JACKSON CENTER, OH—Airstream has unveiled the largest expansion in the company’s 88-year history. The travel trailer manufacturer is about to open a 723,000-square-foot factory, which will allow it to double its production.
The $50 million expansion comes amid a slump in the recreational vehicle industry. After peaking in 2017, RV and travel trailer production has fallen two straight years and is expected to slip again next year before rebounding. Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler “fully expects” Airstream production to grow next year, after the company moves into its new building down the street from its current plant.
Airstream produces about 85 travel trailers a week in its current factory, down from more than 100 a few years ago but beyond the 75 a week the current 230,000-square-foot factory was designed to produce. The new plant will allow production of 160 travel trailers a week.
Despite the industry’s recent slump, Airstream has enjoyed a resurgence over the past two decades. The company employs almost 1,000 in Jackson Center, up from about 200 two decades ago.
Airstream’s ride is fueled by retired baby boomers and outdoorsy younger buyers drawn to its retro-hip design. In the past few years, Airstream has expanded its line of smaller single-axle trailers to cater to first-time campers with caviar tastes and budgets.
Such trailers, including the Bambi, the Caravel, the Nest and the Basecamp, now account for about 25 percent of Airstream’s production, twice what it was five years ago, said Justin Humphreys, Airstream’s chief operating officer.
Airstreams are still made to order by hand. Each unit contains between 4,000 and 7,000 rivets, and cabinetry is custom-made in the company shop.
Airstream will move its travel trailer production into the new factory over the holidays. About 650,000 square feet of the new building will be devoted to production. The balance will be used for executive offices, a medical clinic, a sales training center, a cafeteria and a museum featuring 14 models, including a 1937 Airstream Clipper.
In the spring, Airstream plans to move production of its motorized recreational vehicles into the former travel trailer factory, nearly quadrupling the production space. Motor homes account for 10 to 15 percent of Airstream’s production, but the company sees opportunity in the segment in part because it has resolved the problem it had getting Mercedes chassis for the vehicles.
Although Airstream did not announce new products Friday, Wheeler said the company expects to do so once it shifts its production lines.