The Knaus Tabbert Group has seen consistent sales growth throughout Europe within its three market segments: caravans, motorhomes and camper vans. What is the secret behind this success? We asked Wolfgang Speck, who has been CEO of the Knaus Tabbert Group since 2013.
Words Antonio Mazzucchelli
Aboutcamp BtoB: Who are the shareholders of the Knaus Tabbert Group?
Wolfgang Speck: The Knaus Tabbert Group is owned by Mr Wim de Pundert and Mr Klaas Mertens. I began working with these gentlemen back in 2008. In the past, I was involved in their automotive supplier business and managed different companies that they had acquired. I have been CEO of Knaus Tabbert since 2013. Mr de Pundert and Mr Mertens have been the owners of our company for 10 years, and we are extremely happy to have such strong shareholders. They are both entrepreneurs with a really successful track record, so everyone is happy to have them on board.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the secret behind Knaus Tabbert’s extraordinary success?
Wolfgang Speck: The truth is, it isn’t a secret at all – we can speak very candidly about our success. One of the important characteristics of Knaus Tabbert is that we have a really strong management team and, as far as I am concerned, it is second to none in the RV industry. Our company’s culture is very well balanced between humanity and high professionalism. We have created a strong workplace environment that is highlighted by our excellent team spirit. In addition, we are highly focused on R&D and innovation. This is one of the real secrets behind our success and truly defines what Knaus Tabbert is all about. Briefly put: I love working here. I’ve worked for a lot of companies, but I would definitely say that Knaus Tabbert has been the highlight of my career. Furthermore, we are strong in all three segments: caravans, motorhomes and CUVs. Some competitors are more focused on one segment, but we are successful in each segment.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The recognition of products from different brands sometimes confuses the public and the dealership network. Do you think this is inevitable and profitable? Do you believe the brands in your Group are well differentiated?
Wolfgang Speck: Yes I believe they are (well differentiated). As you know, we only have a few brands, so it’s not comparable to some of our competitors. We have WEINSBERG, KNAUS, TABBERT, [email protected], MORELO and RENT AND TRAVEL. When you look at the products and each brand, they are well differentiated – first and foremost through their image and price range. For example, the [email protected] caravan brand has a starting price of about €9,000 and TABBERT caravans usually end up at around €70,000, so you can see that we cater to a broad market. Our TABBERT product range is what we consider to be the most high-end and luxurious caravan brand in the world. The price range of WEINSBERG caravans lies in the range of €10,000 – €20,000. Knaus products are focussed on innovation and design. We cover all caravan segments, but every brand is very well differentiated. And the same applies to our motorhomes: for example, in the van conversion sector our entry-level WEINSBERG has a base price of €35,000 while the top-of-the-line MORELO motorhomes have a price tag of around €500,000. So, in terms of price we also cover the entire motorhome and van conversion segment ranges. This means that our dealer network in Europe is not reliant on any of our competitors’ models as we are able to cover needs and expectations in every product segment, every price range and we can meet every consumer taste and design demand.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you provide us with a brief outline of three Knaus Tabbert Group brands, including their market position and growth opportunities?
Wolfgang Speck: For instance, since recently relaunching WEINSBERG, a very traditional brand (dating back to the 19th century), the brand currently resembles more of an extremely dynamic start-up. Today, it is the fastest growing brand in the market. It covers all three RV segments and the growth rates are very impressive. This is a brand we see as having an outstanding future from a growth perspective. WEINSBERG is the entry-level brand of the Knaus Tabbert Group. The brand reflects attractive pricing, which means that if you are looking for a motorhome or caravan that provides excellent value for the money, then WEINSBERG is the best choice in the market. With KNAUS we have reinvented the manner in which we build our products through the use of lightweight technology. KNAUS stands for design, innovation and new technologies with a more upmarket image. TABBERT is a solid and well developed luxury brand which has a huge potential to grow in different markets as well as in the type of products offered. Our high-end brand is MORELO. Therefore, our product range can cater to any customer’s wish. To make a long story short: all brands are properly positioned to guarantee sustainable success.
Aboutcamp BtoB: In what way does Morelo fit into this outlook?
Wolfgang Speck: MORELO is one of the world’s most luxurious brands. It has a market share of over 30 percent in the luxury segment. The company was founded in 2011. From my point of view, MORELO is the market leader in this specific segment. MORELO still has a lot of potential to grow as well. The company concluded last year with sales of about €85 million and more than 350 units sold.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Is it correct to say that the focus given to the camper vans has been fundamental to the success of Knaus Tabbert in the last few years? You even created a new “CUV” acronym?
Wolfgang Speck: Yes, CUVs are part of our success, but they are not the single key to it. We have grown in all segments. If you look at segments like caravanning, the total registration numbers in Europe are more or less stagnant. However, when you look at the Knaus Tabbert brands, we have been growing consistently. Last year, we manufactured and sold roughly 12,000 caravans. This is a key pillar to our strategy and will remain one of our key pillars in the future. Furthermore, we have experienced impressive growth in the motorhome segment. We sold roughly 8,000 motorhomes last year, not including Caravan Utility Vehicles (CUVs – van conversions) compared to 2,000 motorhomes just a couple of years ago. In 2009 we produced 300 CUVs compared to 4,000 last year. This year, WEINSBERG CUVs are celebrating their 50th anniversary. The product was first launched in 1969 with a Fiat 238, a small van conversion featuring a pop-up roof. We now have 50 years of experience in the manufacturing of CUVs (even if they weren’t originally known as CUVs). In our showroom in Jandelsbrunn, we still have a well-preserved Fiat that dates back to 1971. You can learn more about this special anniversary at the Caravan Salon trade fair in Düsseldorf. Moreover, we have prepared several other new models for this important exhibition.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Many European manufacturers have abandoned or over-scheduled the production of caravans, so why have you continued to produce them? It seems that you have received excellent feedback from the market. However, in the future, there will be problems, especially if diesel tow cars disappear. What are your future caravan programmes?
Wolfgang Speck: We are quite optimistic about the future, mainly due to the emergence of electric cars. And as a consequence: what type of innovations needs to be introduced in RV market? We asked ourselves this question three years ago. We have been looking for answers and we’ve found them. We had to invent a totally different type of construction and assembly philosophy for caravans. Our frame technology enables us to build much lighter and at the same time much stronger caravans compared to what you see today in the market. 30 to 40 percent weight reduction is what we try to achieve. We also have the possibility of using automated systems for the assembly process, which up until now had not been possible. The frame technology enables us also to have 100 percent freedom for designing the interior and using most modern lightweight materials. We are fully independent from structural requirements as we need no inside furniture to stabilize the conventional sidewall-roof-housing construction. This technology also enables us to realize energy management systems and as a result the possibility of eliminating gas heating systems. We are ready to introduce alternative heating and cooling technologies. This is very important to our customers. Reducing weight and energy consumption are just a few aspects of this technology. It also enables us to create totally new designed products that are ready for the future, not only for caravans, but also for motorhomes and CUVs. We are also able to introduce new types of slide-outs creating a new dimension and sense of space. The FRAME-technology enables us also to close the gap between motorhomes and CUVs. We presented the ultra-modern CARAVISIO, automotive-like designed and fully equipped with awesome features. This is the future of Knaus Tabbert. When I talk about our innovation power, this is the proof. Future already became reality. Nobody else in the market is taking these steps. Electric cars will have towing limits which are 30 to 40 per cent lower. That’s why we are developing this project to allow people also in the future to continue using and having fun with our RV products.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The issues with diesel engines will also affect camper vans (as well as motorhomes). What are your thoughts on this situation in the short to medium term?
Wolfgang Speck: I don’t think the diesel engine will be replaced completely. I believe we will see a lot of different kinds of engines and powertrain systems in the future. Diesel engines will survive for specific purposes, such as for people who are travelling non-stop distances of 1,000 km or more, as there is no alternative. We will also see hybrid technology, purely electric cars and hydrogen vehicles. Every technology stands for itself and specific customer demands and purposes. Traveling in lonesome areas without the required charging infrastructure the diesel engine will continue to allow people to travel long distances. In particular when driving in city traffic, we will enable our customer to switch to an electric-powered rear axle, Knaus Tabbert has been working on the development of an electric-driven rear axle for some time now, partnering with well-known automotive suppliers and universities. The idea (in the near- to medium-term future) is that in combination with the lightweight frame technology, a separate lightweight chassis and an electric-driven rear axle can be developed. This would enable us to build our own hybrid RV system by combining a Fiat Ducato cab with a diesel engine and a chassis with an electric driven rear axle. We have already introduced our new lightweight technology to the caravan sector by launching the KNAUS caravans TRAVELINO and DESEO, which are both in production. Subsequently, we will begin substituting the old technology with the new technology in a step-by-step process. Our current structure and assembly process closely resembles the huge factories in the automobile industry. However, this new type of assembly process also requires the construction of new factories, so it’s an ongoing process.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What investments will you be making in future production technology?
Wolfgang Speck: Looking at our financial statements, you can see that we are investing approximately €35 to €40 million every year in new technologies and products, as well as in the expansion of our manufacturing capacity. We constructed a new plant in Hungary in 2016 and in Mottgers in 2013-2014. Last year, we completed a new plant in Jandelsbrunn with three new production lines. Looking at each Knaus Tabbert production site you will see a new state-of-the-art factory. As you see, the secret to our success is being – and staying – focussed on innovation. It’s a must for us and a benefit to our customers.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you expect the RV market to develop in Germany and the rest of Europe in the coming years?
Wolfgang Speck: This market is cyclical. That is not a secret, as there have been lots of ups and downs over the last 30 to 40 years. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the market has recovered nicely. Since 2013, the markets in Germany, Europe and the US have been growing constantly. In Germany all OEMs sold roughly 71,000 units during the last year, which is an all-time high. In Europe, it was in total roughly 203,000 units according to the figures published by the German RV-Organisation CIVD. Looking forward, we strongly believe that there is still room for further growth in Germany and Europe. I estimate that the caravan segment will see annual growth rates of 3 to 5 percent and between 7 and 10 percent a year in the motorhome segment. In our current 5y forecasts we expect to see 250,000 new RV registrations in Europe by end of 2023. We strongly believe that RV industry remains to be a growing market. Based on fundamental economic indicators, the German economy – although perhaps more slowly – will continue to grow. In addition, caravanning remains a trendy activity and an increasing number of people are choosing this type of holiday. The baby boomers will continue to define all of our target groups, and there are many other indicators and trends showing us that the market will continue to grow.
Aboutcamp BtoB: In an increasingly global market, the Knaus Tabbert Group continues to only be present in Europe. Will this still be the case in the future?Wolfgang Speck: For now, we will stay focused on the European market as this is our core market. However, today we are also successful in Australia and have been quite prosperous in the Chinese market as well. In addition, we have also been very successful in South Korea, which is a market that has 4,000 new RV registrations annually. Currently, Knaus Tabbert is selling roughly 1,000 units a year to South Korea, so we already have a 25 per cent market share. Even being focussed on Europe we are also working on a global strategy. North America is the world biggest RV market. We will see.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Other European industry groups are expanding through various acquisitions. Are you stable with your three or four brands, or would you not exclude the possibility of that type of expansion?
Wolfgang Speck: The Knaus Tabbert Group success during the last ten years was mainly build on organic growth and not on M&A activities and buy-and-build strategies. Nevertheless we are also willing to grow through acquisitions provided that we see a cultural fit, a common strategy and an economic sense.