When the economy faltered in 2007, the recreational-vehicle industry nosedived after five years of historic highs as Americans tightened discretionary spending and the credit market froze.
According to a report in the Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), sales of the camping-friendly vehicles now are rebounding, a welcome trend in a region home to most of the state’s campgrounds.
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported 252,000 RV shipments in 2011, the industry’s highest in four years. And while the industry originally expected little growth in 2012, a recent uptick in sales and attendance at RV shows has analysts rethinking prospects for the year, said Kevin Broom, spokesman for RVIA.
“The RV industry has been a leading economic indicator for the past number of recessions,” Broom said. “RV shipments go down first because RVs are discretionary purchases that are typically financed. When consumer confidence drops, people aren’t as confident about borrowing money. We think the outlook has improved for 2012.”
RVs are a big player in the region’s tourism industry, which abounds with seasonal campgrounds. Cape May and Atlantic counties have about half of the state’s campgrounds, according to the New Jersey Campground Owners Association. Many others are in Ocean County.
Signs of growth will be sought at the annual Atlantic City RV Show running Feb. 17-19 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
The show has a big impact at Driftwood RV Center, which has locations in Dennis and Egg Harbor townships, said John Worthington, marketing director for the business.
“It’s a huge percentage of our first quarter, but more than that it sets the tone for the year,” Worthington said. “If you have a strong show, there will be a lot of people who go to the show, get excited, but may not be ready to pull the trigger. But a month and a half after the show, some will return to the dealership.”
The nationwide RV industry hit a low in 2009, when 165,000 units were shipped, the industry association said. That was the second consecutive year in which shipments dropped about 30%. Shipments represent new RVs delivered from manufacturers to dealers.
In 2006, 390,500 RVs were shipped, the highest number in more than 30 years.
Broom said the industry saw a turnaround in 2010, when shipments rose to 242,300, a rise of 46% from the previous year. Shipments rose about 4% in 2011, he said.
As the industry experienced these changes over the past five years, many RV manufacturers redesigned products, using different materials to make them lighter and more fuel efficient, Broom said. Towable RVs make up more than 85% of sales, he said.
As Americans’ preferences shifted from large SUVs to smaller vehicles, manufacturers began producing lighter trailers that could be towed by smaller vehicles such as minivans and crossovers, he said.
Worthington said Driftwood has seen that trend as well, as more shoppers search for environmentally friendly construction and lighter vehicles.
“They’re making them lighter, easier to tow,” he said. “People may not have the sizeable trucks they had a few years ago.”