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An RV salesman promotes the upside for buyers amid rising fuel prices

Source: The Oregonian
Publish Date: Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Summary: RV salesman promotes savings that come with RV travel.

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By Laura Oppenheimer

May 13, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) --

It is the worst of times.

To sell gas-guzzling motor homes, which fill the lot at Johnson RV Sales in Southeast Portland. Record-high fuel prices are "definitely on people's minds," and just in time for summer vacations, owner Brandon Johnson says.

But despite a national downturn in RV sales, business is up for Johnson -- perhaps because of his fuel-conscious sales pitch:

Sure, gas prices spiked recently, but they're sporadic. Home values have doubled and tripled, too, in the past couple of decades. "Gas tends to get a lot of attention because it's a negative," Johnson says.

A gallon of gas costs more, but RVs use less of it. The typical motor home now gets 10 or 12 miles a gallon, and manufacturers are starting to market fuel-efficient RVs. It's no Prius, but one Roadtrek model reaches 25 miles per gallon.

With low interest rates, big rebates and lots of inventory, this is a smart time to buy.

An RV vacation still costs less than airplane tickets and hotel bills.

Surveys show that higher gas prices prompt many RV fanatics to travel closer to home, which isn't tough in Oregon. "We live so close to the beach and mountains," says Johnson, who grew up with his dad in the RV business and began his own career in his yard before setting up shop seven years ago on Southeast 82nd Avenue.

Americans bought RVs in record numbers between 2002 and 2007, despite rising gas prices, a study by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association shows. Economic woes caught up to the industry last year, when shipments to retailers fell 9.5 percent. But industry officials attribute the downturn to the economy in general, not necessarily gas prices.

Johnson stocks about half his lot with used models, which served him well as the slump began to worry buyers. More and more customers consider wheels that already have a couple of years on them, Johnson says, including travel trailers for as little as a few thousand dollars.

Bargains are especially popular among 40-and-younger customers, the fastest growing segment of the RV market. Manufacturers started building bunkbeds for buyers who travel with children -- people like Johnson, who's 34. He and his wife borrowed an RV from the lot in early May, for example, to drive to Eugene with their two young daughters (big fans of sleeping in motor homes).

Baby boomers are a more predictable RV mainstay. As they retire, many find time and money to hit the road.

"They are, to a large degree, recession proof," Johnson says. "They've made their money."

Boomers look for the latest RV gadgets, including iPod docks, flat-screen televisions, laptop workstations and "slideouts" that expand parked motor homes to as much as 400 square feet. Slick, new upmarket RVs can sell for $150,000 or more.

If the economy worsens and gas prices remain high, the next few months will tell how the industry fares. Johnson says travel season -- and prime sales season -- begins now and lasts through November.

"It's kind of like a boat or an air conditioner," Johnson says. "You don't think about them until you're going to use them."

Newstex ID: KRTB-0165-25264568

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