The federal government is making automakers meet tough new fuel efficiency standards, which is making some in the RV industry nervous, according to a report by WNDU TV, South Bend, Ind.
“For light trucks and the light truck category, which includes SUV’s – which is really the category that tows our products primarily – they need at least 28 miles a gallon by the year 2016 as an average,” said Jayco Inc. President Derald Bontrager during the 2011 Elkhart Economic Development Summit held at the Lerner Center Thursday (Oct. 13).
The tough new standards come at a time when the RV industry has never been more reliant on tow vehicles to survive as around 80% of all RV products being shipped today are towables. The question becomes, can the auto industry meet the new fuel efficiency standards while continuing to meet the towing needs of the RV enthusiast.
“There’s a concern that the availability to the consumer of vehicles that are able to tow the products we build will be less accessible in the future,” said Bontrager. “And it’s just not our industry, think of the horse trailer industry, and construction industry. We still need products out of Detroit to be able to tow many different forms of RVs or trailers or whatever it might be.”
The concern was voiced at a time when some finally see the economic glass as half full.
“The 10% reduction in unemployment here basically came back through the RV industry – they’re good, they’re resilient, they know what to do, they’ve been up and down a lot of times,” said Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore.
“The RV industry, as Jayco has, has seen pretty steady growth and we have hired back,” said Bontrager. “We had a job growth of about 50% since our low point in 2009 and we see that continuing to grow.”
The state of the RV industry, especially locally, is to a degree a fairly good barometer of how Elkhart County is fairing economically. It’s not out of the woods yet, but it is heading in that direction. That fact was supported by the recent distinction that the Elkhart-Goshen area was named one of the top areas in the country for the growth based on the value of what they make.
“Elkhart County as a whole is seeing some recovery. We have seen about $45 million worth of new investments so far this year and right around 1,400 new jobs announced,” said Dorinda Heiden-Guss from the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp. “We’ve already announced in Elkhart County, $46, just shy of $47 million worth of expansion projects.”
As for the future and the fuel economy standards, the RV industry has been experimenting with new materials to make units lighter and more aerodynamic, but the waters it’s wading into are still uncharted.