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Previous story: RVs answer call of the open road

Source: St Petersburg Times, Florida
Publish Date: Thursday, January 10, 2008
Summary: The RV industry association credits new products for making the vehicles more attractive to younger buyers.

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By Susan Thurston, Times staff writer

Florida RV SuperShow

When: The 2008 show runs next Wednesday (Jan. 16) through Jan. 20 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Interstate 4 at U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Jan. 19,9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 20. Admission: $8 for adults for a two-day pass, free for children under 16.

Highlights: The show will feature more than 1,300 new RVs, 350 informational booths, daily door prizes and entertainment (including face painting and a rock climbing wall). Go to www.frvta.org for a $1 off coupon.


When Eileen and Lee Sellers go on vacation with their 16-month-old son, they don't worry about packing too many toys or finding a pet-friendly hotel for their 65-pound dog.

They never need to make restaurant reservations or check on a flight. And they never lose their luggage.

The Sellerses are among a growing number of younger families and adults who appreciate the flexibility and convenience that comes with traveling fully equipped, be it with a motor home or trailer. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the fastest growing group of RV owners is 18- to 34-year-olds.

"You have the ability to just take off and go," said Rod Nichols, a salesman at Lazydays RV SuperCenter in Seffner, which is projected to sell 700 RVs this month. "Some of the best vacations are decided at the end of driveways. Do you want to go left or right? That's freedom."

The means to that kind of freedom will be featured at the 23rd annual Florida RV SuperShow, which is next Wednesday Jan. 16 through Jan. 20 at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Considered one of the largest RV shows in the country, the event will feature more than 1,300 new RVs for sale and is expected to draw about 45,000 to 50,000 people.

Giant toy boxes

The RV industry association credits new products for making the vehicles more attractive to younger buyers.

The latest industry survey conducted by the University of Michigan showed the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds who own an RV rose from 3.2 percent in 2001 to 5 percent in 2005. By comparison, the percentage of RV-owning 35- to 54-year-olds remained the same and the percentage of 55 and older RV owners dropped.

Sport-utility RVs, also called SU-RVs or toy haulers, appeal to many younger buyers because of a "garage" area at the back of the rig. The campers feature storage quarters for motorcycles, minibikes, all-terrain vehicles, golf carts, kayaks and other grownup toys, eliminating the need for a separate trailer.

"When we leave, the back of this thing is packed," said Tom Powell, 47, who travels with his wife and two daughters in a 39-foot SU-RV.

Toy haulers come in motor homes, which are built on a truck or van chassis and are self-propelled, as well as fifth-wheels or travel trailers, which must be towed. The Sellers family chose a 33-foot Heartland Razor fifth-wheel at Long View RV SuperStores east of Tampa. It's their second. Their first, a shorter Weekend Warrior, got too small for their growing family.

The Sellers family of Lakeland wanted an SU-RV for taking trips to Biketoberfest in Daytona Beach. Lee, 39, packs his motorcycle. Eileen, 38, packs their son's portable crib. In December, they took the fifth-wheel on a minivacation to the Hillsborough River State Park.

"We both work full time so it works out well," said Eileen. "All of our vacations will be planned around taking it."

The cost of freedom

The cost of an RV varies widely. New, towable SU-RVs run from the low $20,000s to about $90,000. You can save considerably if you consider a used vehicle, and it's always wise to try renting one for a weekend to see if you like the experience.

If price is no object, check out a custom motor home, which can cost more than a waterfront mini manse.

Marathon Coaches - the preferred ride of celebrities such as actor Tom Cruise and NASCAR star Jeff Gordon - can accommodate just about anything you desire, from a hot tub to an artificial fireplace. But be prepared to pay for such luxuries: new Marathons sell for $1.5-million to $2.2-million. Used models average about $450,000.

The typical buyer is rich and retired, but increasingly younger, said Bob Phebus, director of sales and marketing for Marathon Coach Florida near Wesley Chapel. Many buyers are working professionals who want quality time with their young children.

"The young people are what's driving this business," Phebus said. "We're building coaches with bunk beds. You didn't have that before."

And rather than pay cash, younger buyers are financing the RVs as they would a house.

For now, don't go far

Entering the new year, RV makers are cautiously optimistic.

Historically, the ups and downs of the RV industry have been a leading indicator of where the U.S. economy is headed. People don't buy an RV when they don't feel confident financially. When things get tough for RV makers, things get tough for the economy.

High gas prices and a weak housing market contributed to a 10 percent drop in RV sales in 2007, and though this year's forecast also calls for a decline, it is projected to be less severe at 4.5 percent.

Mileage, which averages 8 miles per gallon to 10 mpg for most motor homes, remains a consideration for a lot of buyers but hasn't been a deterrent, industry leaders say. Instead, it has changed trip plans.

"It's slowed down how far you're going," said Dave Kelly, marketing director for the Florida RV Trade Association. "You may not be going to Alaska."

High gas prices, however, don't hurt as much as gas shortages, he said. And for those who can afford a top-of-the-line RV, a buck more a gallon doesn't make a difference.

Despite increased fuel costs, traveling in an RV can cost considerably less than other modes. A 2005 travel consultant study showed a family of four can save 26 percent to 74 percent on RV trips compared with other vacations because of savings on hotels, restaurants and airline tickets. You also don't have the hassle of air travel or the time commitment.

"People like one- to four-day getaways," said Kevin Broom, 37, spokesman for the RV Industry Association. "They can't, or don't want to, take two weeks' vacation."

Last year, when Broom and his wife only had three days off, they loaded up their three kids and drove to a campground close to home. They hiked, visited a water park and experienced something new.

"We had a great time, and we only drove 15 minutes."

Contact Susan Thurston at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.


The ABCs of RVs

An RV, or recreational vehicle, combines transportation and temporary living quarters. It can be a motor home, such as a Winnebago, or a towable, such as a popup camper or truck camper.

Also under the heading of RVs are travel trailers, which are towed by means of a bumper or frame hitch, and fifth-wheels, which are travel trailers, which are towed by pickup trucks equipped with special hitches in the truck beds.

Sources: Long View RV SuperStores, Wikipedia, used-rvs.blogspot.com.

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