Wichita, Kan.-based Airxcel Inc., a manufacturer of recreational vehicle products, has acquired Elkhart, Ind.-based Elkhart Composites Inc., a manufacturer of sustainable composite material for RV sidewalls that is displacing traditional tropical hardwood.
Airxcel and its parent company, Thor Industries Inc., plan to expand production capacity for the acquired company's Elkboard-brand sidewalls, which are extruded with a proprietary foamed polypropylene composite material developed as an alternative to lauan wood panels from Asia.
Thor Industries, the world's largest RV manufacturer, acquired Airxcel in September for $750 million as part of a plan to broaden its product offering and expand innovation opportunities.
Terms of the deal between Airxcel and Elkhart Composites haven't been disclosed.
The acquisition brings Elkboard — lightweight, rigid, durable, and resists rot and delamination — into the lineup. The product's growth potential is exponential, according to Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries, which offers RV brands like Airstream, Dutchmen, Jayco and Starcraft.
"Our companies have been purchasing 100 percent of the Elkboard produced, but that number has only supported a fraction of the RVs we produce," Martin said in a news release.
In the 2021 fiscal year, Thor sold more than 300,000 towable and motorized RVs, generating $12.3 billion in sales, which continue to climb. The company reported Dec. 8 that first-quarter sales of $3.96 billion were up 56 percent from the prior year.
"Independent dealer sentiment remains positive and consumer demand for our RV products remains strong," Martin said. "In the first quarter, our global order backlog increased to more than $18 billion, reaffirming our view that the dealer restocking process will still take a number of quarters to complete and could possibly extend into calendar [year] 2023."
Elkboard will help wean the RV industry from plywood sourced from the Philippines, used in flooring and other structural parts, while solving logistical problems, Martin added.
"For decades, the RV industry has sourced lauan wood from tropical hardwood forests, which continue to be overharvested," he said. "As the recent supply chain constraints have demonstrated, sourcing such materials from the other side of the world can no longer be taken for granted and our ability to quality control lauan product is severely limited."
Elkboard is produced with oversight for quality and consistency, Martin also said.
"Its current use in sidewalls is only the beginning for this product," he predicts. "With additional R&D investment into the Elkboard product, we expect it can be utilized as a solution in several other RV applications."
John Petrofsky, Elkhart Composites' president and CEO, will remain active in the business. He said he considered several potential suitors.
"As the demand for the Elkboard product began to outpace my ability to produce it, I began looking for the right partner to assist in expanding the production and utilization of Elkboard," Petrofsky said. "Thor's embrace of sustainable technologies and products combined with its focus on innovation made it the right choice for the company."
Jeff Rutherford, president and CEO of Airxcel, said Petrofsky and his Elkboard product "presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Airxcel to enter the ground floor of a new and exciting business."