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Low-End Rvers Look For Better Gas Usage

Category: RV News
Source: The Truth Newspaper - Elkhart, Indiana
Publish Date: Thursday, November 29, 2007
Summary: High fuel prices deter middle class RV buyers.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Many of the customers walking into the showroom at Stenzel's Campers are thinking about luxury motorcoaches and not about gasoline prices.

In fact, Ron Stenzel, owner of the Elmore, Minn., dealership, is amused that those outside the industry do not understand that someone purchasing a $400,000 motorhome typically is not concerned with how many miles the unit can travel on a gallon of fuel.

Still, while the rising prices at the pump are not stopping the buyers of high-end recreational vehicles, Stenzel has noticed the consumers of the lower-priced, entry-level units are not coming into his showroom as often.

Stenzel believes at some point gasoline and diesel prices will stop his customers from buying those motorcoaches.

"I don't know where the shutoff will be," Stenzel said. "It will be there, I'm sure."

Although RVers are not clamoring for higher mileage and environmentally friendly RVs, a number of dealers, manufacturers and suppliers attending the 45th annual National RV Trade Show have noticed a growing number of customers are wanting green products.

Several in the RV business admitted the industry has been slow in responding but the national convention did provide a few hints that the industry may be changing.

"It's smart business to go green," said Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. "We, as an industry, have to step it up. There's no question."

Among the numerous motorized RVs at its festive display at the Louisville Show, Coachmen Industries parked the new Prism, a Class C motorhome that gets between 17 and 19 miles to the gallon. The mileage outpaces a standard Class C that averages 10 to 11 miles per gallon.

The company built the unit to counter record fuel prices and to serve the increasing number of clients who want a smaller unit that is not as intimidating to drive, explained Bill Martin, marketing manager at Coachmen.

The RV maker has also been working with hydrogen pumps and solar panels for its units as well as experimenting with biodiesel fuel.

Trucks and sports utility vehicles that already struggle with mileage get even fewer miles per gallon when a travel trailer or fifth wheel, weighing several thousand pounds, is attached. Consequently many manufacturers have been introducing lightweight towables but the plain, unfinished prototype at Pilgrim International's display has company officials talking about an industry-wide revolution.

"The RV industry hasn't changed in 30 years," said C. David Hoefer, chairman of Pilgrim. "It's way behind the curve."

The travel trailer being showcased was built from CosmoLite, a recyclable plastic material developed by TekModo in Elkhart. Pilgrim said the product could someday replace the fiberglass, plywood and tin commonly used by manufacturers today.

Along with having a durability that resists scratches, dents and even a direct hit with a hammer, CosmoLite is lightweight. The prototype on display used the product for its floor and sidewalls and was about 850 pounds lighter than the comparable Pilgrim travel trailer.

In addition, the material is environmentally friendly, emitting no volatile organic compounds or formaldehyde into the atmosphere.

Pilgrim plans to put CosmoLite into production within 120 days, Hoefer said. The company will build some of its existing RVs with the material so dealers will be able to transition into the new units without having to add another model to their inventories.

The new RVs will cost about $1,200 to $1,500 more than its traditional counterpart but Hoefer believes the buying public is out there.

Wandering around the inside of the bare prototype, David Homiak of D.J. RV Center in Danville, Pa., liked what he saw. He was especially impressed with the unit's durability since many RV owners, he said, do not do proper maintenance to keep their units intact.

Baby boomer customers are not interested in price so much as in quality, innovation and technology, Homiak said, noting Pilgrim's prototype met all three criteria. He then added a comment that Pilgrim may hope other dealers will echo.

"We don't handle any Pilgrim products -- yet."

Contact Marilyn Odendahl at modendahl@etruth.com.


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