Ford Entertains Bigger Chassis

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Ford Motor Co. may seem struggling in some auto categories. But the Dearborn-based automaker is doing well in the manufacture of pickup trucks, its bread and butter vehicles. To hold onto its lead in the industry, the automaker seeks to unveil largest and most adaptable motor homes.

The Blue Oval does not sell recreational vehicles under its own name, but Ford is the leading manufacturer of motor home chassis in the United States. Ford said Tuesday it will widen its lead by unveiling its biggest, most-capable motor home chassis at the annual RV show in Louisville, Ky.

The new F53 Super Duty Class A chassis, made in Detroit, is all about weight. There are six models in the lineup. Based on reports, the biggest has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 pounds.

According to Rob Stevens, chief engineer for Ford's commercial truck division, that refers to the amount of weight that can be added to the chassis, and titanic numbers like this are just what RV companies are looking for today. "It's all about knowing our customers," he said.

"We spend a lot of time traveling to their factories, working with their engineers and finding out what their needs are," Stevens said, adding that those usually come down to more weight. "Baby boomers want to take their houses with them."

For the biggest motor homes, the automaker is offering its 6.8-liter Triton V-10, which provides best-in-class performance producing 362 horsepower and 457 foot-pounds of torque. Aside from the superb hauling power, the automaker's new chassis deliver improved ride and handling, quieter operation and wheels capable of turning up to 50 degrees in either direction.

The F53 is manufactured at a factory inside a Detroit Renaissance Zone. The 33-acre plant, owned by brothers Mike and Carlton Guthrie, operates as a contract manufacturing facility for the Dearborn automaker, with Ford's own staff supervising the production.

"We're not quite an arm's-length first-tier supplier, nor are we a Ford plant. We're somewhere in between," said Detroit Chassis Plant CEO Mike Guthrie. "Our plant is entirely dedicated to Ford Motor Co. They're our only customer and it's our only product."

When the Guthries first approached the automaker, the RV chassis were manufactured in Mexico. With help from the city and the United Auto Workers, who agreed to competitive contract terms, the brothers were able to put together a bid to produce the underbodies in Detroit for less than Ford was paying in Mexico, the report continued.

"The commercial truck business is a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. One of the very big pieces of that puzzle is the motor home industry," said Joe Castelli, director of marketing for Ford's commercial truck division. "It's a good business for Ford."

The automaker does not divulge financial results for its motor home venture, but Castelli said Ford produces about 30,000 RV chassis of all classes each year, accounting for about 10 percent of its total commercial truck output. And it is consistently profitable.

The largest models borrow from the F-650 commercial trucks. Castelli said these titans will not only guarantee Ford stays in the lead, but should increase its share even more despite the escalating gasoline price.

As other automakers focus on the enhancement of other auto parts such as engines and , Ford takes the risk of beefing up the chassis. It is a risk Ford is willing to take, Castelli said. "This is one of the hidden gems at Ford," he concluded. "It's got a lot of momentum, and we expect it to keep growing."

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