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The price of gas isn't slowing down the RV industry or those who love it

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: Albuquerque Journal
Publish Date: Sunday, July 13, 2008
Summary: If you think the price of gasoline at $4 a gallon or more is the death knell for the recreational vehicle industry, you'd be dead wrong.

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Rick Nathanson

Jul. 13, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- If you think the price of gasoline at $4 a gallon or more is the death knell for the recreational vehicle industry, you'd be dead wrong.

That isn't to say the higher fuel prices have had no effect, but talk to people who sell, rent or vacation in RVs and the picture isn't so bleak.

Averaged over the past 10 years, RV manufacturers have yearly shipped about 330,000 RVs of all types to dealers, says Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. The association represents the U.S. manufacturers of RVs and the suppliers to those manufacturers.

That average includes a 9.5 percent decrease in 2007 and a projected 14 percent decrease for 2008. The decrease, however, isn't just because of higher gas prices.

"The biggest factor is the availability of credit and problems related to the mortgage and finance industries and the decline in home values," Broom says. All that translates to a drop in consumer confidence, "so people postpone discretionary purchases, such as RVs."

Nevertheless, plenty of people are still on the roads in RVs this summer, whether they own or rent them. A survey conducted by the RVIA of RV owners and users showed that 76 percent of the respondents will use an RV as much this summer as last; 58 percent will travel to destinations that are closer to their homes; 35 percent will travel fewer miles; and 34 percent will stay longer at their destinations.

Filling up an RV fuel tank is enough to make someone's eyelids flutter faster than the digits on the gas station pump. Larger and heavier RVs may average 7-10 miles per gallon, while smaller, lighter ones could get up to 18 mpg. And with far larger tanks than automobiles, it's a sizeable amount of money.

But RVers "save so much in other ways," as much as 23 percent to 70 percent on family vacations, Broom maintains. "They don't have to pay for hotel rooms, airline tickets or to eat in restaurants."

Among RVs, the "towables," that is travel trailers pulled behind cars or trucks, outsell motor homes by three to one, Broom says. Those can be purchased for under $50,000 -- often well under that. Motor homes generally start about $50,000 and can go up to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the size and level of luxury.

Locally, sales of travel trailers, fifth wheels (in which the hitch is mounted in the bed of a pickup truck), pop ups and truck campers (which fit over the bed and cabin of a pickup truck) are equal to or up slightly over last year, says Rick Scholl, owner of Rocky Mountain RV and Marine.

"Motor home sales, the big Class A ones, are off about 8 percent, far less than what I expected," Scholl says. "The smaller Class C motor homes are up almost 6 percent over last year."

Class A motor homes are generally 26 to 45 feet long; Class C motor homes are 22 to 35 feet in length; and Class B, also called van campers, are the most economical at 16 to 21 feet long.

Rocky Mountain, which sells but doesn't rent RVs, has seen the revenue in its parts department increase by more than 7 percent, while their service department is up more than 12 percent, Scholl says.

"That tells me people are using their RVs as much today as ever." Campgrounds around the state that he has visited are regularly filled to capacity with RVs mostly carrying license plates from New Mexico and neighboring states, he says. "People are still traveling, even if it's not as far, and they're staying longer."

Andy Aragon, owner of Holiday Travel Trailer Sales, which sells and rents RVs, has seen much the same thing. Most of his customers, he says, are renting RVs to visit New Mexico sites. "They're not venturing out farther like they used to, but there are so many great places in New Mexico you couldn't see them all in a year."

Although his combined sales of RVs of all types is down about 15 percent over last year, his rentals are up 40 percent to 50 percent. Motor homes are more popular as rentals than are towables, with the most popular size being 25 to 27 feet long, and configured with slide-out side panels. These generally rent from $130 to $200 a day, depending on the size.

When people do rent towables, he says, they often look for something that can sleep eight to nine people. Those cost about $100 a day.

Aside from shorter trips and longer stays, higher gas prices have also fueled a trend toward downsizing, Aragon says. "So many people already own RVs and like using them, but they might have a 27-footer that they trade in for a 19-footer so it can be towed by their six-cylinder vehicle."

For info

A good source for RV information is the Recreation Vehicle Industry of America -- the Web site can be found at RVIA.org.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0010-26627423


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