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From the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association:

RV Shipments Surging in 2017 to Highest Level Ever Continued Growth Expected for 2018, a Record 9th Straight Year

The recreation vehicle (RV) industry’s shipments will reach 472,200 units in 2017, the highest annual total since the data has been collected, and a 9.6% increase from the number shipped last calendar year, announced Frank Hugelmeyer, President of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

According to a new forecast presented today by Hugelmeyer at RVIA’s Committee Week luncheon, RV shipments are expected to reach even greater heights in 2018, with wholesale production projected at 487,200 units.

Shipments totaled 120,866 in the first quarter of 2017, an increase of 11.7% from 2016. This represented the highest shipment rate of any quarter since 1981, with the monthly totals rising throughout the quarter for all types of RVs. The quarterly gains were widespread, with type B and C motorhomes up by more than 30% from the previous year, and conventional and fifth-wheel travel trailers up by 10%. Shipments of folding camping trailers and truck campers fell 10% from 2016.

“Our industry is in an era of unprecedented growth,” said Hugelmeyer. “We are poised to record an eighth consecutive year of shipment gains, mainly due to product innovations that appeal to retiring baby-boomers as well as younger buyers. The recession is in the rearview mirror. This is a new era for the RV industry.”

Obviously I am encouraged to see so much growth in the RV industry.

But is it a good thing?

RV Daily Report has started an OpEd series by Greg Gerber titled the RV Industry Death Spiral:

I have come to realize the RV industry is in a death spiral.

The current business model is simply unsustainable and the professionals working in the industry either:

  • Know what’s going on, are in denial, and remain hopeful the problems will simply fix themselves.
  • Don’t want to know what’s going on and keep their heads firmly planted in the sand ignoring many very obvious signs.
  • Are aware of the problem, know it won’t end well, but are simply choosing to ride the wave as long as they can.

Greg Gerber, having covered the industry since 2000, makes the following point about the death spiral:

Consumers are frustrated beyond words over product quality and customer service. Every single day I hear about another issue involving a new or experienced RVer. RV owners are seething over the finger-pointing response they receive when attempting to get problems addressed.

Well, our experience with Newmar has been great. Excellent customer service from the company and excellent customer service from our dealer. We are not frustrated beyond words over product quality and customer service. That said, there is obviously a gap in terms of the level of quality of a high-end BMW at $100,000 against a Newmar Dutch Star at nearly $500,000 (Canadian) against say a Prevost coach at nearly $3 million (Canadian). Overall, we are fine with the level of quality against the cost. We love our coach and we expect to get many years of enjoyment from operating our coach.

Perhaps a better context is the expectation a consumer brings into the discussion. The inevitable tradeoff between cost and quality. A cheaper RV is going to trade cost against quality. There really isn’t much choice.

Greg does make an excellent observation about the industry:

… two firms control about 72 percent of the entire RV market. With Thor’s acquisition of Jayco last Friday, that number is now up to 83 percent.

Concentration of the manufacturing to a limited number of firms is rarely good for consumers. Inevitably, an oligopoly or a de facto monopoly will seek to maximize profits usually at the expense of the consumer. Innovation, product quality, customer service all become secondary considerations when there is such a lack of competition.

I hope Newmar continues to remain a viable, independent company.

Hershey RV Show Takeaways

trek

What did we learn from our two days at the Hershey RV show? Plenty.

The Crowds: RVs are Popular Again

This was the entrance area into the show on the Saturday.

Crowded

By the time early Saturday afternoon came along, it was virtually impossible to get into most of the coaches. The show was jammed. The parking lot was jammed. The seminars were jammed. Too many people.

From a recent article on Yahoo Finance:

After RV shipments dropped to a 30-year low in the downturn of the late 2000s, demand is stronger than ever, says Pete Reeb, principal at California-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

In fact, the demand for RVs is insatiable: There will be a record number of RV shipments this year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). We haven’t seen these levels since the late 1970s. RVIA estimates that over 400,000 RVs will ship in 2016. Currently, there are about 9 million RVs on the road in the US, and an estimated 8% to 9% of all US households now own an RV.

rviashipments

 

If we look at the S&P 500 over the same period, there seems to be a fairly close relationship of RV sales to stock market performance.

sp500

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association makes a couple of interesting points:

Wholesale RV shipments are projected to total 396,400 units by the end of 2016, an increase of six percent over the 374,200 units shipped in 2015. Moreover, 2017 will mark the eighth consecutive year of growth for the industry with shipments predicted to reach 404,800 units. Both of these yearly totals are well above the quarter century record of 390,362 units in 2006.

Why?

The record increases in RV sales are also being fueled by a receptive marketplace.  The baby-boom generation has long been the mainstay for the RV industry, and increasing numbers of millennials have begun to enter the market place.  Each and every day 11,000 baby-boomers turn 65, and another 12,000 millennials turn 35.  Each of these generations, as well as GenXers, share core RV values and value the experience of outdoor family recreation.

“Consumers are flocking to the RV market thanks to a combination of baby boomers hitting the road and younger families desiring to break from gadgets and reclaim the American outdoor way of life,” said RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer. “RV travel and camping helps them strengthen family relationships, enjoy outdoor adventures and be active.”

Even some of the fulltimers we follow are seeing a change:

I don’t know how many of these RVers are full-timers or post-retirement, but based on the feeble number of empty spots I see in campgrounds I can well believe it’s growing. RV’s are gaining ground, but the number of campsites stay the same so it seems harder and harder to find easy openings.

I see the increase in popularity as a good thing. Demand will drive supply. Eventually.

Full-time is Hip: More and More People Looking to Ditch their Sticks and Bricks

We sat in on two seminars where this topic kept coming up: the rise of interest in full-time rving. One seminar described it as an incredible level of interest in full-timing or extending timing. We will probably wind up in the latter category of extended timing in our coach. Our plan right now is to keep a property in Canada as our home base and travel as widely as we can, particularly during the colder seasons. Not sure if extended timing is as hip as full-timing. I guess we’ll find out.

One of the seminars claimed that over 1,500 people a month were joining the ranks of those full-timing in their RVs. It was also hinted at that this number is the one that gets reported and the reality might be a lot higher.

Still, based on a population of roughly 325 million people in the United States, 20 – 40 thousand people a year is not exactly a raging tide of retirees seeking to travel across North America full-time in their RV. There are roughly 116 million households in the United States so even 9 million RVs on the road represents about an 8 percent ownership by household. Good but quite a bit less than the 240 million or so cars and trucks on the road.

Motorcoaches are Pricey

A high quality diesel motorcoach seems to start at around $300,000 USD and can go up from there dramatically. A nicely equipped Newell or Prevost will set you back millions of dollars. Clearly the bulk of the RV industry is not focused on higher end coaches like our Castaway. According to the RVIA, less than 6 percent of all RVs sold in 2015 were Class A. And I suspect that Diesel Pushers represented an even smaller portion of those Class A sales.

Motorcoaches are Pricey and Nice

There is no doubt that most of the motorcoaches we looked at, whether from Newmar, Tiffin, Entegra, or American Coach, were expensive and also very nicely finished. We love our Newmar but we were also quite impressed with many of the coaches at the show.

Not Enough Toys

Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t as much variety in terms of accessories for RVs. Very little choice of Tire Pressure Management Systems — we could only find one vendor — and very little choice in things like dash cams and other types of products. The Hershey RV show was primarily focused on selling RVs. We did pick up a few odds and ends on our shopping list while we were at the show. The balance will be sourced off Amazon.