Opinion: Recalls can also show a responsible OEM

By Jim Hammill
President, CEO of Erwin Hymer Group North America

The process of engineering complex items like RVs is one that is full of ups and downs. Recently we have heard online opinions on recall frequency possibly reflecting quality. If we use the example of loose parts or poor finishing, which we all experience, this is not necessarily a recall issue. It is a warranty issue. That’s quality. For sure. It happens. Not okay.

But, I thought a view from the manufacturer side might benefit people to understand why this is a good process, and why it matters to us so much.

The types of issues we have had over the years are usually unseen, supplier driven, or a design mistake. We then visit it quickly and push it to recall so our consumer and the general public do not experience a safety issue. We discuss these with the agencies involved — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Transport Canada.

But, there are types of issues that happen that are definitely quality issues that can cause potential issues for our owners and we don’t wish to have anybody harmed. For instance, Ken, a licensed propane fitter, comes to my office and shows me a propane fitting that is wrong. His experienced eye says something is wrong.

Gathering our key people, we discover a lot of propane fittings that has been machined incorrectly. Our supplier has used a new source without telling us. It’s a quality issue for sure. But, our system is not designed to check 100 percent of the parts shipped to us. Our process measures, and audits processes, and checks the part for leaks. However, 100 percent of the systems are checked for leaks. So the system has been deemed safe by our testing.

But, the design isn’t right for longevity unless the part is right. It could come loose. If someone is fixing it, it may not seat correctly twice, it isn’t right forever. So we issue a full recall ASAP. (This was many years ago, on a couple hundred units).

Consumers affected weren’t happy for sure, particularly if they were 320 miles from a dealer. So we worked with them to get it changed by their local dealer. And in the end, it was the right thing to do, for sure.

They all aren’t as clear cut. And they all aren’t blameless. But the majority you will find are situational. And when we have them, we then put permanent corrective actions in place to make sure that type of thing doesn’t happen twice. That’s what good manufacturers do.

Complex machines, 3,500 parts. I think we all need to improve, until we are perfect. That’s the standard. In the meantime, we use common sense and integrity and stand behind our products.

It’s the right thing to do.

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

Leave a Comment

  • Bill says:

    OEM recalls can be a good thing, as long as they can be rectified in a timely and polite manner. Any dealership, that is a dealer for the product you own, should be able to book you an appointment in a reasonable time and have it repaired and repaired right the first time. The horror stories I read about RV’ers having their rigs at a repair facility for weeks is ludicrous. RV repairs should be no different than car repairs. The RV industry would avoid a lot of bad press, if they just got their act together and did their respective jobs.

  • BOB says:

    hmmm, at this point in the industry, it’s a little hard to compare car repair to RV Repair.
    Car manufactures build & supply very high percentage of their units and respective replacement parts. The RV industry is exactly the opposite. Most RV manufactures build & supply a very small percentage of the total package. Chassis, Appliances, electronics, fixtures & accessories are all designed & supplied by their respective manufacturing companies. When all this comes together, at the hand of human workers, VS automation, there is unlimited opportunity for compatibility, conflict & errors.

    Comparing RV service centers to auto centers is like the useless apples to oranges idiom.
    Yes, there exceptions to every rule, however, for the most part. Auto repairs shops have a local clientele to service. On the flip side, RV’s generally follow the weather & congregate in key areas. With most RV dealers representing & servicing units built by several major manufactures the “in-season” backlog is going to be tremendous. Call for a service appointment in the Southwest November – March there’s going to be a wait. Call for a service appointment in April – Sept…. I bet your going to get right in! Same situation up north, Nov – Feb…”Bring it right in”.

    For reasons noted above, replacement parts availability cannot be compared with the auto industry. The auto industry does not rely on the huge multitude of independent manufactures to “timely” supply replacement parts.
    For the most part, they are able to ship from very few distribution centers strategically located throughout the country.

    While I don’t believe the auto / RV is a fair comparison, I do believe there is a lot of work to do in our industry. Manufactures have a long way to go with production quality. Units requiring 30 or 40 warranty repairs prior to delivering to a retail customer is just not acceptable! Manufactures also need to hold their suppliers to a higher standard with regards to quality, and availability. There is no justification in this world for replacement parts taking MONTHS to ship or for items on current or last year’s model to be “obsolete” and unavailable.
    Trinkets & gadgets looks cool and fun on the sales lot…. Manufacturers have a responsibility to stand behind them for the long run!

    • Randy says:

      Hi Bob
      Very well put. You took the exact words out of my mouth! I used to be in the auto body industry side of repairs, and although a bit different, many dealers and mechanics today just don’t cut it. I think a big problem today is training those RV mechanics up to the current and ONGOING training standards that should be mandatory. Aside from that, dealers are fighting to SELL their product, but do a crappy job of backing it up or repairing, after it leaves their lot!

    • Tom Boles says:

      I’m not in either industry at the moment, but I think the auto makers DO rely on a larger number of suppliers for everything from seats and floor mats to tires, wheels and steering wheels. The difference is that the car maker takes responsibility to the customer for the failure and does what they can to remedy the problem. How parts are stored and by whom is a logistics issue that the RV companies seem to fail at and the car makers seem to do OK.

      Cars and RV’s are different in the level of design & assembly engineering, in training, supervision and as you pointed out, the level of automation. Most assembly operations are done by hand in sometimes difficult locations. The “HOW” of doing something is often left to the line worker and their skill, training, experience, supervision and motivation. I suggest that that set of variables will result in wildly differing quality in a finished RV.

    • Bill says:

      Hi Bob. You mention in Para 2 that car dealers have a local clientele to service, well I believe local RV dealers do as well and can be better prepared for both peak and off peak seasons, statistically most used items. I can understand if someone is having a complex issue to fix, during the RV season, but still, a dealership shouldn’t need 4 days for tire replacement, brake repair and other common fixes. When an appointment is booked, like I said before, unless it’s an unusual repair, the most common parts should be waiting, without hassle, warranty work or not.

  • Bob Zagami says:

    It is simply wrong to try and compare the RV industry with the auto industry. RVs, for the most part, are all hand made and automobiles, for the most part, are highly standardized and extremely precise computerized manufacturing processes.

    Our industry sold 430,000 RVs last year – the auto industry sold close to 20,000,000. You don’t have to be a math genius or an engineer to figure out that you would have different systems, different processes, and fewer options to make anything in the RV industry. The manufacturing dilemma is further exacerbated by the large number of RV manufacturing plants, producing a relatively small number of units and the small number of suppliers servicing them.

    As an industry, we make 2% of the total units pushed out by car and light truck manufacturers.

    As an industry, I would like to see us be more proactive in explaining to prospects and customers why we are different from the automobile industry, perhaps with posters similar to the one produced for last year’s Economic Impact Study – but just using national numbers of automobile manufacturers, suppliers and dealerships compared the same statistics for the RV industry. Stop the comparison before they bring it up.

    So let’s bury the inclinations to compare the RV industry to the automobile industry once and for all.

    Then let’s focus on our industry and the challenges we face today that are impacting the consumer experience when they to buy one of those 430,000 RVs!

    Now that is not an excuse for long waits to get the right part or delayed or rejected warranty reimbursement to the dealers. It’s also not an excuse for poor customer service and support after the sale.

    As an industry, I would like to see us be more proactive in explaining to prospects and customers why we are different from the automobile industry, perhaps with posters similar to the one produced for last year’s Economic Impact Study – but just using national numbers of automobile manufacturers, suppliers and dealerships compared the same statistics for the RV industry. Stop the comparison before they bring it up.

    Manage their expectations. Explain our industry and make sure we can support what we sell and service, and we all know we need to improve in many of those areas.

    Let’s not give the RV consumer more reasons to bash our industry. When they do, let’s not insult them by making them wait for parts and service or deny appropriate warranty time and materials required to fix a manufacturer’s problems.

    We are not the RV industry, but I think we can all agree that we can be a much better RV industry.

  • Robert Friendly says:

    Dear Bob Zagami,
    Executive Director
    New England RV Dealers Association

    Setting Expectations is one thing. Torturing the Consumer with excuses for less than mediocre product and service is another.
    It’s painfully apparent that most Consumers do very little research before making a purchase. If they did than sales would most likely drop significantly.
    In the short time I have been RV’ing I can attest to the fact that virtually everyone we spoke with at the Campgrounds, Dealerships and Shows have a horror story. From Fraud, to ignored phone calls to safety issues to buying RV’s without the proper electrical systems to power the Motorhome etc. Oops.
    The Industry needs to adhere to 1 Standard of Safety, Honesty and Service… And Full Disclosure!
    Sure, blame the the Consumer for your problems.. Where are your Instructional Videos! Where are your classes!
    Where is your Quality Control!.. At the Dealership! That’s just plain wrong Sir!
    Manage my Expectations. Shoot me.. I’m getting an Airstream.. Good luck to me!
    Send your Engineers to Europe.. Find out why the Quality Controls over there are much less an issue than here.
    Hymer is here and others are coming.
    Police yourselves or get out of the business.

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