Winnebago to start building buses

2012-11-06T23:30:00Z 2015-02-03T10:15:52Z Winnebago to start building busesBy JIM OFFNER / Lee Enterprises
November 06, 2012 11:30 pm  • 

FOREST CITY, Iowa -- The company famous for motor homes is going into the bus business.

Winnebago Industries Inc. is getting ready to produce Metro Link, a new transit bus that the Forest City manufacturer said will use some of its motor home technology in a shuttle-type bus.

Randy Potts, Winnebago's chairman, CEO and president, said it's part of Winnebago's effort to diversify its business in a way to avert a repeat of a downturn in 2008 that caused the company to close one factory and shrink its workforce from a peak of 4,220 in August 2004 to 1,694 five years later.

"My challenge is to make Winnebago the leader in the industry in unit volume, in revenues and profits, naturally. Beyond that, we do need to look for ways of expanding our business, either parallel to or outside the RV market," Potts said.

Three prototypes of the 25-seat vehicle already have been built and tested, Potts said, and the tests came out very well.

The model also has been shown and demonstrated elsewhere, including recently in Waterloo, Iowa, Potts said.

"We're trying to see what kind of feedback we can get," he said.

Getting into the transit bus business is not exactly a novel notion at Winnebago, Potts said.

"It's actually a project we've been working on 25 years," he said.

Space has been set aside at Winnebago's manufacturing operation in Forest City to build units, Potts said.

The company is finalizing a distribution agreement, Potts said.

The vehicle has, among other features, a single-piece fiberglass roof that, Potts said, needs less maintenance and eliminates areas for potential water leaks.

The market for the vehicle is about 20,000 units per year, Potts said.

"We'll turn out whatever we can sell; we're starting small," he said. "We'll actually be starting up production this winter or early spring, as soon as we take orders to take it beyond small-scale.

"These things don't require a lot of labor," he said. "We were able to leverage a lot of what we have from our motor homes."

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