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RV industry believes sales will get rolling

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: Star Tribune, Minnesota
Publish Date: Friday, February 8, 2008
Summary: Recreational vehicle (RV) dealers at the 41st Minneapolis-St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show running through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center remain upbeat about sales prospects this spring and summer.

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By Dennis Anderson

Feb. 8, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) --

Think you're paying a lot for gas now, commuting back and forth to work? If so, logic would dictate that driving a motorhome up and down the highway this summer, or pulling a travel trailer, would only compound your problems. And expenses.

Maybe. But recreational vehicle (RV) dealers at the 41st Minneapolis-St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show running through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center remain upbeat about sales prospects this spring and summer.

Yes, the stock market is down and the economy has slowed. And gas isn't cheap.

Still, baby boomers aren't getting any younger, RV industry observers say, and many remain committed to traveling and camping -- and in many instances with as many conveniences as possible.

"Many of these people have savings or home equity they can tap, or 401(k) accounts," said Rick Birdsall of Quality RV in Elk River. "We find they're still in the market. It's some of the fringe customers we might lose [in down times]. Young couples, for instance, who have long commutes and are spending more of their incomes on gasoline."

The RV industry expects to ship about 5 percent fewer motorhomes, fifth wheels, pull-behind trailers, pickup campers and tent campers this year. But deliveries still should be the fifth highest in 30 years in the nearly $15 billion industry, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), a trade group.

Fastest moving models this year likely will be fifth-wheel trailers, variations of which have been hot commodities in recent years. The reason: relatively low cost for lots of room and amenities.

Last summer, for example, my two boys and I made a quick run in our vintage pickup camper to the Bighorn River in Montana to fish trout for a few days. In my haste to get on the river and begin casting, I forgot that Fort Smith, Mont. -- ground zero for Bighorn anglers -- is on the Crow Indian Reservation, and that alcohol sales there are prohibited.

Which explains why after one long, hot day on the river I found myself telling the boys I needed to run "next door" to our neighbor's fifth-wheel camper "to learn how to tie a new fly."

More accurately, I needed to bum a couple of beers.

Moments later, when I stepped inside the firth-wheel trailer parked not far away, I was shocked at the at the spaciousness of my-new-best-friends' home-away-from-home.

Three slide-outs. Big screen TV. A fly-tying table. Refrigerator full of cool ones.

"You can get into a nice fifth-wheel for about $25,000," Birdsall said. "A lot of people consider it a good way to go because in Minnesota and many other states you can also haul your boat behind the fifth-wheel trailer."

In 2006, more than 390,000 RVs were shipped to customers in the United States, the best annual total in 30 years, according to the RVIA. The fanciest of these were Class A motorhomes, the bus-like self-powered live-aboards that often feature all the amenities of home. And then some.

Prices of these rigs can exceed $100,000. Many run twice that and more.

"At the show we have motorhomes with sticker prices of $230,000," said Corey Moyer of RV World in Ramsey. "But we also have travel trailers priced at $9,999."

Financing is generally available for RVs at less than 7 percent interest, Moyer said. He and Birdsall say gas prices aren't a significant drag on sales.

"People with RVs adjust to paying more for gas," Birdsall said. "They might take shorter trips. Or they might not move around much after they reach their destination. But trips taken in an RV, particularly family trips, still are significantly cheaper than trips taken in which people stay in motels and eat in restaurants."

My modest career as an RV owner began a couple of years back when I bought an 11-foot-long, 1991 pickup camper. Though little-used, the rig needed some work. Now watertight with (most) everything functioning, it has provided a lot of convenience and fun for me and my family.

Of course a natural inclination is to lust for something newer, nicer and bigger. As my kids say, "Something manufactured this century would be nice."

Maybe. But as long as my campground neighbors keep their oversized refrigerators well-stocked, I'm cool.

Show hours today and Saturday are 10-9. Hours Sunday are 10-5. Adult admission is $10. Kids get in for $4.

Dennis Anderson --danderson@startribune.com

Newstex ID: KRTB-0281-22875010


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