It was an emblematic early scene of the Great Recession five years ago: the economic devastation wrought in northern Indiana, proud home of America’s recreational vehicle industry, where a major swoon in the business was slapping RV makers and stripping jobs because Americans didn’t have the funds for fun anymore.
Fast forward (or at least as much as you can accelerate in a lumbering RV) to a much brighter scene that unfolded in Louisville, Ky., last week, where the RV industry was showing off its wares for the annual show hosted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
According to a report on brandchannel.com, brands such as Thor Industries Inc. and Winnebago Industries Inc. were showing off their newest wheels as the business was celebrating the fact that RV sales are expected to improve by 11% this year over 2012, to more than 316,000 this year. This is the fifth consecutive year of recovering sales for the industry after the 2008 low. The trade group expects another 6% gain next year.
“RV shipments are growing,” RVIA President Richard Coon told Forbes.com. “Consumer confidence is growing, credit is available, and RVs are visible, popular and even cool. This is a good time to be in the RV business.””
And while car sales are expected to balloon to close to 16 million in the U.S. this year, RV makers are happy to be in their own recovery mode with machines that can cost well into six figures.
Thor, for instance, sells a 39-foot model that costs well over $150,000, sleeps eight, and has a garage on the back, according to Businessweek. Such high-end machines largely have been driving the boom recently, with sales of motorized RVs on pace to increase by 35 percent this year and by another 10 percent next year.
But old-fashioned “towable” RVs also are upgrading to attract the modern buyer who’s much more interested in amenities than in roughing it. For example, the $20,000 Puma Unleashed toy hauler by Palomino RV opens up to a big ramp in the back and offers hydraulics that lift its two queen-sized beds to the ceiling so the vehicle can accommodate cargo such as a couple of Harley-Davidsons underneath.
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