When is a Winnebago not a Winnebago?

When it's a motorhome made by Winnebago Australia. With Malcolm Street.

When is a Winnebago not a Winnebago?
When is a Winnebago not a Winnebago?

There is no doubt that the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) had major effects on the world economy in all kinds of ways. Long after newspaper headlines stopped mentioning it, the economic effects linger.

Recently, I mentioned the difficulties that Kea Campers was struggling with, and Kea is certainly not the only motorhome rental company in the Australian/NZ region that’s looking at its operations.

This month, another post-GFC effect has come to the surface, this time out of a recent court case involving Winnebago Industries in the USA and Winnebago here in Australia. I should point out that, despite many a misconception, Winnebago US and Winnebago Australia have nothing to do with each other apart from a common name.

Backtracking a little, in the aftermath of the GFC, the recreational vehicle market in the US went through a severe downturn. Many manufacturers downsized and, in some cases, went out of business altogether. By comparison, it is interesting to note that although the Australian RV industry slowed down it survived quite well, suffering nothing like the trauma of the US manufacturers.

As a result of the US RV industry downsizing, there were three follow-on effects for the Australian industry. Firstly, fewer tourists were visiting and using rental motorhomes. Secondly, importers of US-origin RVs suddenly found the manufacturers much more amenable to meeting Australian requirements. Thirdly, and the point of this article, US RV manufacturers began looking for other markets, in particular those like Australia and New Zealand, which were previously too small worry about.

I’m surmising here but when Winnebago US looked at Australia and NZ, they would have found a little problem: the Winnebago name was already here, and had been since the early 1980s when it was registered in Victoria.

Early last year, Winnebago US took Winnebago Australia to the Federal Court of Australia over the use of the Winnebago name and in late July the judgement was handed down in favour of Winnebago US. In effect, Winnebago Australia and all its dealers are to cease using the Winnebago name in any context. It doesn’t take much thought to realise the implications of all this, not only for Winnebago Australia but, to a lesser extent, for the entire Australian motorhome industry. Having read the judgement, it’s interesting to note that Winnebago US knew about the use of the Winnebago name in Australia for some considerable years before deciding to take any action.

The following is Winnebago Australia’s press statement, in full, released soon after the decision.

"A finding has been made against us regarding our brand name Winnebago. We are and always have been an Australian owned and operated family business that has been manufacturing motorhomes in Australia since 1965. We bought the business name in 1978 and we are completely shocked at this finding. At this point in time our legal team are going through the detail of the findings where they will determine if an appeal will take place.

"Nothing has changed with either our products or the services we offer. We have a reputable product, a reliable dealer network and service centres located throughout Australia and New Zealand."