Hymer USA to build and sell European-designed campers in the US
Germany's Erwin Hymer Group is one of the most innovative RV manufacturers in Europe, as evidenced by recent concept campers like the Vision Venture and Galileo. Now it's bringing some of its RV magic over to the American market. Parent company Thor Industries has formed a new Hymer USA subsidiary with the goal of building and marketing European-designed RV products on American soil. Soon, some of the gorgeous RVs Americans have admired from across the Atlantic will be on their way to American highways and campgrounds.
"Is that available in the US?" It's a question we see over and over in response to our coverage of European RVs, particularly when it comes to small, clever and reasonably priced camper vans, a product group sadly lacking in the US. Unfortunately, the answer is usually "No." But with one of Europe's largest RV manufacturers establishing a presence here, now there's hope it will more often be "Yes" or at least "Maybe."
If a North American Hymer sounds familiar, it's because it already happened. In 2016, Hymer purchased Canadian camper van brand Roadtrek and established Hymer North America. The fast, furious camper van expansion that followed included models like the Hymer Aktiv and Carado Axion and seemed almost too good to be true in a market that decidedly prefers trailers and larger motorhomes. As it turned out, it was. Financial improprieties at Hymer North America uncovered during Thor Industries' acquisition of Erwin Hymer Group led to the North American branch being severed from the corporation last year. And like that, the fast-growing market of European-inspired American camper vans disappeared as quickly as it had emerged.
Take two. After completing its acquisition of Erwin Hymer (sans Hymer North America) last February, Thor Industries, now the largest RV manufacturer in the world, has been busy working to integrate its American and European operations. Hymer USA becomes a cornerstone of that work.
"The Hymer brand and product offering has already received very positive feedback from our North American dealer network," said Thor president and CEO Bob Martin in announcing Hymer USA last week. "Delivering to the North American market the innovation, design and quality for which the Hymer brand is known will benefit consumers and dealers."
Hymer USA will be based in Bristol, Indiana, part of the "RV Capital of the World" of the greater Elkhart area. In 2020, Thor will invest an estimated $8 to $10 million to renovate an existing facility to serve as Hymer USA's base of operations. It will also relocate select employees from Germany to help implement European manufacturing processes, automation and control standards, a process it calls a first in the North American RV industry.
Troy James, the Thor senior vice president who took point traveling to Europe and integrating Erwin Hymer after the acquisition, will oversee the new Hymer USA brand.
"Hymer USA will feature a very different way of manufacturing not currently seen in the North American RV industry, including automated processes that will be implemented throughout design and assembly," James explained. "Products will benefit from the quality standards set by Erwin Hymer Group, and our new work environment will feature highly skilled team members collaborating directly with employees from EHG's European operations while incorporating the speed to market for which Thor is well-regarded."
So what products is Hymer bringing over the Atlantic? Thor's January 30 announcement says only "European-designed RVs," so we reached out to try to pry away something, anything, more specific but were told that the company is not ready to release any product plans or long-term strategy details just yet. It also declined to clarify if plans apply only to Hymer brand products or to the greater Erwin Hymer portfolio of 19 brands, which includes Dethleffs, Sunlight and Bürstner.
Statements from last year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon provide insight into what might be in store for Hymer's US return. At the time, Martin hinted that Thor was interested in tapping into Hymer's expertise in camper vans and multifunctional urban vehicles.
"We see growing potential for [the camper van] product category in North America," Martin said. "Last year, the camper community there grew by 1.4 million households - 56 percent of which are millennials. These new participants are often returning to the roots of campervanning and prefer a lifestyle that involves less effort while offering more adventure and experiential quality."
Camper vans can be found throughout Erwin Hymer's portfolio, from the newest badges like Crosscamp and Globevan (Dethleffs) to established brands like Hymer and Sunlight. And since Thor already has a very strong presence in the travel trailer and large motorhome segments, camper vans seem to be the missing piece of the puzzle that Hymer could easily fill.
Martin has acknowledged that some Erwin Hymer products are based on chassis not available in the US, stressing that those built on available chassis like the Mercedes Sprinter and Fiat Ducato (Ram Promaster) could be rolled out in the US more quickly. The versatile camper vans of the Hymer Free series seem like a nice place to start.
We'll get more official information soon enough, as the first Hymer USA products are planned for launch later this year. In the meantime, we've filled the gallery with some of the Hymer group European camper vans and caravans we'd most like to see make the trip over to the US.