Continuing on from our previous post.
Then there were lots of factory tours…
Entegra service (for both warranty and out of warranty) is by scheduled appointment, so most owners arrive at the overnight area (50A electric only) on Sunday and plan to stay up to a week (or more). Typically your coach needs to be ready to go into the service bays by 6AM and if possible will be returned to the overnight sites every day by about 3:30PM.
Monday is check-in day and you will meet with your service adviser and go over all your issues. On Tuesday mornings, the Entegra staff provides an early morning breakfast of eggs and pancakes for the owners which is then followed by a Q&A session and a factory tour. Although we have been on the tour at least four times, we were especially looking forward to seeing their new 185,000 square foot, state of the art factory dedicated specifically to the Entegra line and seeing the new 2016 Entegras.
Our tour guide was Dave, one of the Customer Service Techs. It was interesting seeing the new factory but Dave basically walked us through without explaining too much about what was new in the factory, so we were somewhat disappointed as were the other owners on the tour. But despite the lack of narrative, it was still interesting viewing each production line and at the end being able to board the new 2016 models. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos during the tour.
On another day, we went next door to the Jayco Factory Tour of their luxury fifth wheel manufacturing plant. Tours are conducted Monday through Thursday at 12 p.m. Outside the Visitor Center, there were a number of trailers, 5th wheels and a Jayco Class A coach (Alante I think) that could be toured. Equipped with wireless receivers, headsets and safety glasses we were herded onto a tram and driven over to the production area.
Once inside the production facility, our guide explained in detail exactly what was being done on each of the lines. Photos were allowed (see more pictures at the end of this post). Too long and involved to provide any lengthy descriptions of their build process (not that I remember much of it anyway). I do remember that they produce between 7 to 9 units a day, each line crew staying and working as long as it takes to finish a unit. Interesting that each of the lines is not dedicated to a particular model but on one line there might be a Seismic (5th wheel, toy hauler) and next to it might be a Pinnacle or a Designer unit 5th wheel. Very interesting tour – highly recommend it if you are in the area!
Tours are offered at the Newmar plant in Nappanee, IN Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. We had taken this tour in 2013 before we bought our Entegra but thought it would be interesting to take it again for comparison purposes and to see the newer 2016 models. In the Visitor Center, we were given wireless receivers, headsets, safety glasses and yellow vests and led across the parking lot to the production facility. Another well done and very informative tour!
One of the big differences between Newmar and Entegra is that Newmar coaches can be custom modified. Not only can the buyer choose from a variety of options, colors, fabrics, countertops, cabinets, etc. but almost any custom request can be accommodated – for a price, that is!
Entegra, on the other hand, has a more rigid production process and that reduces costs without sacrificing quality. While there are several fabrics, finishes, colors and floor plans among the three Entegra models (Aspire, Anthem, Cornerstone), custom changes to the design are usually not allowed (although we are aware of some minor custom changes done for repeat buyers). Typically what they build is what they offer and since all models are very well equipped from the get go and offer just a few options, Entegra buyers generally just choose the floor plan and model that fits their set of requirements and budget.
Every Newmar coach (as with Entegra and most other builders) is already sold before it hits the production line so every item slated to be installed in one of their coaches has a serial number on it to ensure the correct item is installed in the correct coach. Newmar allegedly makes many of their own products such as the cabinets, the valances, countertops, etc. or so we were told.
Conversely Entegra subcontracts some of this work out and when received they simply install it employing a “Just-in-Time” (JIT) paradigm as do most of the big auto makers these days. Different production philosophies for sure but it is worth noting this seems to result in a quality coach with much more bang for the buck. It may be interesting to note that Travel Supreme (which became Entegra when Jayco bought them in 2008) was founded by former Newmar employees and both products use similar construction techniques. For example both companies employ “hung wall” construction vs. the “vacu-bonding” that almost everyone else uses.
At Newmar, nine new units roll off the production floor a day. As this was our second tour at Newmar we observed a few manufacturing processes this time that (in our opinion) fell short of the similar Entegra processes. For example, the 1/4″ fiberglass skin on the outside of the Entegra “hung-walls” are glued and pressure clamped for 24 hours. We did not see this happening at Newmar – they lay down the adhesive then apply the fiberglass skin and screw it on around window and door openings – no pressure clamping.
If you want a custom coach with a lot of owner specified options and are willing to pay the price for them, then Newmar might be your choice. But if you like what Entegra offers off the line, it’s hard to beat the quality of the construction, the value for the price, the 2 year warranty (Newmar only offers 1 year) and the superior level of customer service (although we hear Newmar is no slouch in this area either).
Located in Elkhart, practicing a factory direct sales model, Nexus RV is a small manufacturer of the 34′ Class A Bentley coach and several models of Super C, Class C and Class B+ coaches. Right on I-90 (east of Elkhart), we had driven by the factory several times not realizing that they offer one-on-one daily tours. Our tour guide was Joe, one of their salesman, who first took us to the showroom, showing us several of their Super C diesel coaches and their Class A diesel coach and then took us through their fairly small manufacturing facility where they turn out one new unit a day.
Take aways were a full tubular steel house frame with a promise of more strength (most other quality Class A’s use aluminum to reduce weight) and good quality sub-components. We wonder about steel making much of a difference as the strength of a completed wall assembly is also significantly affected by the inner and outer skins. Nexus wall assembly’s are allegedly vacu-bonded.
The Nexus Class A Diesel Pusher is built on a Freightliner chassis and the Super C’s are available on an International chassis. The Bentley is not a coach that will compete with Entegra or higher end Newmar’s, but is a mid-range model that boasts higher quality than the competition in this class for a price point of around $185K. The floor plan of the 34 Class A seemed roomy and well thought out.
Since their sales are factory direct only, there is no dealer middleman or markup. Similar to Newmar and most of the other builders, the production line included a mix of products. There are the usual customization choices in terms of colors, cabinets, furniture materials, etc. and they seemed to be a little more willing than Entegra to make minor changes, but they won’t go as far as Newmar in terms of re-engineering for custom designs. Just as a note, they do take trade-ins and we saw several very well priced trades in the show room. Those included an American Eagle, an Allegro Bus, a small Country Coach and a Phaeton which were all trades for a Nexus product. Another very interesting tour.
And then there was a museum….
For only $7 per adult, a visit to the Menno-Hof Museum where you can learn about the history, beliefs and differences between the Hutterites, Amish and Mennonites is very worthwhile. The museum uses a combination of a guided tour and “multi-image presentations, historical environments and colorful displays to narrate the story of the “Anabaptists”. Rather than my babbling on at length about what we saw, if you are interested you can take a room by room virtual tour of the museum. It gives you a flavor for what you will see and learn. Below are the highlights.
Meaning to “rebaptize”, the Anabaptists called for voluntary, adult baptisms at a time when the state called for infant baptism. The history of the three groups is presented from the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in Zurich, Switzerland in 1525, through centuries of persecution and martyrdom as heretics by both the government and state church until their arrival in America five centuries later.
It was interesting to learn of the three groups. The oldest of the Anabaptist groups are the Hutterites who practice communal living (I had never heard of this group). According to the website, “today Hutterites are located in Canada, the United States (none in Indiana), and Japan. They are the only communal society in modern history to achieve permanence and stability.”
“The Mennonites is the largest body of Anabaptist groups and also the most diverse. Mennonites (named after Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who joined the radical movement in 1536) are a worldwide community of 1,200,00 members in 63 countries around the world. More than half are people of color. Many drive cars, work in a variety of jobs and choose to live and dress like the neighbors around them.”
“Led by Jacob Ammann, the Amish split from the Swiss Anabaptists in 1693. They have resisted many modern conveniences, declining to own cars, radios or television and rejecting the use of phones and electricity provided by an outside source (we saw many Amish homes with solar panels on the roof). Today the Amish are located primarily in the United States and Canada. Most of their nearly 200,000 members live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.”
After the video and guided tour through several multi-media presentations in the rooms of the museum, we were free to wander through additional rooms, viewing the many displays at our own pace. Not only is the history presented here, but what we found most useful as tourists in the area were the informative displays explaining the differences in the beliefs between the Amish and Mennonites and about their lifestyle. We never fully understood their beliefs and what they could or couldn’t relative to “modern” society. For example, it is confusing when taking these factory tours to note that many of the workers are Amish but is OK for them to use power tools.
In the “Tornado Theater” we got to see and experience (yes, the wind blew and the room shook) the destructive force of nature and see how quickly the Amish crews assist with clean up efforts. Any stress created by the tornado experience was quickly diminished by what followed – the calming experience of the meeting house.
One of the last displays was a replica of an Amish home where we learned how Amish teens at the age of 16 experience a less restrictive life called “rummsphringa” meaning to “run around”. They then need to decide if they want to return to the rules and regulations of the Amish church. In the Elkhart-LaGrange area, less than 10% decide against church membership. Those not wishing to join the Amish church often opt to join the less restrictive Beachy Amish or Mennonite congregations. Highly recommend a visit to this museum if you are in the area.
And then as always there was dining out…
Bet you’re not surprised that I would be writing about that subject. Being without our coach, living in a hotel – yes, it had a small kitchen with all the necessary appliances, dishes, etc. but without a lot of ingredients what could I possible make? I admit it, we did a lot (and I mean a lot) of eating out but this post is already way too long already so that will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned.
More Jayco Factory Tour photos….