31 July 2023
31 July 2023, Comments Comments Off on Philip Kahm – Westfalia
Philip Kahm - Westfalia

A decade of unstoppable growth

Westfalia: a historical name, a modern reality. We talk to the MD of Westfalia, Philip Kahm, about the amazing evolution of this iconic campervan brand

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli

Philip Kahm joined Westfalia in 2008. He studied economics and started at Westfalia in Wiedenbrück in the purchasing department, then went into project management and after that was the leader of the department. In 2016, Mike Reuer (CEO) asked him to create something new at Westfalia at Gotha (also in Germany) where Kahm started in the purchasing and logistics area, then developed to Commercial Director and became Managing Director in November 2022.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Could you draw an outline of Westfalia as its today and how it has grown?
Philip Kahm: Westfalia has a long history. The company has its 180th anniversary next year as it was founded in 1844. Westfalia has stood for the highest quality and innovation since it was founded. We especially look deep into the market to see what our customers want. We like to look at all the different ways we can ensure our customers get long-term enjoyment and satisfaction with our products. That’s what the brand stands for in the past, the present and the future.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What were the stages in the evolution of Westfalia?
Philip Kahm: What started as a handicraft business in 1844 has developed into a company constructing special vehicles in the 21st century. As a result of a request from a British Army Officer in the 1950’s the first camping box was created to provide the possibility to sleep and work in the same vehicle. This concept was so successful that the camping box was transferred to series production and brought camping to the masses, making this vehicle the dream car of the ‘50s and ‘60s. This was the beginning of the camping bus era and in cooperation with Ford, Mercedes and VW, many concepts and legends were created during this time and up to now, such as the Nugget, Marco Polo and the Club Joker and California were also designed by us. In 2000, Mercedes-Benz took us over 100%, but due to the economic crisis that followed sales decreased significantly, so it sold us to an investment group in 2008. This was not the best decision for us, but in 2011 the Rapido Group took us over and since then we have been able to develop our business in various areas.

Below: A historic Volkswagen T2 Westfalia with pop-up roof; James Cook AD with slide-out and pop-up roof

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the current corporate structure of Westfalia and where are Westfalia vehicles built?
Philip Kahm: Since 2011, the Westfalia brand has been part of the Rapido Group, managed by the Rousseau family.
In Germany, we have two main locations which work according to different concepts: on the one hand the Westfalen Mobil GmbH, located in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, which produces the Ford Nugget as well as the Mercedes Marco Polo on direct order from the vehicle manufacturers; on the other hand, at the Westfalia Mobil GmbH, located in Gotha, for which I am responsible, we develop and manufacture products under the Westfalia brand, which we sell through our own dealer and sales network throughout Europe.
We produce the Columbus series, the Amundsen series, the Club Joker series, the Meridian series and also the James Cook series.
And we also have products which are produced at Fleurette Constructeuer in Benet (France): these products (the Jules Verne, the Kepler and the Kelsey) were especially built for the French market, as it is a little bit different from the German one and has different needs.

Aboutcamp BtoB: In which markets does Westfalia currently operate and how is the sales/service network structured? What are the main markets?
Philip Kahm: We have our own Westfalia dealer network in Europe with our own service contracts. Our main market for our core products is Germany which represents 65% of our sales. After that, Switzerland, the UK and France are our biggest export markets.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What has changed since joining the Rapido Group?
Philip Kahm: Pierre Rousseau (owner of the Rapido Group) recognised the great potential of the campervan market very early and invested a lot in our company since taking it over in 2011. As a result, Westfalia has grown from producing 1,200 vehicles in 2010 to a total of over 12,000 vehicles last year, so we have developed very quickly in the last 10 years.
The biggest challenge was to bring the Westfalia DNA when we started here at Gotha. But it was not easy as we need specialists, so finding good people was the first challenge. We started in Gotha with only one product back in 2017, the Amundsen 540, then step by step, we implemented the other products. We now have 120 people and have produced everything here for four years. We have come a long way. It is nice to look back at what we’ve done.

Below: The Gotha plant; Columbus 540D

Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you interact with Rapido Group?
Philip Kahm: We work closely together and share best practise principles without losing the autonomy of our companies. We make the best possible use of the Group’s strengths and synergies, for example, in purchasing and development. We have a close network and usually have video conferences with everyone to bring us closer. We work very well together.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Westfalia’s focus has always been on campervans and mini-vans – is that still the case? Will there be any changes in the short to medium term?
Philip Kahm: The focus will stay on this segment. We do not want to change it as it is our core competence.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How did you react to the boom in campervans (based on Ducato, Transit, Sprinter…) that has taken place in recent years on the European market? Have you experienced an increase in demand or have you faced increased competition?
Philip Kahm: This was one reason for separating our business areas and opening a new locaton here in 2017 and have been investing a lot in joinery for good production quality so we can make our furniture ourselves. We invest more each year so we are ready for the next steps.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How did you deal with the supply crisis and in particular the lack of mechanical base vehicles?
Philip Kahm: It was a very big challenge and one of the biggest we have had to manage. We had to be very flexible in every area, not just production. We introduced alternative materials and processes faster than ever before, changed lines and found other ways to produce vehicles, plus also the flexibility to work from home for the office staff. Everything that we changed was done in the best possible way, but that does not mean that everything went optimally. The crisis was not nice for us because we had to switch lines from volume lines to other lines.
At our operation in Gotha we use the Fiat Ducato, the Mercedes Sprinter, the Ford Transit, the TGE from MAN, and the VW Transporter T6.1.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What differentiates a Westfalia campervan to those from the competitors?
Philip Kahm: This is a big topic for me and my management team. We love camping ourselves and specifically look at this from our own point of view and how we can best support our customers’ needs.
For us, a main topic is to generate comfort and a good ambience in the cars, and we place great value on a modern, attractive design even for the smallest spaces. We find nice solutions to create the best possible space in the vehicle.
One of my favourite USPs is that for over 10 years we have engineered our own hot water and underfloor heating system. It works like at home and gives you have good air quality in the vehicle because you do not only have hot air. The heating system allows you to generate two climatic zones in the vehicle, for example, a different climate in the bathroom to the living area. This means you can dry laundry on a rainy day by turning on the heating in the bathroom and keep the living area at a different temperature, so you don’t have to heat the whole vehicle to the same temperature.
We also have our bench seat that you can move with one movement into a bed.
A big aim for us is to have the highest possible quality for the furniture for every vehicle we produce here. We design and produce to automotive standards.

Below: Meridian

Aboutcamp BtoB: Right now all the major groups are investing in minivans, also known as urban campers (based on Ford Transit Custom, Citroën SpaceTourer…): how are you involved in this new expansion of the market and what real growth prospects do urban campers have, in your opinion?
Philip Kahm: The Ford Nugget, Mercedes Marco Polo and Volkswagen California are a big market. This area of the market has a big potential to grow because you can use them for daily use and (with a pop-up roof model) you can drive anywhere. You do not need a different car so these urban campers are good for people who want to go to campsites in their free time, so there is a big potential. Here at Westfalia in Gotha, we only have the Club Joker with a pop-up roof, but let’s see what happens in the future and the near future. Perhaps we have something we want to present to you soon.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Do you have an export market outside Europe, or is this in your future plans?
Philip Kahm: The brand awareness is still high in the USA. If you look for the hashtag #Westfalia on social media it not only describes a product, it describes a lifestyle. Let’s see what happens, not in the near future, but maybe in the middle or long term future we will take the Westfalia brand back to the USA. In a different homoligation region, it takes a long time to develop a new product.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is your point of view on how to market your vehicles? Do national fairs (Düsseldorf, Paris, Parma…) still have their importance? Will online communications increasingly reduce the role of dealers and what are your marketing activities to keep your brand awareness as high as it is?
Philip Kahm: The campervan business is not like the automotive business which is trying to sell vehicles via the internet and online platforms. Our business is more emotional – you have to touch and feel them, sit down on the seats and lie down on the bed to see if it is comfortable for you and if it fits your needs or not, so the fairs are a main event for us and in Germany – our core market.
We will make sure we are represented in our core markets. We also want to transfer the pleasant experience of the fairs to our dealers, so that the customer has the opportunity to look at the products intensively and receive even more individual advice.
For a prospective customer, a trade fair can also be stressful and confusing due to the large range of products on offer.
At the moment we are focusing on brand awareness. We are rethinking our social media and PR strategy at the moment and want to look at it in more detail.

Below: Club Joker City with bed in pop-up roof