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This is not your father's RV; it's rolling luxury

Category: RV News
Source: mlive.com
Publish Date: Sunday, January 27, 2008
Summary: If your last experience with a recreational vehicle included uncomfortable, undersized beds and a bathroom the size of a phone booth, it's time to take a second look.

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By John Hogan

The Grand Rapids Press

Imagine sinking into a leather sofa across from a roaring fire, a college basketball game on a wide-screen TV with sounds of screaming fans from multiple speakers.

Is this the living room you'd love to have? One may be rolling beside you at 65 mph.

If your last experience with a recreational vehicle included uncomfortable, undersized beds and a bathroom the size of a phone booth, it's time to take a second look.

They've been supersized and upgraded.

In many cases, RVs today replicate and exceed the comforts of home.

"Everything you have at home, you can take with you," said Tom Huggler, publicist for the recent Grand Rapids Camper Travel & RV Show at DeVos Place. "Sunken living rooms, stone fireplace, a TV that disappears in a cabinet .... it's pretty cool, isn't it?"

Even if most of us can't afford one of these rolling land yachts, the recent show certainly whetted appetites for a mobile palace -- or a high-end vacation on wheels.

Recreational vehicles as a group are categorized as motor homes, fifth-wheel trailers, travel trailers and folding camping trailers (what used to be called pop-ups).

New models can be found for $4,000 to more than $400,000, depending on what you get and the extent of bling. Hundreds of RV parks have been built across the U.S. to accommodate a surge in popularity.

Nearly 8 million U.S. households own at least one RV, a 58 percent rise since 1980, according to a 2005 survey by University of Michigan's Survey Research Center.

Who's buying them? Think baby boomers -- ownership rates extend across a 40-year span from age 35 to 75, the study found.

"The similar features you have in your home traditionally haven't been in RVs," said Bruce Ter Veen, sales manager for General RV Center in Wayland. "Now, it's like a condo on wheels."

We're talking about tile flooring, French doors, fireplaces, his and her sinks, full-size refrigerators, kitchen islands and wine racks. You also will find high-tech gadgets from big-screen flat-panel TVs and push-button awnings to iPod ports, satellite radio and bunk beds with individual DVD screens and headsets.

Unlike new car dealerships, many RV centers let customers rent vehicles, hoping the experience leads to a purchase down the road. Fold-down campers typically rent for $400 a week, while a 39-foot motor home that seats 11 and sleeps six rents for more than $3,000 a week.

High-end appointments are becoming popular in entry-level folding campers right up to the big guys. Ranking top on the list is the flat-screen TV.

"You can get some of this stuff in the entry levels, the Jayco, they've got flat-screen TVs," Huggler said. "It sounds like a trend to me -- all the electronics. When you have a 12-pound flat screen rather than a 50-pound TV, it means less gross weight."

Indeed, the overall weight of RVs is coming down due to new technologies and design innovations. A full-size pickup is enough truck to cart around a 33-foot travel trailer, for instance. Fifth-wheel trailers need something with a little more gusto, such as a 3/4-ton pickup.

So, what would compel the average person to sell their home and trade up to a home on wheels? Call it a lifestyle change.

Empty nesters, retirees and families who love to travel are fueling demand for RVs, even as fuel prices rise.

Part of the attraction is the roominess. The standard 8-foot-wide travel trailer may have slide-out panels to add three more feet of room; enough to accommodate a full-size bed, for instance.

"They've just come so far with these slide-outs," said Adam Starr, floor manager for Showspan Inc., which put on the RV show at DeVos Place.

If you do take the plunge into ownership, keep in mind not all communities will let you keep a 40-foot motorhome beside the house. Check with your local governmental unit to see if there are regulations for RVs. Byron Township, for instance, allows residents to store recreation vehicles in their front yards May 1 through Sept. 30.

Technology and consumer preference has driven many of the interior changes in recreational vehicles. Formica countertops, vinyl floors and cloth-covered seats have been replaced with granite, wood veneers and leather.

Maple and cherry cabinetry is common. Dorm-style refrigerators have been elbowed out with double-door refrigerators similar to what you have at home.

Bedrooms, meanwhile, offer 60-by-80-inch queen-size beds, a wardrobe closet, flat-screen TV and plenty of storage.

"It used to be they had cheap paneling; this is pretty good crown molding," Starr said while walking through the Holiday Rambler motorhome by Endeavor.

This particular model, priced at $225,000, comes with flat-screen TVs, a digital satellite system, washer/dryer combo, stainless steel appliances, solar panel wiring, leather furniture, decorative lighting and contemporary color choices.

The kitchen area offers pullout countertop extensions, a spice rack and under-cabinet lighting. Cooks will like the combination microwave/convection oven and cook-top stove.

Duel zone living is a phrase foreign to anyone who hasn't walked through an RV in several years. It describes sealing off the kids in their own room. With this floor plan, a door closes off an area in the rear of the trailer for the kids. Bunk beds or a full-size bed along with a TV/VCR cabinet is not exactly roughing it. The parents' quarters, meanwhile, is a notch above, offering a sofa, dinette and a 60-by-74-inch queen bed in a step-up area.

More fifth-wheel trailers -- especially those designed to haul ATVs, golf carts and other grown-up toys, come equally decked-out.

The Fuzion fifth-wheel by Keystone RV Camping of Goshen, Ind., is 40 feet long, 8 feet, 6 inches wide and slightly more than 13 feet tall; built as a combination utility trailer with living quarters under one roof.

"When you get into some of these bigger fifth-wheels, you're still living large," said Ter Veen, the General RV sales manager.

"Once you get the toys out, you've got a patio," Ter Veen said. "It's basically a party wagon for at least eight guys."

With "toys" unloaded, the rear cargo area converts to a screened-in patio; music blaring from a stereo with subwoofers.

"If it's raining, you can enjoy the outside without being outside," Ter Veen said.

Try that with a tent.

Send e-mail to the author: jhogan@grpress.com

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