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RV giant Thor buys Elkhart-based ambulance manufacturer SJC Industries

Recreational vehicle giant Thor Industries has diversified into the emergency response vehicle industry and indicated other acquisitions may follow.
Marilyn Odendahl
Posted on March 4, 2010 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on March 4, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.

JACKSON CENTER, Ohio -- Recreational vehicle giant Thor Industries has diversified into the emergency response vehicle industry and indicated other acquisitions may follow.

The company announced Wednesday it has purchased Elkhart-based ambulance manufacturer SJC Industries for about $20 million in cash.

"Our plans are definitely to grow the company and provide the employees of SJC with additional opportunities to prosper going forward," said Richard Riegel, Thor's senior group president.

Privately-held SJC is believed to be the second largest maker of ambulances in the United States with the brands of McCoy-Miller, Marque and Premiere. Located on D.I. Drive in Elkhart, SJC has about 175 employees.

Thor management had been public in recent weeks about its desire to acquire related business that would capitalize on its strength in assembly. Ambulance manufacturing is closely related to RV and bus production, Riegel explained, noting there is a "good comfort level" between Thor and SJC.

"We believe we can bring a lot of synergies from Thor to SJC and from SJC to Thor," Riegel said.

The acquisition drew a measured response from Thompson Research Group, an equity research firm based in Nashville, Tenn.

In an e-mail, founder Kathryn Thompson stated, "We mainly are focusing on whether margins will be additive or dilutive. Overall, however, the revenue base is quite small relative to the company's overall revenue base."

SJC has reported annual revenues of $40 million to $50 million, while Thor's revenues for fiscal year 2009 was $1.5 billion, according to Thompson Research Group.

Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Riegel did not deny his company is continuing to look for other acquisitions. Thor has always been opportunistic, he said, and it has "significant resources" to grow and bring value to its shareholders.

As a part of its growth plans, Thor is looking for SJC to expand into new markets and develop new products, Riegel said. In particular, the RV maker wants SJC to become the dominant manufacturer of ambulances and to make a bigger footprint in the domestic as well as international markets.

SJC already has a history of innovation. In 2008, to counter a slumping domestic market, the Elkhart company landed a contract to build more than 200 ambulances for the Saudi Red Crescent Society, a relief organization similar to the Red Cross and based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Also SJC recently introduced the industry's first side-loading ambulance.

Chuck Drake, SJC president, and Jim Evans, vice president of finance, will continue in their management roles with Drake reporting to Riegel. Under Thor's ownership, the ambulance maker will remain an independent operation.

As the largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles, Thor is the parent company of several RV companies including Keystone, Dutchmen, Damon and CrossRoads. Its commercial bus brands are Champion Bus, ElDorado National and Goshen Coach.

AFFINITY REFINANCE

Affinity, the nation's largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events, has completed the refinancing of its senior bank debt. The company announced Wednesday it has entered into a new $144 million loan agreement that allows the company to restructure its existing debt, which was set to mature on March 31.

Affinity publishes several magazines and Web sites, including RV Business.



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