle Luxury RVs. I don’t think the RV industry is recession proof and the baby boomer generation retirements or whatever is driving record sales will not continue forever.
I interview criminals for a living and can generally recognize a lie. Preparation for an interview to include knowing the facts of the case are essential. It also helps to ask a few questions for which you already know the answers. As a habit, I don’t sit around talking to folks when I’m not working wondering if they are lying or wanting to put them on the “box.” Prior to the factory tour I did a lot of preparation and came up with every question I needed answered from a list. I should add I did not detect any misleading information at the factory and really did not feel the need to work any voodoo on the people I met with. This alone was a welcome feeling after talking with so many salesmen on RV lots who mostly lack a good knowledge of what they sell and rely more heavily on poorly executed sales techniques. Factory representatives and perhaps the General Manager of a sales lot being the exception. The folks we meet with at Augusta RV really know their business and I got the feeling they are proud of what they build. It was clear to Lindsay that I had already done the research and there was no sales pitch or pressure to buy. Frankly, if Augusta RV’s potential customers do the research and know what they are looking at in the price point then the Ambition trailers should sell themselves! They also build a higher-end product which is the Luxe.
We still plan to attend other factory tours which may include a trip back to Augusta RV/The RV Factory for another visit once their new factory building is up and running. Unfortunately, we were only able to tour a few completed units and look over several that were in the first steps of construction. I failed to get the name of the RV Factory employee who joined us on the tour but got the feeling he was heavily involved in the placement of work stations around the factory as he pointed out the entire assembly process. We talked with several other employees some of which were busy building their class B and others were constructing the new woodworking area. As a side note, I read where Howard at the RV Dreams Blog is considering holding their 2017 fall rally in Elkhart. He met with Augusta RV a while back when there was not much information available about the company. At the time, it was spread around the forums the Ambition lacked storage capacity which was not accurate but understandable as the trailer weights were not posted. Augusta builds fulltime living trailers and I could tell they are listening.
Perhaps the most expedient way to explain the questions I asked and the answers is to just go down the list. Again, you can refer back to my earlier post for more details.
So here is the list:
Do you use the hybrid chases with the 2” box frame under the 12” I beam? Not on the Ambition, only on the Luxe. The Ambition uses a 12″ I beam that has thicker steel than some competitors.
Do you double up the outriggers by the slides? Yes, this is standard on all trailers.
Do you use the thicker steel on the frame as advertised? Yes. The RV Factory worker added they reject any frames that come in from Lippert that are not right, the last thing they want is a frame issue. He pointed towards a large office space with windows overlooking the factory. “That’s where the engineers sit.”
I need a better explanation of why hung walls are more expensive to build. And what is the gluing process for insulation. Some say hung walls are not as quiet as laminated? Augusta provides a five year delamination warranty. The RV Factory employee had the best answer. They would like to build a hung wall for their toy haulers but they must keep the weight down. Hung walls are more expensive to build and heavier. He reminded me Carriage also used a hung wall. Augusta uses a lot of glue to stop the insulation from sagging. I got no answer, or did not listen close enough, as to if hung walls are more sound proof than laminated. Suppose one needs to park in a better spot if it’s that loud.
Even the best designed, best construction material usage, will not overcome poor labor. How do you handle supervision, inspection and incentives/pay for employees? Do you drug test? They do drug test. They pay their employees by the hour so they can slow down and do it right. Hourly employees are harder to find because others pay better by offering piece work. Lindsay added she did piece work for another company whose management just wanted so many units built per day, hurry and get them out the door, because customers were waiting. During each step of construction at Augusta, the employee that did the work has to sign off on a check list for accountability. She agrees quality has to be built into the construction process. The RV Factory also pays by the hour. By the way, I understand Augusta just announced their first toy hauler. Some of the Augusta employees have not decided to make the move yet because the new factory is further away from home. I appreciated this and other candid comments.
Is the underbelly insulated to include the underbelly sidewalls? Yes, everything is fully insulated and there is reflective material installed under the floors, roof, sidewalls and even the slide-outs. I noticed they used 5/8” tongue and groove subflooring and asked why not use marine grade plywood. I also noticed their vinyl tile flooring is way thick. The answer was they build a trailer so water does not get inside in the first place. If water spills on the floor the vinyl floor blocks it. The fully enclosed underbelly blocks water from the road. There is a photo hanging on the wall in the waiting room showing an Ambition packed in snow. The customer wrote in and sent the photo, saying his trailer was the only one in the park that had no frozen water lines.
How do I get the trailer serviced when I’m not close to Indiana? And do I call customer service or am I at the mercy of a non-Augusta dealership? Before the purchase by The RV Factory, Augusta had 45 to 49 agreements with vendors around the country to service their trailers. Now they have 250 locations. They also prefer to send mobile technicians to your location so you’re not parked at a dealership. Outside the new factory is an RV port area which is under construction. Augusta wants you to spend extra days at the factory when you pick up your new trailer. They want to make sure everything is 100% working because they don’t want you leaving the factory with anything that needs repair. A goal is to stop you from having to come back to the factory to get things fixed. And there is a single point of contact at the factory to schedule repairs.
What is the durability of the graphics or would you consider discounting a full body paint? They did not offer me a discounted full body paint, but we were not negotiating to buy. Right now, they have stickers over full body paint but are working on the process for painted graphics over full body paint. Durability of stickers has a lot to do with the place you park the trailer such as by an area with sea salt, or lots of direct sun or not. A recent customer bought an extra set of graphics they put in storage for later, if needed.
Can we get side tables next to the sofa if there is room? What about minor changes during construction? Their sofas are too large to allow space for built-in side tables even though the trailer is a wide body. They do customer changes such as shelving. A customer once sent in their own home entertainment center and Augusta installed it in place of their standard unit. By the way, they will build any of the Luxe floor plans as an Ambition. You can also add Luxe accessories to the Ambition to include interiors finishes. It’s important to note that Augusta has been listening to customers and has added features such as access areas to the wiring and plumbing from the basement or the slide mechanisms from the underbelly area. Ease of maintenance is critical.
Need to confirm we can get a gas/elec fridge and induction stove top? Yes, you can get a gas/electric if it fits but why would you want one. The standard two batteries will run the fridge for 16 hours and charge when towing or on shore power/generator/solar. One trailer we toured had an induction stove top.
Any 12 volt outlets? I did not see any and she did not know of any. It should be noted the trailer comes with an inverter. They will add 12 volt outlets if you want them.
Need to know dry and gross weights? She gave me a brochure that lists most of them. They build for a minimum of 4,000 cargo capacity. They weigh each trailer individually and post the actual weights which change with options. They are buying their own scales so they don’t have to continue to send units out to be weighed. 19,300 was the highest gross capacity unit we looked at with a hitch weight of 3,300. By the way, they also send each trailer to MORryde (who builds their suspensions) to have them aligned. I was contacted by a blog follower who says their Ambition, fully loaded for full time usage came out at 18,000 pounds.
Satellite prep? Front jack control at front or is that a non-issue? Yes to satellite prep and also Wi-Fi boosting. There is no jack control on the front of the trailer because you can see to truck hitch from where the controls are mounted on the side.
What about remote control for slides so we can be outside watching? They don’t offer this.
Check to see if studs are welded on both sides? Yes and they are full long welds rather than just tacked in spots.
Wonder if we can hear the AC running? The trailers we toured were not hooked up to power. Really think they should have at least one unit hooked to power for touring but maybe that had something to do with moving the factory. They advertise as whisper quiet and have heat pumps. Another reason they insulate the sides of the underbelly is because in addition to heat pads they pump hot air in the underbelly. They also use two smaller furnaces rather than just one. This allows for better control in each zone.
Make sure to test the furniture. It’s awesome. Their standard is made by Bryant and they can upgrade to the best which is Lambright. We did not get on the bed. I also took a close look at the woodwork and drawers. Way better than what we have in our current home. The best I’ve seen in any trailer!
Can I share online to include photos and what about big competitors? Yes I can share online. Merging with The RV Factory is a good thing for competition with the big companies. We talked about various events in the industry, such as Thor and other’s buying companies. I’m not posting anything about that.
Financial backing. I assume the merge with The RV Factory is good? The merge is good for financial health. I told her I was able to check the Federal Courts System (which anyone can do with Pacer) to see if any of the owners or companies ever filed for bankruptcy. The only thing I should see is a dispute between the RV Factory and the prior owner of the Weekend Warrior brand name which we did not discuss. The RV Factory employee was excited they would have a chance to share technology with Augusta RV.
Explain true high gloss gel coat vs Filon or others. (note to self- Excel used high gloss not Filon): It’s more durable and the finish is smoother. It also better resists fading. I have started to research this more and might report back later on the topic.
If you have bothered to read this far I assume it’s okay to add one more comment – or two. Karen and I would have a hard time justifying the cost of the Ambition as a new unit because it’s outside our budget. One can talk themselves into anything or try to justify something that they really want. We talked about two factors in considering if we buy a relatively expensive trailer as a new unit. First if we bought something we ended up trading out a few years later we would lose a lot because of depreciation, perhaps more than what it would have cost to buy the right unit first. Secondly, as long as we hold back enough money to buy or build a sticks and bricks home after we come off the road, then who cares. We both would prefer having a home in retirement that is a lot smaller than what we have today, such as a condo. So, it’s all about budging the budget. There are no used Ambitions on the market as of today, other than ones used at RV shows. Then again, we have not negotiated for a new one yet as we do not intend to buy until perhaps 2018. I’m still undecided if I want to haul around 19,000 pounds or not. If I knew for sure we were not going to stay on the road but a few years or parked for the majority of the time, the choice would be easier.