U.S. motorhome maker Winnebago Industries Inc said its quarterly loss narrowed as demand for its biggest and most profitable vehicles showed signs of life, and it announced plans to boost production.

The worst may be over, it said, adding that it had already ramped up its workforce.

Revenue for the fiscal first quarter rose 16.7 percent to $81 million.

Winnebago reported a quarterly loss of $1.3 million, or 5 cents per share, down from a loss of $9.6 million, or 33 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected a loss of 7 cents per share on sales of $108.22 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Bob Olson, Winnebago's chairman, chief executive and president, hailed the revenue rise and a 350 percent increase in the order backlog as encouraging signs of a turning point.

The backlog was 1,521 vehicles as of November 28.

As difficult as this recession has been for Winnebago Industries and the entire RV industry, we believe the worst may be over, he said in a statement.

Winnebago said it had increased its workforce by 350 during the quarter. The current headcount at the company, including the additional workers, is about 2,000. That's down from a peak of 4,220 in 2004.

U.S. motorhome manufacturers have watched sales drop for five years in a row as rising gas prices and then the worldwide economic downturn killed demand for its products, which in the case of Winnebago range in price from $65,000 to $317,000.

RV manufacturers expect to ship just 14,100 motorhomes in 2009, the industry's worst showing in the 38 years data has been collected. That is down 50 percent from the 28,300 shipped in 2008 and down 80 percent from 71,800 in 2004.

Winnebago shares were untraded ahead of the opening of regular trading. The stock closed at $10.90 on Wednesday.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; editing by John Wallace and Ted Kerr)