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California Show Draws Lookers, Few Buyers

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October 18, 2010 by   Leave a Comment

RV manufacturers can make beds fold out of walls, TVs swivel and couches collapse into kitchens all with the push of a button.

But, as the Los Angeles Times reported, one thing they can’t do with a button: make people buy.

Salespeople were trying their best Sunday (Oct. 17) at the 58th Annual California RV Show, which runs through next Sunday at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. Salesmen rubbed their hands in the cold as families strolled, sipped beer and stopped to watch the football games on the flat-screen televisions that seem built into every recreational vehicle.

Dealers rolled out deluxe vehicles with tile floors and posh beds, compact campers that can be pulled by small cars and 14-foot-high trailers that can fit motorcycles, small cars and all-terrain vehicles inside, thanks to the magic of hydraulics. But that doesn’t change the fact that the economy is still sluggish and many consumers aren’t yet ready to make big-ticket purchases.

“There’s more browsers than buyers,” said Noel Rooney, a salesman with McMahon’s RV in Irvine, who was standing at the show in front of a shiny RV that costs more than $100,000. “It’s because this is something they want, not something they need.”

The market has been sluggish for three years, he said. His former employer recently went out of business.

RV manufacturers have seen slight gains in 2010. They shipped 21,500 units in August, making it the 13th straight month of increased shipments, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). But even that growth is projected to bring shipments to 239,900 this year, a significant drop from the 2006 peak of 390,000 units.

Peripheral industries are affected too.

Ken Scully sells Porta-Bote, a foldable boat that can be attached to the side of an RV and, if you believe the brochures, has been floated in a lake on Mt. Everest. “It seems a little slow,” he said.

In a giant tent next to Scully, vendors hawked foldable bicycles, a portable satellite gadget and an extendable flagpole that can be adorned with flashing lights.

“I just don’t want to spend any money,” said Darren Pullan, an Acton resident who already has an RV.

Douglas and Laura Shewfelt of Sylmar have a small RV without the fancy push-button gadgetry of some of the vehicles at the show. They call it their entry-level RV and use it for trips with their three children.

“Maybe we’ll upgrade in a few years,” Douglas Shewfelt said.

But there will always be people like Kathy and Warren Taylor, of Orange, who were ogling a $550,000 RV at the show (on sale for $450,000!).

They bought their fourth RV in July and have already traveled in it to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. For $175,000, they got tile floors, a diesel generator and a Sleep Number mattress. But it wasn’t the gadgets that clinched the deal.

“We wanted to get it while we could afford it,” said Warren Taylor, of the couple’s decision to make the purchase before they retired and had less income. Added his wife, “It’s a lifestyle we love.”

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