Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was written by Roger Schneider, city editor and business editor of The Goshen (Ind.) News.
You have to see it to believe it. That’s what I tell people about the National RV Trade Show. I spent a couple days this past week in Louisville, Ky., covering the show for The Goshen News. It was the second time I had attended.
The first show I was at was back in 2008, when the recession shut down many RV production lines in Elkhart County. The show back then was gloomy. Salesmen were nervously standing around with nothing to do. The wide aisles were clear of people and the few dealers who attended were not in the buying mood. I like to tell people that I could have rolled a bowling ball down any of the aisles and not hit anyone.
But that was back in 2008 and the contrast with this year’s show was sharp. Hundreds of people packed into the opening breakfast at 7 a.m. Tuesday and from then on the show was busy.
I talked to sales managers, dealers and RV company owners, all were in good spirits and confident that business was on the uptick. Many said they were selling more and buying more than during the past two years.
As I strolled around the massive Kentucky Exposition Center, I looked for trends. And what I saw were a lot of light-weight, smaller towable trailers. The industry people I talked to said the reason for the smaller units is the coming change in federal mileage standards for automakers. The federal government intends to put pickups and sport utility vehicles into the mileage pool, meaning massive, fuel-burning engines that make it possible to tow a fifth-wheel up the east slope of the Rocky Mountains at high speed, are likely to be downsized.
I have mixed feelings about the pending changes. On the one hand the RV industry makes some spectacular large towables that can house families on extended stays or cross-country trips. The construction of these trailers is vital to our community because they provide jobs and good salaries to our local families.
But, the inevitability is that fuel prices will climb as the world’s economy rebounds and the billions of people in India and China increase their consumption of gasoline and oil. We also will boost our miles driven as our incomes climb. So, while the federal government is the big stick in this situation, I believe that RV consumers will also be forcing change as they seek smaller, lighter towables to pull behind smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles they will buy due to higher fuel prices.
Another trend I noticed was that RVs are made better today than in the past. I only noticed one trailer, a prototype from a small company using traditional stick-and-tin construction, that seemed to be poorly made. It looked like something I would have put together in my backyard. The roof-wall seam was sealed with a whole lot of clear putty and the fitting of everything in the trailer was a little off. But every other motorhome and trailer I looked at was first-rate quality and were products everyone here in the RV capital of the world, could be proud of.
And that brings up my final observation, that our local work force does an awesome job of putting these products together.
When I looked at the tight-fitting rabbets on the cupboard doors, I knew that a local worker had put that together. When an interior design oozed grace and elegance and I wished my livingroom was so plush, I knew that those window and furniture coverings were sewn locally. And as I walked through the supplier displays and marveled at the wiring harnesses and hitches, I knew they were proudly made in Elkhart County.
And all of those products were on display for dealers and manufacturers from all across North America, Australia, Europe and even China, to take a look at and buy or compare to what they are using. For me, a guy from outside the industry, it was an impressive spectacle I will never forget.