Winnebago Milestones: Pioneering for 65 Years!
Winnebago Milestones: Pioneering for 65 Years!
Look back through the decades leading up to the recent eRV2 prototype launch.
By: Talia J. Vespestad
It’s no secret that Winnebago has been a pioneer in the RV and travel trailer industry since it was founded by John K. Hanson in 1958. After the recent launch of America’s first all-electric RV prototype at the RV SuperShow in Tampa, FL, it’s no surprise that Winnebago remains a leader in the industry. With Winnebago's 65th anniversary on February 12, 2023, let’s take a scroll down memory lane and revisit a few of the milestones we’ve reached through the decades up until the recent eRV2 prototype launch!
Winnebago in the 1960s
The Birth of Winnebago Industries
It all began in 1958, when businessman John K. Hanson had the idea to bring Modernistic Industries from California to Forest City, Iowa, to start a local travel trailer factory. With a team of 17 employees and financial backing from local investors, the first 15-foot towable was produced and sold for $895.
Soon after, in 1959, John K. bought out the other investors, made major improvements to the models, and (in 1961) changed the name of the company after the county in Iowa it was located in. Winnebago Industries was born, and business was booming.
Winnebago’s First Motorhomes
Less than 10 years after the rise and success of Winnebago’s Travel Trailers, self-contained motorhomes were rolled off the production line for the first time. In 1966, the F-19 was built on a Ford chassis. Then in 1967, the famous D22 was built on a Dodge chassis.
In 1969, the Winnebago Chieftain was introduced. While many competitors offered luxuries like built-in vacuums and engine-connected hot water systems as optional, these features were standard in the Chieftain. By the end of the 1960s, Winnebago was the No. 1 manufacturer of travel trailers and motorhomes.
Winnebago in the 1970s
New Economy Brings New Models
With an economy weakened by the oil embargo in 1973, several young RV companies were put to the test. Winnebago was able to roll with the punches and got creative with their design and marketing structures. In 1974, Winnebago set up 300 motorhomes at the World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington. The “Winnebago Village” exposed millions of visitors to RV living for the first time, and in return gave Winnebago valuable feedback that would shape the future of the company.
Taking feedback and making more compact and affordable RVs, Winnebago introduced a new category of RV with the Winnie Wagon in 1974 – a forerunner of today’s Class B and C motorhomes. Winnebago also introduced one of its most recognizable Class C products with the Minnie Winnie, which remains in production still today.
In 1977, Winnebago was the first RV manufacturer to produce their 100,000th motorhome. By the end of the 70’s, Winnebago had a lineup of 23 different models with a range in price points, providing customers with multiple options to explore the outdoors they love.
Winnebago in the 1980s
More Compact, More Efficient
Winnebago was able to overcome challenges the RV industry faced in the 1970s with new innovation and technology, but didn’t stop there. In 1981, Winnebago introduced the Winnebago Warrior and Itasca Spectrum, two models that nearly doubled fuel economy of conventional models with their lighter weight construction.
In 1983, Winnebago attracted many first-time RVers with the launch of three new RVs: the Winnebago Lesharo and Itasca Phasar motorhomes, and Centauri vans. All three models came with fuel efficient engines, delivering 22+ miles per gallon.
1988 was a big year for Winnebago, not just because it had become one of America’s most recognizable brands. The company celebrated its 30th birthday and produced its 200,000th motorhome (a 37-foot Elandan), another milestone no other company in the RV industry had reached.
It was also the year that an agreement was signed with Mitsubishi Corporation in Tokyo. This agreement made it possible to sell and service Winnebago and Itasca motorhomes in Japan through a newly established dealer network.
Winnebago in the 1990s
Reaching 90 Percent in the 90s
The 1990s were another important decade for Winnebago. The Winnebago Warrior and Itasca Spirit Micro Mini were both new to the 1991 lineup and built on a Toyota chassis. These models were both affordable and fuel-efficient, so it’s no surprise these units accounted for over 60 percent of the entire Micro Mini market.
In 1992, Winnebago celebrated two exciting milestones: production of the 250,000 motorhome and 90 percent of its sales were on models less than two years old. In 1998, Winnebago rolled out their 300,000th motorhome.
Released in 1993 for full-time motorhome enthusiasts spending extended periods of time on the road, Winnebago rolled out the Vectra. In 1994, the new Winnebago Minnie Winnie and Itasca Sundancer lines were released, offering a wide variety of different floorplans.
Two cult favorites were introduced in 1995 to appeal to two different market niches. The Rialta, a 21-foot van, was built on a Volkswagen chassis. In contrast, the Luxor, a top-of-the-line diesel pusher, was introduced. It was clear that having a varied product lineup was key to growing an RV fan base and something Winnebago would continue to do.
Winnebago in the 2000s
The Turn of the Century
The turn of the century only meant things would keep getting better for Winnebago. In 2004, Winnebago’s annual sales exceeded $1 billion, and was recognized as the “most-admired RV manufacturer” by RVBusiness magazine. In 2006, the Vista and Sunstar hit the road for the first time and remain two of the best sellers in the Class A market.
The 400,000th unit rolled off the line in 2008, the same year Winnebago celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Sprint to a New Era
The 2000s were a pivotal decade with the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis to both the Class B and C markets. In 2005, Winnebago released another cult classic. The View and Navion were the first North American motorhomes built on the Mercedes sprinter chassis, making Winnebago the leading builder of RVs on the sprinter chassis.
In 2009, Winnebago shook up the B-van market and unveiled the Era, a camper van built on the Mercedes Sprinter chassis. A fitting name for the van life era to soon follow.
Winnebago in the 2010s
Back to the Roots
The decade started off strong with Winnebago reentering the towables market and going back to its roots. In 2010, Winnebago bought out Sunnybrook RV in Middlebury, Indiana, which would soon evolve into Winnebago Towables. In 2016, Winnebago purchased Grand Design RV, jumpstarting its presence in the towables market.
The Van Life Movement
After the popularity of the Era, Winnebago responded to the want for more. In 2014, Winnebago launched the Travato on the RAM ProMaster chassis, which quickly became the top-selling campervan in North America. The market completely changed again in 2018, after launching the Winnebago Revel built on the 4x4 Mercedes-Benz sprinter chassis.
Winnebago in the 2020s
2020 was a big year for Winnebago’s diesel production with the unveiling of the brand-new diesel production facility in Forest City, Iowa. Winnebago also introduced the leading, innovative, all-season capability Class C, Winnebago EKKO.
In 2022, the Lake Mills facility successfully produced Winnebago’s 500,000th motorhome, a Revel, that was wrapped to show off the huge accomplishment. 500,000 down and 500,000+ to go!
For the last six decades, Winnebago has continued to push boundaries in the RV industry and meet milestones no other RV manufacturer has. The story continues with the recent launch of the eRV2 prototype at the RV SuperShow in Tampa, Florida, on January 18, 2023. The eRV2 is the vision for the future of RVing, reducing barriers to new outdoor connections.
The eRV2 prototype is built on the Ford E-Transit™ chassis and the house is powered by Winnebago and Lithionics proprietary IonBladeTM lithium house battery. This will give users up to seven days of quiet, reliable boondocking capabilities. And it’s just as cool on the inside as it is on the outside.
The eRV2’s human-centric interior is designed using a variety of recycled and sustainable materials, reducing the vehicle's carbon footprint and enhancing quality and performance. You can control all you want at your fingertips. The eRV2 works with the Winnebago Connect app, empowering you with technology that is intuitive, reliable, and purposeful.
America’s first all-electric, zero-emission, prototype will be hitting the road soon for field testing, and you’re invited to follow along. The journey is only beginning!
Sign up for updates and follow along with us at: https://www.winnebago.com/all-electric
Welcome to the #eVANLIFE.
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