LORDSTOWN — Marcus Lemonis was a boy the last time he was in Lordstown Motors’ vehicle assembly plant.
That was back when his elder cousin, Mark Lemonis, helped build Chevy Cavaliers on General Motors’ assembly line. Marcus Lemonis spent his summers in Campbell, near where his parents grew up. He’d wait for his cousin to clock out so they could go to the Canfield Fair.
Lemonis, now CEO of the multi-billion dollar Camping World, the largest American RV retailer, and host of CNBC’s reality TV show “The Profit”, returned Tuesday to announce he’s joined forces with the company now breathing new life into the 6.2-million square-foot facility — Lordstown Motors Corp., headed by CEO Steve Burns.
“Honestly, the thing that’s most nostalgic for me and why I’m so excited — the Lordstown plant has always been a big part of this community,” said Lemonis, who’s made his TV stardom investing to revive struggling businesses or bolster new ones.
“To come back in here today and get the tour and to really listen and hear how much knowledge and how much expertise Steve has accumulated. … I’m probably too fired up right now to express how confident I am today,” Lemonis said.
Camping World, which operates more than 170 service and collision centers nationwide and four parts distribution centers and offers an around-the-clock phone line and roadside assistance, is offering up that support infrastructure for Lordstown Motors Corp., which plans to have its Endurance all-electric pickup truck hit the road next year.
Lemonis said the company wants to have the conceptual framework in place by June, “so when the first vehicle rolls off later in the year we’re not only ready to take on the call, we’re ready to do the repairs.”
The vehicle is being marketed toward fleet buyers.
Though Lordstown Motors intends to build its own independently owned service centers in high-density areas, CEO Steve Burns said Tuesday “it’s enough to be manufacturing and we thought, ‘Should we roll out 170 stations of our own and all that goes into that?’ It would take our eye off the ball and we don’t have the resources for it.
“What we realized is we’re not going to have plain vanilla, 9-to-5 service. We’re going to have the best service,” Burns said Tuesday.
Camping World has also allocated $480 million to expand its charging infrastructure nationwide, Lemonis said — “not just for our company … but for everyone.” He said he hopes the growth would spur electric vehicle adoption. The company already has the real estate for it, much of it along major highways, he said.
Camping World’s nearest service center is in the Akron-Canton area. In Ohio, its footprint also reaches Huber Heights, Piqua and Toledo and includes a letter of intent for a “piece of dirt” in Columbus, Lemonis said.
“Ohio is a big part of our business,” as are Pennsylvania and Michigan, he said. “As most people know, Ohioans love the outdoors. ... Where fleet customers exist, our business exists and that was another parallel we both saw.”
The companies are also collaborating on new electrified RV products based on the Endurance platform like a lithium-ion battery pack for travel trailers, to replace conventional gas generators — which is expected sometime in 2021, Burns said — and the first “E-class” electrified motorhome, which is expected to come later and be “affordable to the masses,” Marcus Lemonis said Tuesday.
Burns and Lemonis on Tuesday were enthusiastic about the alliance. Burns said Lemonis brings “a freshness to automotive that I think automotive really needs.”
Lemonis, who’s been in the RV business for 20 years, called Burns an American pioneer. He noted Lordstown Motors has already crossed the biggest hurdle to the market: having a "world-class" facility in the former GM assembly complex, as well as talent.
"The process and the people are the two most important things," he told reporters. "What made us comfortable was not only their knowledge of the battery technology ... but their knowledge of the automotive space."
Though Burns didn’t talk specifically about the number of new jobs the partnership could create, he said Lordstown Motors expects to have, at its peak, “more people working here than GM.”