Forza/Solei: Anatomy of a Revolution

Don Cohen Don Cohen  |  02.01.2014

In the fall of 2001 Steve Jobs strode across the stage with a device the size of a card deck and proclaimed to the world that Apple was introducing a revolution in digital media: the iPod.  It was a typical Jobsian boast that, in many ways, was true.  But, few recall there were other MP3 players already in the marketplace.  The iPod wasn’t the first digital music player, however it became quickly apparent that it was instantly the best.

In its own way there is a strong parallel with the new Forza (and Itasca Solei) to Apple’s iPod.  This isn’t the first product in the entry level diesel pusher category, but it’s representative of a new level of engineering innovation and a different way of thinking about building motorhomes.

From the 1970’s into the mid 1990’s diesel powered motorhomes were confined to an exclusive and tiny segment of bus-derived products.  When RV specific chassis from manufacturers like Spartan and Freightliner entered the marketplace Winnebago quickly embraced the diesel platform and put its engineers to work in developing several successful classes of vehicles. The diesel chassis platform offered improvements in power, handling, storage and mileage.  Today, the rear engine diesel pusher chassis is at the heart of all mid-range and upscale Class A motorhomes.

In 2005 the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act forced manufacturers to almost eliminate all smoke and fumes from diesel engines.  And to look at murky sunless photos of Chinese cities today, no one in America will argue against preserving good air quality.  Nonetheless when you squeeze a balloon on one side, it expands on the other.  And so it is that with new diesel pollution reduction technology: the air is clearer, but that improvement came with an increase of $20-25,000 dollars per chassis which pushed the purchase out of reach for a good number of potential customers.

Coming out of the great recession the product development team at Winnebago sensed an opportunity to fill the diesel price gap in their product line with a more affordable design. Like Apple, Winnebago wouldn’t be the first to market, but they were determined to make sure, that when they arrived, they’d be the best.  Early on, 17 year Winnebago veteran, Ryan Roske became the Forza/Solei’s product manager.  Roske had worked his way up the corporate ladder by spending the early part of his career as a district sales rep.  That put him on the front lines with both dealers and customers and he knew, firsthand, the challenges the company would face in developing a feature-leading coach in a very competitive product space.

“We knew, after the recession that a big segment of our potential customers were going to be a lot more price conscious,” explains Roske.  “And we knew there were just some things we were absolutely not going to compromise on, like our SuperStructure construction, one-piece fiberglass roofs, or eliminating our in-depth documentation or Fast Track warranty parts ordering.  Winnebago buyers expect that in all our products so there was no way we weren’t going to keep them.”

The company has designed a new product to meet an aggressive price point, but perhaps the biggest innovation is one you’ll never see and, as far as the industry goes, it’s a radical rethink in motorhome manufacturing.  Instead of stopping the assembly line and retooling coaches for each model year, a new process of continual product improvement has been put into place.  As dealer and owner feedback of the models is gathered, design adjustments will periodically be made throughout the year.  It’s a business model more like software with 1.1 and 1.2 incremental improvements and a bigger 2.0 refresh happening on a longer interval basis.  This change has two distinct benefits. First, it keeps Winnebago at the head of the pack in being able to continually introduce improvements and innovations to the product line. Second, it provides an uninterrupted flow of coaches to dealer’s lots to insure that buyers have plenty of choice in floorplans and decor schemes.

“When you buy a motor home it’s all about floorplans,” Roske continues. “Floorplan optimization has always been one of Winnebago’s hallmarks and the two plans we’re introducing reflect that decades of experience.”

Differences in floorplans can be subtle, and whether you’re on the Internet or looking at a brochure, sometimes you really need to stand inside a coach to see and feel the difference.  However, when you take a few minutes to study and compare the new 34T and 38R floorplans to other manufacturers, the differences become immediately apparent.

The 34T  is a rare mid-entry floorplan for a Class A coach.  Mid-entry designs are often problematical in interrupting valuable wall space.  However, the Winnebago designers seemed to have found the sweet spot between the living area and galley that doesn’t waste any precious space and provides a refreshing sense of arrival into the coach.

The 38R is notable for its incredibly family friendly design.  This is the perfect family coach that can easily accommodate seven people.  With its twin bunk beds, 1/2 bath, and private master suite, this plan offers some very comfortable separation for mom and dad (or grandma and grandpa).

The interior design scheme reflects a growing trend of cleaner lines on the outside and a  liberal use of high end finishes such as hardwood cabinetry and a Corian topped galley on inside.

Under the floor there’s the growl of a Cummins turbo diesel which, at 340 HP, is larger than many others in this class.  And larger also applies to the 153 (34T) and 228 (38R) cubic feet of storage, much of which is pass through.

In the real estate development business the term “value engineering” often is the code phrase for taking things out.  In the case of the Forza/Solei it’s more like adding in features and quality details that you’d expect to see in much more expensive coaches.

With a rethink of manufacturing processes and innovative engineering, early sales of the Forza and Solei models are clearly indicating that these coaches have just raised the bar for the affordable diesel pusher market.  In this case the revolution has arrived on six wheels, weighing in at a svelte 30,000 pounds.

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To learn more about the Winnebago Forza click here.

To learn more about the Itasca Solei click here.


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8 Comments

  1. Gary Foster Posted on 12.18.2016

    I am a new-bee as the RV community goes and am looking hard at my first purchase being the Forza 38R. I am though have a bit of a time getting around a few things. First – is the coach is built for family and accommodate seven persons so why would you put a 6 gallon hot water device in it? In my opinion it should have, at the least a continual flow of hot water for a family coach. Second – For a coach that accommodates seven or more people wouldn’t it make since to have a refrigerator with water and ice in the door. Family or not, that’s a lot of hands digging in the ice bucket. Third – I’ve looked at several bunk designs and the Forza is the only one that uses a $10 curtain with a $2 rod which hangs in the hallway. Most of the (others) use separate curtains for each bunk and also have privacy doors. Would these possibly be a thought for future models? The 340HP in a 40FT is also a concern since most motorhome users have a need to tow and they have to tow what they now already own.

  2. Rob DeLaMare Posted on 10.14.2016

    I’m just compiling all the info I can regarding the Forza and Solei.

  3. Richard Gaudy Posted on 04.14.2015

    I just bought a Solei with delivery expected lat May. However, I am having second thoughts about a 340 HP engine powering a 40′ coach. A jump up to a Journey increases that significantly. There will be two of us traveling and I will have 1,300 lbs of motorcycle/lift on the rear. Thoughts?

  4. J. Schwarz Posted on 07.04.2014

    What differences are there between the Forza and Solei (e.g. option list; structural)?

    The cockpit monitor should have an option of a larger size (6″ is too small) and include navigation.

    The 38R layout is ideal for our purposes…..

    Thank you

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 07.09.2014

      There are no differences in options, structure or floorplans between the Solei and the Forza. However, there are different decor and exterior paint options. The cockpit monitor (NAV, satellite radio, remote camera video) is standard, but not upgradeable as a factory option. After delivery, your RV dealer or mobile electronics dealer could provide other size and external mounting options for an auxiliary GPS. In-dash NAV units are designed for standard “double DIN” which limits the diagonal screen size to 7″ from all manufacturers. Larger screen size does not necessarily equate to more readability. The factory NAV system in my Infiniti is slightly larger and has high higher resolution than my Kenwood DNX690HD in my Navion. However, the higher-res graphics in the Infiniti make the type smaller and harder to read than the Kenwood. Don’t go on specs alone. Just like looking at TVs in the store, your eyes will be the best judge of what’s best for you.

  5. Vicki Beard Posted on 06.25.2014

    We use our Journey in the snow and at the lake- every year, all year. It is always full of people, mostly short ones (grandchildren). Why can’t we get darker toned couches/chairs? The white is killing me. I need navy blue or gray leather. We want to get a Forza, but that is way too much white couch for me

  6. Bob and Marleen Posted on 03.13.2014

    With continuous upgrades as you mentioned in the article, will it be difficult for RV repairmen and mechanics to make sure they have the equipment and parts as needed? Just wondering.

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 03.13.2014

      That’s a very interesting question. From my perspective as a Winnebago owner, the company sensibly uses very standard industry components in both the chassis and coach which are readily available and repairable/replaceable by dealers. The company is very good at keeping its dealer network up-to-date with future products and enhancements and maintains a large parts warehouse where items, if necessary, can be shipped overnight.

      Don