NEBusiness Gazette 21 may 2008 THE country’s second-biggest caravan and motorhome maker has axed 50 jobs in a year and it says it is looking for further voluntary redundancies. Consett company Explorer Group is budgeting for a tough 2008. But after a clean sweep at last week’s Caravan Club Motorhome awards and a £400,000 factory expansion, it believes the worst of the pain is almost over. Commercial director Chris Whitham said: “We have had to tailor the business to what we expect the market to be over the next two years. “Obviously decisions will then have to be taken as to how we develop the business, but we have added 30% more space, giving us an additional production line for our motorhomes. “Last week we won first, second and third at the annual Caravan Club awards with our new motorhome range. This is an area of the business where we are looking for significant improvement. It is less affected by the credit crunch, having an older demographic. We believe the measures we have taken and are taking will put the business in a good position for future growth.” The company, which has 380 workers, made 5,700 units last year but has budgeted for 5,200 in 2008. Last year’s turnover was £57.1m, with the need for caravans and mobile homes to house flood victims boosting sales from £56.7m the year before. But profits fell from £3.3m in 2006 to £2.8m, with European components costs up as the pound fell 12% against the euro. Mr Whitham said: “So far this year, we have had 11 voluntary redundancies and 31 compulsory redundancies. We have said we will consider any further requests for voluntary redundancies. At this point we do not expect any further compulsory redundancies.” He said that in five years the firm had invested £5m in its factory and the mechanisation had made some jobs obsolete. Stephen Thompkins, of the GMB union, said: “We have seen over 40 jobs go so far this year and we thought that was it. We thought there was just going to be one hit, so we are disappointed by this latest announcement.” Mr Whitham said the caravan market was not expected to pick up significantly in the next year, with this area of business – most attractive to the 35 to 54 age group – hit by the credit crunch. He said: “We make around 1,000 motorhomes every year with the most expensive of these coming in at £32,000. Some of our competitors are in the market at over £60,000. We are planning to move into this high end are and open up a whole new market for the company.” Explorer Group yesterday announced the appointment of a new managing director. Rob Quine, finance director for eight years, takes over on Friday. Steve Ford, MD for six years, is to “take a break from industry”, a spokesman said. His departure is not connected to the redundancies, Mr Whitham said.