Lordstown Motors, Camping World Partnership Driven by Deep Local Roots
LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Eighty-three year old Willie Brundidge peers into a laptop computer perched atop a small table at his son and daughter-in-law’s house in Minneapolis.
There, he watches events unfold some 800 miles away at a former General Motors auto plant where he worked for more than 30 years.
“He’s so excited,” said Sheletta Brundidge, a radio and podcast personality in Minneapolis. “He worked for 32 years at the Lordstown plant building cars.”
On Tuesday, the elder Brundidge tuned in to watch as Camping World Inc. Chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis and Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns announced a partnership that would establish a national service and collision network for the Endurance, the all-electric pickup that Lordstown Motors plans to produce next year.
The partnership could lead to a more ambitious effort to develop the first electric E-class recreational vehicle at the Lordstown plant, the CEOs said. READ STORY
“My father-in-law raised five children working in that plant until he retired in 1998,” Sheletta Brundidge said. To see Camping World’s Lemonis make such a bold announcement at the very complex where he once worked brought a sense of satisfaction to the entire family, she said.
“He’s a giver,” she said of Lemonis. “This guy is helping the plant where my father-in-law worked for 32 years. He put his life into the plant and that community.”
Brundidge knows firsthand how Lemonis — a serial entrepreneur and star of CNBC’s “The Profit” – can make a difference.
This spring, Brundidge said she was on Twitter when a message was posted on her timeline. It was Lemonis, who announced he wanted to give away a free camper. “I didn’t know who he was – I thought he was some sort of snake oil salesman or something,” she recalled.
Brundidge didn’t hold back during their Twitter exchange, and Lemonis urged her not to look him up on the Internet. “He said ‘I like the fact that you’re real with me.’” Lemonis then urged her to be at the computer at noon the following day. “He said that he had an announcement to make,” she recalled.
It turns out that Lemonis became aware through social media of the Brundidge’s difficulties traveling with their four children, three of whom are autistic. Air travel became impossible, since the stimulation was too overwhelming for her three special-needs children.
So Lemonis went a step further. Because of Brundidge’s work with the autism community, he offered her and her family the opportunity to serve as celebrity spokespeople for Camping World. The deal includes a stipend and a luxury, Thor Class A RV, in which the family now uses to travel everywhere.
“It was an amazing thing,” she said. “That RV gave our family the freedom to travel.”
Lemonis told The Business Journal that Camping World tries to find families that best represent the industry and company. In the past, the RV and camping business had lacked gender and race diversity, a direction Camping World wanted to change, he said.
“That’s a big thing for us,” he said, noting Brundidge is among a handful of people who travel the country and explain how to educate your kids on the road and how to run your business on the road.
Brundidge’s father-in-law and husband, Shawn, are from Warren, she said, and noted that it was heartening to see Lemonis engaging in such a productive partnership to help revive the Lordstown complex.
GM officially closed the plant in October 2019, eliminating more than 1,500 jobs. Electric vehicle startup Lordstown Motors purchased the sprawling plant that November and has started to retool the plant to produce the Endurance.
“It’s so good to see Marcus continuing to bless folks in and from northeast Ohio,” she said.
Part of that could be because Lemonis has roots of his own in the Mahoning Valley. His parents were from Campbell and moved to Miami before they adopted Lemonis, who was born in Lebanon.
However, Lemonis spent just about every summer in Campbell with his relatives. His cousin Mark worked at the Lordstown plant, coincidentally during the same period that Willie Brundidge worked there. He recalls fondly the summers going to the Canfield Fair, he said.
“I was in this factory as a little boy,” Lemonis recalled. “It’s a bit of a full circle to come back to the town where my parents grew up to see this factory revived.”
But it was also the story behind Lordstown Motors and its founder Steve Burns that helped sell Lemonis on a deal that would help revitalize this plant. “The personal connection and working with a pioneer like Steve was motivation enough,” he said.
Under the terms of the partnership, Endurance owners would be able to get their vehicles serviced by Camping World, which has 170 locations, nearly 2,000 service bays, a call center, nationwide roadside assistance and four distribution centers that ship parts across the country.
“What makes us a little different is that our service structure and our parts infrastructure deals with so many different kinds of vehicles,” Lemonis said. “Steve felt we understood the nuances and individuality that’s needed to make it work.”
In addition, Camping World and its manufacturing partners will work with Lordstown Motors to bring electrification to travel trailers and motorhomes.
During the press conference, Burns and Lemonis said they expect the first electrified tow-behind travel trailers and motorhome to be ready “sometime in 2021.
“If it’s up to me, I’d have it tomorrow,” Lemonis said. “I’d hope that by summer, we’ll see some prototypes.”
Lordstown Motors will develop the battery technology and will work with Camping World and other RV manufacturers for tow-behind trailers first, then work up to what Lemonis called the first Class E motorhome in the United States.
”We’ve been looking at this space and understand our need to be responsible, not only in the environment, but as a leader in the RV industry to where trends are going,” Lemonis said.
The company is also investing $4 million to develop universal electric-vehicle charging stations at its 170 locations across the country, he added.
Burns said the first step is to provide an excellent service network for Endurance customers across the country, and Camping World provided a perfect fit.
Lordstown Motors expects to employ about 1,500 workers at the plant by 2024. Production of the Endurance, billed as the first commercial all-electric pickup, is expected to begin in September as a fleet vehicle, and then evolve into the consumer market.
“The end goal is to employ more people here than GM did in its heyday,” Burns said.
Pictured: Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns and Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis at the announcement Tuesday their companies would be partnering to provide service and charging for electric vehicles, including the Lordstown Motors Endurance and battery-powered RVs.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.