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RV Sales Up Despite High Gas Prices

Category: RV News
Source: USA Today
Publish Date: Friday, July 6, 2007
Summary: Higher gas prices not cramping style of dedicated RV vacationers.

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By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY

Americans are defying high gas prices and jumping into gas guzzling recreational vehicles for their summer vacations. Two of the largest owners and managers of RV campgrounds in the USA said their lots are booked this July 4th vacation week and much of the summer.

Sales of RVs have shot up 22% in the past three calendar years. Last year 390,500 RVs were sold, the most in 28 years, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. This year they are on track to dip slightly, RVIA says.

"This week will be one of the busiest if not the busiest for the entire KOA system," says Shane Ott, president and chief operating officer of Kampgrounds of America, the USA's largest campground chain with 450 campgrounds and 72,000 camp sites.

RV parks say changes in how the vehicles are used along with a rise in ownership among affluent people is driving higher sales. The average cost of a new motor home is $260,000 says Richard Coon, president of the RVIA.

"When you're talking about motor homes, those people don't care about gas prices," he says.

Jerry Gelinas, vice president of marketing for Thousand Trails, which manages 81 campgrounds across the country, says customers tend to be baby boomers, retirees and young families with a healthy amount of discretionary income.

Gelinas says RVers increasingly want to use parks as destinations rather than mere stopovers. Parks are responding by offering more attractions such as pools, tennis courts and live entertainment. Rather than cooking nightly over propane stoves families can often buy prepared foods and takeout.

Coon says that compared to all the other expenses of a vacation, such as motels and restaurants, RVs are "still an economic way to go." If gas went up a $1, a family traveling 1,000 miles in a motor home that gets about 10 mpg would spend $100 more on gas, he says.

That's not to say RV owners are ignoring the cost of fuel.

Families are saving money by "going shorter distances and staying longer," says David Woodworth of Fish Camp, Calif., an RV historian.

Industry surveys show that owners have also slowed down to 55 mph or 60 mph, to conserve fuel, Coon says. Fuel mileage is "not great," but it's better than it was 10 years ago, Woodworth says.

The industry has introduced more efficient engines, and new materials that make motor homes and trailers lighter. Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, which promotes energy efficient vehicles, isn't surprised gas prices aren't scaring off RV owners.

"In terms of the percentage of people's annual income, expensive gasoline is not all that much," Kramer says.

But the 18 million RV owners plugging in every night "would be ideal plug-in hybrid candidates," he says. They would no longer need expensive on-board generators to operate appliances and they'd have silent, emissions free vacations.

Alex Kouris, 38, set out June 22 from Marengo, Ill., with his wife, Rachel, and two sons in a 34-foot-long motor home for a trip that will end Sunday. The 90-gallon tank cost about $200 to fill and he expects to pump in another $800 of diesel fuel the whole trip.

"You kind of get used to it so you kind of budget it in," he says.

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