If you got trapped on the highway behind any pokey motorhomes or recreational vehicles over the holiday weekend, take solace in this: You were being inconvenienced by an American industry on the rebound.
MarketWatch reported that the most recent sales figures from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) show that RV and motorhome shipments to dealers for the year through May topped 144,000, a 13% increase over the previous year, keeping the industry on track for its best year since the recession started, The mega-camper business all but collapsed during the last recession, thanks to the combination of economic upheaval and high gas prices, with sales falling 58% from 2006 to 2009. Shriveling credit markets played a role, too, with many lenders unwilling to finance RV and motorhome purchases even as they freed up money for car loans in general.
Indeed, some analysts say looser lending policies are a major factor behind the current rebound. A spokesman for Thor Industries Inc., the company that makes Airstream and other popular RV brands, recently told Kyle Stock of Bloomberg BusinessWeek that buyers can now “get financing pretty easily up to about $150,000.”
A quick search online suggests that interest rates on RVs start at around 4.4%, compared with under 3% for the typical auto loan.
RV salespeople say that retiring “snowbird” Boomers are their biggest customers; the trade group doesn’t publish specific age breakdowns, but its literature suggests that ownership rates are highest among those between age 55 and 75.
Speaking of snowbird stereotypes, the archetypal motorhome, in which the driver’s cabin and the living quarters are all on the same chassis — Jack Nicholson’s Winnebago in the movie “About Schmidt,” for example — accounts for only about 12% of RV sales. Travel trailers that get towed behind another vehicle, like the Airstream, make up the majority of the market. Some of those are quite modest, but price tags on the most luxurious models can top $90,000.