You could say that Frank Konigseder Jr.’s business plan is a moveable feast of fully integrated control products to rival any landlocked system.
Liberty Coach Inc., of North Chicago, Illinois, the luxury motor coach company founded by Konigseder’s parents in 1968, has grown into a fullfledged family affair. The company produces about 28 coaches per year, all of them equipped with a full complement of power systems, lighting, shading, HVAC, entertainment, and mechanical systems, mainly controlled by Crestron. Prices for Liberty’s Elegant Lady coaches, with customized interiors and amenities including up to eight AV zones, are in the $2.1 million range.
Liberty Coach produces about 28 coaches per year, all of them equipped with a full complement of power systems, lighting, shading, HVAC, entertainment, and mechanical systems, mainly controlled by Crestron.
All of the company’s coaches feature surround sound systems by Bose Lifestyle with DVD and processor in one. Complete sets of speakers are installed in the forward area and in the rear lounge or bedroom area. Standard installation in one coach includes TVs from eight manufacturers, such as monitors from LG, Tote Vision’s 10-inch monitor installed behind a vanity mirror, and a complete entertainment center for viewing and listening outside the coach, typically a 32-inch LCD monitor with a JVC system, Kenwood’s AV system from its auto division for the coach dash, and Sound Matters subwoofers. In addition, iPod docking, and Blu-ray Disc are featured.
Building a family business
In 1978, when Liberty partnered with Quebec-based Prevost, its supplier of empty new coach shells, the move took the luxury coach market to a higher level, said Konigseder, a mechanical engineer and company vice-president. “We are currently in production on our 705th coach. My brother Kurt, also a vice president, designs the interior layouts and handles production. His wife Kim creates interior designs. I manage engineering, electronics, sales and service, and my wife, Carolyn, creates exterior paint schemes and graphics, and coordinates marketing including marketing for our Liberty Coach rallies.”
Frank Konigseder Jr. is a mechanical engineer and Liberty Coach’s vice president.. Because he and his brother grew up in the luxury coach business, they developed an intimate knowledge of how the motor coach lifestyle works and are able to come up with a continuous thread of innovative ideas, Konigseder explained. “We just finished a year-long production for a California winery coach that travels the country as a wine tasting room and lounge. One specific bay has a chiller with Crestron-controlled temperature.”
Adding crestron to the mix
The decision to bring Crestron aboard, and to become a Crestron dealer in 2001, was ignited by requests from Liberty customers who enjoyed Crestron systems in their homes. In 2000, Liberty built a coach for the Florida Marlins. David Frangioni, CEO of Audio One in Miami, installed an extensive AV system in that particular vehicle, which heightened Konigseder’s interest.
“The Crestron world allowed us to offer remote control in user-friendly residential-style touchpanels,” he said. “The challenges come from integrating a wide array of equipment and controls such as the Allen-Bradley PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).”
AC and DC electrical breakers for more than 100 loads are controlled through a Moritz Aerospace Octoplex distribution system. These are seamlessly integrated with two TPMC-8X panels and three TPS-6L panels.
Accomplishing this interface was a major undertaking, according to Konigseder. “We had to develop a programming language to communicat from Crestron to Moritz and back to get up-to-date reporting,” he explained. “I was trying to eliminate weight, and this allowed us to eliminate three miles of wire (375 pounds) of wire. I was fortunate to have a master Crestron programmer, Henrik Nielsen, and I went through Crestron programming school. Now we have an integration specialist,Paul Hilgeman, doing our programming.”
Built to last...and upgrade
Liberty’s goal was to offer a one-button press system, setting it apart from competitors, Konigseder said. “When you deliver a coach of this magnitude and you open a drawer with 15 remotes, everyone has heart failure. Our systems include In Motion Direct TV, local HD broadcast tuners, and e-Control,all on Crestron,” he noted. “The coach is its own Wi- Fi Internet hotspot. Nobody else in our industry has that capability to make panel and programming changes, not only on the Crestron side but also for other applications. We’ve programmed certain coaches to allow for control of AV, lighting, and gates in the owners’ homes as well.”
With only 320-square feet to work with, Liberty has had to devise AV and other equipment spaces without
reducing closet space for clothing.. With only 320-square feet to work with, Liberty has had to devise AV and other equipment spaces without reducing closet space for clothing. Much of the equipment is spread throughout the coaches, with the back wall designed to end inches from the actual back wall to accommodate access panels for the system.
The Liberty business model, Konigseder says, focuses on building coaches that are very reliable on the road. But the company also wants to be able to offer newer equipment, to entice customers to trade up their vehicles every couple of years. Liberty maintains a 16,000-square-foot showroom/service center/dealership in Stuart, Florida, for used coaches that are taken on trade. “These coache themselves don’t wear out; they’re good for two to three million miles,” he said. “We built a coach for the Charlie Daniels Band in 1994 that has more than 1.2 million miles on it. We have done some retrofitting on it because when it was first built it was done with a mixing system for writing scores, and that has been changed.”
The growing retrofit market centers on the move by broadcast stations to go to digital, for which Liberty will integrate new tuners. “Most of our customer base relies on satellite,” Konigseder said. “We have found in the last year that we’ve been able to get great local reception with HD tuners and everybody is turned on by that.”
Different from ci
Liberty’s business model is different by definition from that of a typical residential integrator. Coach customers don’t use these systems every day as they would at home, and may only use the coaches for one month each year. That means, that Konigseder and his team have to be especially mindful of making it easier to use.
“Our goal is to make everything as intuitive as possible,” he said. “We also have to be concerned about the size characteristics we’re dealing with. In a residential application you have the ability to have a closet that is an entire AV room, and we don’t have that luxury. We’re restricted. We’re selling the interior of what we build and the ease at which it blends together. We have so many other mechanical systems onboard that you wouldn’t have at home such as generators, and fluid level and navigation systems.”
His parents, Frank Konigseder, Sr. and Jeanne, started Liberty to fill a need for a motor home that was problem-free and more desirable than what was on the production market at the time. A lot has changed since then. “They gutted used buses and redid the interiors,” Konigseder said. “There was a tube television as well as an AM/FM radio. They have no conception of how it could have gotten to this point but they just can’t say enough about how their dream continues to evolve.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado.