One of the most overlooked aspects of a high-quality motor coach is the chassis. As the foundation of your motorhome, a well-made, expertly-designed chassis plays an important role in how much – or how little – you enjoy traveling from coast-to-coast in your Class A RV.
Given our commitment to industry-leading quality and superior engineering, it should come as no surprise that we at Newmar choose to work with the world’s best to equip each of our diesel and luxury coaches with a custom-built chassis. After all, a custom chassis offers several benefits compared to a one-size-fits-all application.
To learn more about these benefits, we spoke with Bryan Henke, Manager of Product Marketing for Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation. A subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation manufactures premium chassis that are renowned for their exceptional ride and handling characteristics, tight turning radius and extraordinary dependability. The 2015 Ventana LE, Ventana, Dutch Star, Mountain Aire and London Aire come standard with a Freightliner Custom Chassis, while one is an option of the 2015 Essex.
Let’s start with safety. How does Freightliner Custom Chassis work to build chassis that deliver a safer on-road experience?
I’ll begin with something as simple as brakes. While drum brakes are the industry standard, we know from our testing that disc brakes do a better job of stopping a heavy Class A motor coach. Once we were able to prove that disc brakes elevated safety, it made sense for us to make them standard equipment. As a result, we made disc brakes standard on all of our products starting in 2007.
In 2013, we debuted our new V-Ride rear suspension system. V-Ride increases weight capacity to as much as 24,000 pounds, and offers enhanced roll stability for when you’re driving around a campground and your coach is rocking back and forth.
Soon, tire pressure monitoring systems will be a standard feature on each of our chassis. And not as an aftermarket add-on, but as something that we developed internally. This is a big deal because the inside rear tire on a Class A RV is rarely checked because it’s so difficult to reach, especially when you’re using a shorter tire pressure gauge intended for a car. Bringing that kind of safety technology to our OEMs is always a goal.
Finally, all chassis manufacturers are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. For us, the key to going above and beyond those standards is having a large, highly-qualified engineering department with cutting-edge technology and resource capabilities. As a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America, FCCC has the tools to build a stronger, safer chassis. Our relationship with Daimler allows us to actually pull features – including safety features – and apply those innovations to the creation of our custom chassis. Having brands like Western Star, Freightliner Trucks, Fuso and Mercedes-Benz all under the Daimler umbrella is huge for us, especially from a safety perspective.
As a group, Freightliner has long focused on enhanced durability testing. How does this emphasis on longevity apply to FCCC?
I’m glad you asked, because durability testing is absolutely critical to the long-term success of every single FCCC product. Anytime we release a new design, our engineers perform durability testing. Not only do we test here at FCCC, we also have one at Bosch. This allows us to test our chassis more than 125,000 miles before one is ever applied to a vehicle. Our durability testing goes well beyond basic on-road maneuvers. We really give these chassis a heavy-duty shakedown, which is a practice that is inherently Freightliner.
Some may wonder why we’re testing a bracket that’s holding an air cleaner in place, and it’s because we don’t want to find out years down the road that there are air cleaners falling off of motorhomes. Having the capability and depth of resources to perform a higher level of durability testing is extremely beneficial for us as a group.
Building coaches that are easier and more comfortable to drive has always been a goal for Newmar. How does FCCC work to support this mission?
At FCCC, we pride ourselves on delivering motorhome chassis that are the most maneuverable, best riding in the industry. The “Custom” in our name is very important – it means working closely with the highest-quality OEMs in the industry like Newmar to ensure we’re developing and delivering to them the best chassis so they can build the best coaches. The key has been major investments. There are a lot of great products out there, but FCCC has that corporate umbrella that provides us with access to the very latest engineering breakthroughs.
Take shocks, for example. We brought in – exclusive to FCCC – SACHS shocks, which gave us the ability to tune our shocks to a particular coach. So when we take part in helping build new model or have a new configuration, we have the capability of tuning those shocks to that exact coach. If you go into our parts system and look at shocks, we have dozens of different part numbers representing our shocks because we’ve tuned so many different configurations. You can’t take a shock that we use on a Ventana and use it on a Mountain Aire because they are calibrated much differently.
When you talk about maneuverability, FCCC is the only company in the industry that’s established a maximum 60-degree wheel cut on an independent front suspension. There are other independent front suspensions out there and they do a great job, but off the shelf, they are almost never custom-tailored. At FCCC, we’re not going to grab a truck suspension, make a few tweaks and throw it on a motorhome. We work with our partners to build suspensions that achieve maximum maneuverability.
Looking back at the 2014 RVIA National Trade Show, there was a lot of buzz surrounding FCCC’s introduction of UltraSteer. What is UltraSteer and what does it mean for RV manufacturers?
UltraSteer gives the industry the ability to offer a 45-foot coach with a turning diameter that is as much as 17 percent smaller in diameter. So if a driver is in a tight spot or needs to make a U-turn, he can maneuver his coach within much smaller confines by taking advantage of what is quite literally the best turning on the market today. If you take our 60-degree wheel cut and combine it with UltraSteer, you have the greatest overall maneuverability in the industry. FCCC is able to offer this level of innovation not just because of our breadth of resources, but because we listen to our partners and understand their needs.
Improving customer service has been the main goal of several manufacturers in recent years. What does FCCC offer its customers in terms of support?
Freightliner has invested heavily over the past few years to better meet the needs of our customers, and it’s paying dividends. While most companies have established after-hours phone systems and support centers, we decided to take things a step further by offering 24/7 factory-direct support personnel – each with an average tenure of 18 years – and making them available 24 hours a day. These men and women know our products because they’ve built our products, and in many cases are able to diagnose problems over the phone.
One of my favorite stories involves a customer calling about a problem that turned out to be a blown fuse. With help from one of our customer service representatives, the customer was able to replace the fuse himself. Many other manufacturers would’ve had the customer towed to a dealer, where he would’ve had to wait until the next day to have the a diagnosis and repair. That’s the difference having experienced experts available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week makes.
In addition, FCCC has recently introduced several products and initiatives to improve the overall customer experience. These include:
24/7 Direct is an app that provides 24/7 support through virtually any mobile device. The 24/7 Direct app lets customers call us, email us and find a local dealer – all from a smartphone or tablet.
When a customer buys a brand new coach with a Freightliner chassis, they can visit www.accessfreightliner.com and register. Upon registering, the customer will receive a passcode good for their coach and their coach alone. Access Freightliner gives customers the same access to parts, part numbers and installation drawings as a Freightliner dealer. If someone wants to look up a part or see how wiring schematics works – it’s all available to them.
Camp Freightliner is a two-day camp held right here in Gaffney, South Carolina. RV owners love the camp because it’s truly for RVers of all levels of experience. In fact, everyone I’ve spoken with who has gone through the camp says they wish they would’ve done it sooner.
The purpose of Camp Freightliner is to empower our customers using easy-to-understand techniques and information. An RV is a heavy-duty piece of equipment and helping people better understand their coach provides a peace of mind that makes ownership a much more pleasant experience. Maintaining these vehicles is critical, and if you understand your motorhome and how to maintain it, whether or not you do it yourself, is extremely important.
Freightliner Welcome Kit
When a customer buys and registers a new coach, we send them a welcome kit. That kit contains a 24/7 Direct service card. If an owner goes to a Freightliner dealer and has their oil changed, that service and any future work can be logged by having the dealer scan the 24/7 Direct service card. If an owner ever visits a different Freightliner dealership, that dealership can use the card to see a coach’s entire service history. No more paperwork. It’s all about making service and support as seamless as possible.
The Freightliner welcome kit also contains a USB drive loaded with everything someone would find in one of our owner’s manuals. Information is well organized and the menu interface features a very simple layout.
In the end, it’s all about making things easy for our customers. When you’re on a trip in your RV, the last thing you want to do is search for information that is buried in a manual or try and remember certain pieces of information in your head.
To learn more about Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, visit www.freightlinerchassis.com.