USA Today: ‘Bigger not Better’ in Motorhomes

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August 11, 2011 by   3 Comments

Fleetwood's Storm features an optional hide-a-loft

You may have to look harder to see those convoys of motor homes headed for vacation spots this summer. According to a report in USA Today, RVs are getting smaller.

While sales of traditional motorhomes have grown at a respectable 6.2% rate for the first six months of the year, two smaller classes encompassing large van conversions have grown nearly twice as fast, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports.

“The era of bigger-is-better and more ostentatious” is over, declares RVIA President Richard Coon. Now, “the trend is toned down quite a bit.”

Blame the economy and gas prices, but also retirees who have decided they don’t need rolling McMansions for status in otherwise hard times.

“Fuel prices are driving it, but this is a cultural shift,” says Bob Wheeler, CEO of Airstream Inc., which converts delivery-van-style Mercedes-Benz Sprinters into low-key motorhomes. “There’s a shift away from conspicuous consumption.”

Though these units are priced upwards of $125,000, Wheeler says they typically don’t have the fancy paint and graphics of larger units. “No flashy paint job,” he says. Rather, it’s “understated elegance” — and up to 18 miles a gallon from the modest diesel engine, triple the gas mileage of some big gasoline-powered motor homes.

Even in the bigger vehicle classes, some RVers are downsizing. Fleetwood RV Inc. says many buyers of more traditional motorhomes, who formerly would have opted for 36-footers or bigger, today are downsizing to its 28- to 32-foot Storm line, which starts at about $92,000, says Lenny Razo, eastern regional sales director.

USA Today reported that those RVs are being fitted with more space-maximizing features, such as bunks that drop from the ceiling. Many buyers “are getting older, and they don’t need as much” space, Razo says.

Winnebago Industries Inc., too, has introduced more lower-priced motorhomes and fuel-saving diesels. “In the last couple of years, people are wanting value products, not necessarily all the bells and whistles like in 2004,” says spokeswoman Sheila Davis.

Smaller motorhomes also can be more versatile, such as serving as a base camp for little leaguers at games, as well as a home away from home on vacation, she says.


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3 Responses to “USA Today: ‘Bigger not Better’ in Motorhomes”

  1. andyt on August 11th, 2011 10:07 am

    Maybe, but it sounds more likely that people are just beating drums for their product. If class B sales are up a high percentage then we need to look at the very small base from which it grew. Over a six percent increase in A’s is much more telling. From my little corner here, I’ve seen no trend at all toward small motor homes.

  2. Andy on August 11th, 2011 8:11 pm

    Not with full time RV-ers in any case. There are always the fad buyers who thankfully keep RV business up but fulltimers are going to get what they need. More likely to switch to a 5th wheel as opposed to a MH

  3. Royal on August 15th, 2011 10:39 pm

    I agree about the MH->FW trend. Fifth wheels provide a lot of flexiibity and space for their weight and length.

    I would expect that more entry-byers would opt for the fuel efficient Bs and Cs, but full timers would still be choosing between MH & FWs. And FW are for more affordable, and tend to have a reduce maintenance cost of the big diesel pushers..

    The RV industry has clearly gone through some changes in recent years as to what they offer. I think any shift would be about a maturing selection of features in the industry and the obvious, textbook macro-economics. Recessions/depressions ALWAYS emphasize purchased of products with long term investments in basic and away from luxury and short-term value. Fad and over-expense will always reduce in recessions. It is a basic principles in macro-economics.