The recreational vehicle is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and it’s clear the allure of the RV and its lifestyle has barely wavered, if not considerably grown, as shown by the atmosphere Saturday at the 17th Annual Atlantic City Fall RV Show at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Crowds walked the nearly dozen rows of RVs to tour the inside and outside of modest travel trailers to larger fifth-wheel campers to massive motorhomes that rival a city bus, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
With amenities such as flat-screen televisions, dual recliners, bunk beds and interior and exterior kitchens, modern RVs far from resemble the earliest versions.
The first RV was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, according to a Smithsonian.com article, and debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910. The lengthy Landau included a backseat that unfolded into a bed, a chamber pot toilet and a sink.
The increased popularity of automobiles, improved roadways and the opportunity to explore fueled the creation of the RV industry.
Those concepts and others is what Jack Berry, a resident from the Scullville area of Egg Harbor Township, enjoys about owning a 34-foot travel trailer.
“Getting away to spend time with the family and it’s always affordable,” said Berry, who was at the show with his family.
He said they have traveled to New Hampshire and Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and everything in between. The family likes the ability to take trips and not have to worry about things such as hotel reservations, he said.
Tom Norman, a 44-year RV veteran, loathes hotel rooms.
“It’s a certain comfort level to have your own surroundings,” said Norman, a resident of Branchburg, Somerset County.
He currently has a 27-foot trailer and was looking for a 22-foot motorhome but was unable to locate anything he liked at the show.
Norman, for one, isn’t entirely interested in the endless comforts available in the newer model RVs.
“Some of the older trailers had a wider, smarter use of space,” Norman said. “Today, they try to squeeze so much into one package.”
Jeff Bitter, of Driftwood RV in Atlantic and Cape May counties, said the transformation of RVs to include luxurious and technological features from when they were metal cylinder campers is simply progress.
“We have things we didn’t conceive (of) years ago,” Bitter said.
Bitter, who lives in Galloway Township, has owned an RV as long as he has been married – 32 years – and currently has a fifth-wheel trailer that measures 37 feet and contains an electric fireplace and washer and dryer.
“It’s like a second home,” Bitter said. “It doesn’t lack anything.”
The Atlantic City show, which concluded on Sunday (Nov. 14) was produced by Affinity Events, sister company to RVBUSINESS.com.
The recreational vehicle industry’s long road to recovery stops in Atlantic City, N.J., for a major show this weekend at the Atlantic City Convention Center, following a devastating recession that hit the housing market, the automobile business and the industry that’s a little bit of both.
Vacations on wheels, RVs’ roots are anchored throughout southern New Jersey’s tourism industry, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
Some companies, such as Driftwood RV in Cape May and Atlantic counties, reported strong sales in 2010 after a slump last year and say they fared relatively well in the recession.
Others, such as Bridgeton Travel Trailer on Route 49 in Cumberland County, could not survive the drop. The business is selling its remaining stock and will close soon, said Donald Olbrich Jr., 24, a sales manager who has worked at the family business since he was a teenager.
“When it first started, we didn’t think it would last that long,” said Olbrich, whose family business once had 14 employees but is now down to him and his mother. “It was just going on longer than we thought, and we just can’t do it anymore.”
The national Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports the RV industry has seen a comeback in 2010 after about two years of declines as consumers changed spending habits and the credit crunch impaired potential buyers from getting financing.
RV manufacturers have shipped 194,000 units through September, a 59% increase from that time frame last year, according to the RVIA. The year-end increase over 2009 is expected at about 45%. A unit shipped is one way the industry measures growth and declines.
But the drops in the two previous years were significant as the economy soured: 2008 saw a 33% drop in RVs that manufacturers shipped from the year before. In 2009, shipments dropped another 30%, according to the RVIA.
The credit crunch affected people’s abilities to get loans, as well as some dealers themselves getting financing for their floor plans, said Kevin Broom, RVIA spokesman.
The drop was in stark contrast to years from 2002 to 2006 — five consecutive years of growth, Broom said.
The industry started to rebound near the end of 2009, he said.
Nationally, the RV industry is projected to increase next year, shipping 259,600 units in 2011, but the recovery is likely to be slower than in previous downturns amid changes in consumer habits and spending, according to a forecast by industry analyst Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan.
“There’s definitely a rebound at this point as it relates to the industry,” said Harry Lutz, show manager for the annual Atlantic City Fall RV Show this weekend. “The banks are starting to be more proactive in lending.”
RVs have a strong base in southern New Jersey, the site of most of the state’s campgrounds that cater to weeklong summer tourists and seasonal visitors.
Earle Humphries, 70, owns Atlantic Cape RV in Galloway Township. Humphries hopes to see a resurgence in RV sales for his business in 2011.
“It’s getting a little easier now, but it’s just been very hard to get the people to say yes because they’re so afraid they’re going to lose their job and there’s a lot of people getting out of the RV lifestyle for a while until things turn around,” Humphries said.
The desire for people to buy recreational vehicles for the open road or for seasonal campgrounds did not go away during the recession, according to local dealers.
At Driftwood RV, sales have been strong recently, said John Worthington, director of marketing.
The company, which has locations in Dennis Township and Egg Harbor Township as well as two campgrounds in Cape May County, specializes in park model trailers that are placed at seasonal campgrounds.
Worthington said Driftwood fared better than some other RV dealers in the down economy but felt the impacts too.
“We’re having a great year now and hopefully we’ll have a great finish,” Worthington said. “Sometimes people need to put off their dreams a little, but they always have them. It’s the dream of family time and vacation. People put them off, but they’re always close to the surface.”
Meanwhile, consumers have been leaning more toward travel trailers — those RVs that are towed behind pickup trucks and SUVs, Broom said.
What had represented about 80% of the market half a decade ago now represents more than 90% of the market, Broom said. The travel trailers generally cost less, are easier to get financing for and are available to a mass market already owning SUVs and pickup trucks, Broom said.
Smaller, lighter and more environmentally friendly and energy efficient RVs — including those with solar panels — have also been popular, dealers said.
The show is sponsored by Affinity Events. Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) is the parent company of Affinity Events and RVBUSINESS.com.
A closely watched report today (Sept. 29) on consumer confidence is expected to show modest improvement, but some economists are heartened by a more obscure measure of buyer sentiment: recreational vehicle sales.
RV wholesale shipments jumped 16% in August from July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 209,800, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported.
While that’s about half the industry’s torrid sales pace in 2006, it’s a 136% surge from January. The trade group predicts 146,200 shipments in 2009 and a 27% increase in 2010, according to USA Today.
Sales of motorhomes and travel trailers are seen by some economists as a leading indicator of the economy’s health, because they’re among the largest discretionary purchases a consumer can make.
Trailers cost about $6,000 to $60,000, while motorhomes — which include a living space within a vehicle — typically fetch $50,000 to $300,000. About 8% of U.S. households, mostly families and retirees, own an RV.
RV sales began dipping in early 2007, many months before overall retail sales declined and the recession’s start in December of that year. In recoveries, RV sales often heat up early, as buyers who put off purchases grow optimistic enough to open their wallets.
“Prospects that we talked to a year ago, even in spring of 2008, are now beginning to come out and buy,” said Scott Hayden, president of Driftwood RV, the largest RV retailer in New Jersey.
After plunging by a third in 2008 and early this year, Driftwood sales in September are 15% ahead of a year ago and up 4% vs. September 2007.
Industry officials attribute the rebound to improved credit for dealers and consumers, low dealer inventories and stable fuel prices. The big driver is rising buyer sentiment, which could augur more robust retail sales than predicted.
“It would suggest the worst of the (stock market) decline seems to be over, and the consumer is in a position to come back,” said Indiana economist Morton Marcus, who studies the RV market.
Some economists put less premium on RV sales. Wells Fargo’s Mark Vitner says buyers are likely retirees who deferred purchases, a trend that won’t extend to other big-ticket items, such as cars.
Economists’ consensus forecast for the September consumer confidence report today indicates that the Conference Board’s index rose this month to the highest level in a year but is still well below normal.