Winnebago Australia, Australia's premier Motorhome manufacturer has vowed to fight on for the rights to the Winnebago name in Australia and at the same time will launch a second brand into the Australian RV Market, called Avida Motorhomes.
Winnebago Industries of Iowa in the United States of America, a company not associated with Winnebago in Australia has, after a period of over four decades, decided to take action to prevent Winnebago Australia from using the name despite having signed an agreement in the early 1990's.
The first salvo of this battle was a win to the American company when the Federal Court of Australia decided that there was sufficient knowledge of the Winnebago brand in Australia way back in 1978, mostly gleaned from Australians holidaying in the USA at the time and the court decided that Winnebago Industries of Iowa USA should be entitled to the naming rights.
Ben Binns, CEO of Winnebago in Australia said "we were shocked and dismayed at the decision which was totally unexpected as we felt we had done everything right in this matter”.
"Winnebago Australia acquired the business name, Winnebago in 1978 after having traded as the Freeway Motor Camper Company for 13 years, striking an agreement in writing with the (Winnebago USA) company to use the name. "To have them try to prevent us from using the name so many years later is astounding” said Mr Binns.
Winnebago is a great story about manufacturing in Australia in a time where the national outlook for Australian manufacturers generally is bleak with many moving offshore to compete with cheap Asian brands and cost structures.
Winnebago has been building motorhomes in Australia since 1965 when Bruce Binns, a builder by trade, returned from a back packing holiday around the USA and having observed the burgeoning motorhome industry developing there, he decided to try his hand at building a slide-on camper on the back of a 1964 EH Holden ute.
He did this in his garage at home then sold it on the footpath to fund the next and so on, moving into a small factory, suffering the financial setbacks all small businesses generally suffer and against all odds, gradually built up the company to now setting the pace as the number one motorhome manufacturer in Australia.
Winnebago continues to be run by the family as they continue to successfully create sales records despite the fairly poor economic conditions.
Undeterred by the competitive challenge particularly from Asia , Winnebago Australia has expanded its manufacturing facility at Emu Plains where its 3.6 hectare site comprises two state of the art factories totalling over 17000 square metres undercover and utilises the most modern and forward thinking technology in its motorhome manufacturing process.
Winnebago employs around 160 people at the factory, mainly local people from the Western Region of Sydney where unemployment rates are high, the company also employs many more people indirectly from the surrounding areas.
"The court decision has unfortunately created a lot of anxiety in our employees and their families,” said Mr Binns. "It could have been devastating to our employees and all those people involved in component supply and manufacture and our various partners”.
For this and many other reasons, none the least being that Winnebago Australia feel they have done everything right in accordance with Australian law, they have decided to appeal the decision and are confident that the appeal will go in their favour.
"The appeal will not be heard by the Full Federal Court until the end of March this year with the outcome of the appeal potentially not known until mid-2013 and you can imagine the distraction to the business because of all this” said Mr Binns, but the Binns family is determined to save the jobs of their employees, many of whom have served the company loyally for many years.
The economic conditions are tough for everyone at this time and no company would be happy with a major distraction to the business focus such as this, with many development plans on hold until the wheels of the legal system slowly turn.
"We have adopted a worse case strategy, a conservative yet exciting approach of launching a second brand – Avida” said Mr Binns. Avida is a brand which will be with us for many years irrespective of the result of the appeal and will create many future opportunities for us, and whilst we are confident of winning, we intend to promote Avida as the makers of the Australian Winnebago, linking a tried and tested brand to the newest motorhome brand on the market.
Avida and Winnebago continue to build the largest range of motorhomes in Australia and demonstrably the strongest, after all, with 48 years of manufacturing experience build motorhomes in Australia behind them, who better would understand what is required to withstand the harsh road and climatic conditions found throughout Australia.