Airstream: The 21st Century Trailer

“We're about 20 years behind Harley-Davidson,” says Larry Huttle, 56, chairman of Airstream, referring to the company thathas transformed itself from a specialized niche to a formidable ainstream brand. What Harley-Davidson is to the motorcycle business, Airstream is the travel trailer business. Both are American icons in their own right.

Although RVs (recreational vehicles) date back to the dust bowl, they are currently enjoying a new-millennium renaissance. Larry and his wife just returned from a two-week cruise Alaska. “I've never seen so many RVs in one place before!” Larry Huttle knows a lot about RVs. He also knows a thing or two about consumer behavior, having studied psychology and built his career in sales and marketing in the recreational vehicle industry for over 32 years. He's been at Airstream for 23 of those years, first as head of sales and marketing, and then, for the past 14 years, as president. He has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the industry and is keenly aware of the changing attitudes and demographics. Airstream has gone from being the “Cadillac of trailers” to, in Huttle's words, the “Mercedes of towables.” This shift is more than semantic. Airstream is trying to update its image to appeal to a younger, design-savvy market.

At the forefront of Airstream's rebranding effort is International CCD, which was launched in early 2002. Sales of the new trailer have been brisk. The International CCD is pitched to a younger demographic than Airstream's core market of 55-65. In fact, the very first buyer of the $38,000 International CCD is only 27. So what is the appeal of the International CCD, and what inspired Airstream to finally leap into the future? The International CCD tells the story of a 70-year-old Midwestern companyrecently awakened by the demands of the 21st century.

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First published in Gain 1.0: AIGA Journal of Design for the Network Economy.