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Heartland’s Prowler Hitting a Chord With Dealers

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Heartland RV's Prowler fifth-wheel

Elkhart, Ind.-based Heartland Recreational Vehicle LLC’s recent overhaul of the popular Prowler brand has “definitely hit a chord with North American dealers,” according to a press release.

“Prowler has experienced phenomenal growth over the summer,” stated Bryan Walczak, Prowler’s general manager. “We’ve signed some of the top dealers in North America, and fully expect that trend to continue.”

Walczak said the secret to Prowler’s success is simple. “We give dealers a reason to invest in the Prowler brand,” he said. “Prowler has eliminated forced-pricing packages on all travel trailers. Not only can you order any option combination on any travel trailer floorplan, but you may even upgrade to fiberglass laminated walls.”

He added, “Dealers and customers can finally achieve the perfect fit, and dealers may take advantage of a la carte pricing in its purest form. Prowler, quite literally, is the most flexible brand in the marketplace today.”

In addition, Prowler now boasts sport and mid-profile fifth wheels, as well as titanium, or Ti, cab-overs. Heartland said that titanium cab-over technology results in the best-balanced, best-towing fifth wheel in the industry.

“This cab-over technology adds 15% more living space, and you just can’t believe how well it tows. Plus, Prowler sport fifth-wheels are positioned at a travel trailer price point,” said Walczak.

Heartland RV, a division of Thor Industries Inc., offers a variety of towables, including travel trailers, toy haulers, fifth-wheels and destination trailers. For more information, visit www.heartlandrv.com.

 

 

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Heartland’s Torque Revs up Toy Hauler Market

November 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Heartland RV's new Torque toy hauler

Elkhart, Ind.-based Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC will be introducing its line of lightweight, sharply priced Torque toy haulers at the Nov. 29-Dec. 1 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

Available in both travel trailer and mid-profile fifth-wheel floorplans, Heartland said Torque will give dealers “an all-new option in the very fast growing toy hauler segment.”

“Torque is like nothing else in the RV industry,” said General Manager AJ Jones in a press release. “When looking at the current trend in toy haulers, many companies are building units that are higher-priced with heavier GVWR’s. That means that many manufacturers are only competing for shelf space in the higher price points. Torque offers a completely new approach, specializing in lightweight, inexpensive toy haulers.”

Heartland said it has emerged as one of the top-selling toy hauler manufacturers this year with its Cyclone/Road Warrior brands, which had increased market share by nearly 22% in the U.S. and 45% in Canada through September, according to Statistical Surveys Inc.

Jones noted, “It is the perfect time to release Torque, with the favorable momentum swing that we are enjoying in the toy hauler division. This is a product that will not compromise any of our existing toy hauler sales, it will only complement what we are already doing with different price points and weights never seen before.”

Initially, Torque will be offered in seven floorplans – three travel trailers and four mid-profile fifth-wheels – ranging in a variety of lengths and sizes. Prospective dealers will be able to see the all-new Torque product at Booth No. 5025 in the West Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) during the Louisville Show.

 

 

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Heartland Improves FAST TRACK Warranty Site

November 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Responding to input from its national dealer network, Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC upgraded the company’s proprietary FAST TRACK warranty website to streamline claim entries and better service customers.

Launched in November of 2007, FAST TRACK was designed to allow Heartland dealers access to critical data as well as interface with the company’s parts/service/warranty personnel and database.

“Our dealers provided great feedback to our I.T. department on how the site could be improved,” said Sean Andrews, director of dealer services. “The new and updated warranty claims page will significantly speed up the entry and submitting process for our dealers.”

Andrews noted that the upgraded site, which launched in September, provides a step-by-step procedure for creating claims. Enhancements include:

• Only one root cause flat rate code will need to be entered for each job along with the labor time to perform that job.

• Dealers will need to provide documentation pertaining to the claim’s Complaint/Cause/Correction.

• Separate links will be accessible if miscellaneous items, parts or photos need to be added.

• In the event that additional root cause issues are needed for the claim, extra lines can be incorporated.

Andrews also reported that Heartland would continue to build the FAST TRACK parts catalog with new pictures and part numbers based on model year and brand updates. “We now have over 20,000 photos in our catalog for your ordering convenience,” he said.

Andrews added, “We are confident that the newly developed Fast Track system will enhance your partnership with Heartland. It is our goal to continuously improve our products and services company wide to offer the most competitive and profitable business relationship in the industry.”

 

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Heartland Initiates Fast Track for Prowler Line

May 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Cley Brady and Bryan in front of the new Prowler travel trailer

Coley Brady (left) and Bryan Walczak in front of Heartland's new Prowler line

Heartland Recreational Vehicles has restructured management and realigned overall marketing strategy for its Prowler line of towables, recently naming Bryan Walczak to serve as general manager.

Initially set up as a stand-alone business unit, Prowler has been rolled into Heartland’s central operations at its headquarters in Elkhart, Ind. Coley Brady, vice president of sales, will now oversee Prowler sales and marketing along with the builder’s 13 other travel trailer and fifth-wheel brands, according to a news release.

“Essentially, it’s all hands on deck to make Prowler one of the most desirable brands in the industry,” said Brady, noting that Heartland had developed a 60-page product/feature book for its dealer body. “We have devoted additional marketing, engineering and sales resources to Prowler and are committed to re-establishing this iconic brand as one of the industry’s best sellers. The success of Prowler is integral to Thor’s long-term strategy.”

According to Walczak, the builder is intent on “aggressively capturing market share” by leveraging Prowler’s legendary nameplate with consumers while clearly defining and segmenting product lines for its dealer body.

“Because of the strength of the Prowler brand, dealers are able to capitalize on that instant name recognition with buyers,” said Walczak. “Our job is to support that demand with product that is value-driven – hitting distinct price points – and has that needed extra pop with innovative floorplans and awesome eye appeal.”

Heartland, a Thor Industries Inc. company, acquired the Prowler brand among a portfolio of 15 brands from Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2009. Heartland launched its “next generation” of Prowler towables at last year’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

Walczak, who also serves as general manager for Heartland’s Elkridge and Big Country fifth-wheel lines, said one of his first priorities was to lift production levels to ensure Prowler was sufficiently stocked on dealers’ lots.

“We currently have six fifth-wheel and 17 travel trailers floorplans in production,” said Walczak. “Every one of our floorplans is currently available for timely customer delivery.”

The new Prowler lineup includes:

  • Prowler Sport: Designed to meet the entry level, conventional-built travel trailer market, the Prowler Sport has MSRP’s starting at $15,950. Units are available in four floorplans ranging in length from 23 to 31 feet, most with a single slideout.
  • Prowler: Targeting the core of the conventional-built travel trailer business, the Prowler is economically priced with MSRP’s starting at $20,450. The line offers seven floorplans, running from 26 to 33 feet, all with single or double sliderooms.
  • Prowler Shadow Edition: The line offers an upgrade to aluminum-framed, laminated construction, with lengths running from 26 to 33 feet and MSRP’s beginning at $23,300. Seven floorplans are available with single or double sliderooms on all models.
  • Prowler fifth-wheels: Ranging in length from 25 to 29 feet, the laminated Prowler fifth-wheel offers three floorplans, all with single slides and MSRP’s starting at $22,900.
  • Prowler fifth-wheel Shadow Edition: A true mid-profile fifth-wheel entry, the Shadow Edition fiver has MSRP’s starting at $29,900 with lengths of 27 feet to 33 feet. Three floorplans are available with double and triple slides on all models.

Prowler is available in three distinctive décor choices. Other key standard features include upgraded cherry cabinetry, a “Prowler Paw” kitchen countertop offering more usable space, heated and enclosed underbelly, keyless entry and electric awnings. Popular options include an air-mattress hide-a-bed and free-standing dinette.

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Heartland ElkRidge Express on a Fast Track

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

2011 ElkRidge Express by Heartland RV

2011 ElkRidge Express by Heartland RV

Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC’s recently introduced ElkRidge Express has created an aggressive new price point in the mid-profile fifth-wheel market, offering durable, laminated construction and a host of upscale amenities for the cost of a comparably featured travel trailer, according to a news release.

“The ElkRidge Express has been resonating with consumers because they can now get the convenience, safety and room of a fifth-wheel for the same price as a travel trailer,” said Bryan Walczak, brand manager for the Elkhart, Ind.-based builder. “We are finding that it meets the needs of two key demographics ¬– consumers transitioning from a travel trailer to a fifth-wheel and first-time RVers looking for a full-featured coach.”

Available in four floorplans ranging from 22 feet to 26 feet, all with single slides, the ElkRidge Express is sharply priced with MSRP’s of $22,000 to $23,000. Distinguishing features include laminated fiberglass sidewalls, camp kitchens, multi-view TV areas and the industry-first side-aisle dressing areas.

According to Walczak, the addition of the Express series bolsters Heartland’s core ElkRidge luxury fifth-wheel line, creating “one of the widest price ranges in the industry” and establishing ElkRidge as a “stand-alone brand.” Boasting nine floorplans, MSRP’s for ElkRidge models range from $31,100 for single-slide models to $44,400 for quad-slide units.

“The ElkRidge made its mark by bringing a full-profile, upscale fifth-wheel to market in the same price range as mid-profile units,” Walczak noted. “The Express is an extension of that value-driven strategy. With the introduction of the ElkRidge Express, dealers are finding they can stock deeper with one brand, and satisfy more customers. Ultimately, our dealers and customers are happier.”

Built in a dedicated facility, the laminated fiberglass ElkRidge features integrated remote control systems, high-ceiling slideouts, solid-surface countertops, European-style hidden hinges, true slam baggage doors, roller bearing drawer glides and camp kitchens. Packaged with rich, cherry interiors, ElkRidge also offers an 88-degree turning radius designed to accommodate short-bed pickup trucks.

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Heartland Prowler Eyes Spring Selling Season

February 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Interior of the Heartland RV facility dedicated to production of the Prowler trailer.

Interior of the Heartland RV facility dedicated to production of the Prowler trailer.

Following the much anticipated launch at last year’s Louisville Show, Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC went into full production in early January with its new generation of Prowler trailers, operating from a newly acquired, dedicated facility at its Elkhart, Ind., campus.

“Based on the positive response in Louisville and solid retail interest in the early January and February shows, it is obvious that dealers and retail consumers want Prowler in the marketplace,” Nick Eppert, Prowler general manager, stated in a news release. “We are focusing all of our efforts to fulfill our model lineup as quickly as possible and bring this legendary brand back to the marketplace in time for the spring selling season.”

The iconic Prowler nameplate was purchased among a portfolio of 15 brands from Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2009. Heartland, which was acquired by Thor Industries Inc. last September, emphasized that while the Prowler’s revival was based on its strong name recognition the new generation will “establish its own identity among consumers.”

“From the outset, our management has said that Prowler would not be a re-branded, re-badged clone product,” Eppert said. “The Prowler product will be autonomous from any other Heartland or Thor product currently in the market.”

He noted that Heartland’s investment in independent facilities and personnel would also eliminate the “normal constraints” involved in a product launch. “Having a dedicated facility to Prowler, we do not have production constraints and can deliver product to our dealers in a timely manner as the spring selling season approaches,” said Eppert. “Our ability to react to the market and offer more overall value will separate Prowler dealers from their competitors.”

Eppert reported the new Prowler line will consist of both wood-and-aluminum and laminated travel trailers, along with mid-profile fifth-wheel floorplans. “We will be hitting the heart of the towable market,” he said. “As with all of Heartland’s products, we will distinguish the Prowler with innovative, set-apart features and aggressive pricing that will promote franchise value for our dealers.”

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Heartland RV Revives Titanium Technology

January 10, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

TI PR ImageElkhart, Ind.-based Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC has revived the exclusive Titanium cab-over front cap fashioned by now-defunct Canadian builder Glendale International Corp., incorporating the distinctive, aerodynamic design into three of its top-selling fifth-wheel lines, according to a news release.

Heartland reported that it had acquired the Titanium’s intellectual property from Glendale last summer, including patents, trademarks and industrial design rights. Oakville, Ontario-based Glendale, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2010, dominated the Canadian fifth-wheel marketplace with its Titanium lineup.

“We acquired all the patents, so we will be the only company offering this highly innovative design,” said Coley Brady, vice president of sales for Heartland. “Everyone familiar with the industry – trade and consumer – recognizes the Titanium cabover cap as one of those engineering advances that really impacts the market. We will be offering the Titanium front cap in our luxury Bighorn fifth-wheel brand along with the Road Warrior and Cyclone toy hauler lines.”

“Essentially, a 32-foot trailer offers the same living area as a 37-footer because the nose of the trailer can accommodate a bedroom and wardrobe,” Brady said. “And because there is approximately 15% less trailer to tow, it significantly cuts down on sway while improving gas mileage for the tow vehicle.”

Heartland is going into full production this month with the Bighorn Ti32, Road Warrior 30C and Cyclone 300C, all providing 37 feet of living space in a 32 ½-foot towing length, along with the Cyclone 370C offering 42 feet of living area in a 38-foot length. The two toy hauler lines will be equipped with Heartland’s Superslide, which affords 7 ½ feet of headroom, and the Bighorn model will be available with a standard royal maple wood grain or optional antique, hand-rubbed glazed pecan.

Brady said the new lines debuted to strong dealer response from Heartland’s dealer body at the recently completed National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

“We made the decision to incorporate the technology into existing lines versus coming out with a completely new brand,” Brady said. “Our dealers recognized that the Titanium models add tremendous franchise value, offering a sought-after, salable feature in brands that are already strong performers.”

Brady noted that consumers were also excited about the reprised Titanium front cap, including Tony Lane, owner of the online-based Titanium RV Owners Group. Lane, who resides in Tillonsburg, Ontario, noted that the Heartland design successfully “carries on the Glendale Titanium tradition.”

“The Heartland model will be my eighth since 2002,” Lane said. “The Titanium is the most stable trailer that I have ever towed, which is important because I put a lot of miles on my RV. The one thing I really notice is that you never get sucked in when you pass a semi. It also has a very comfortable, spacious living space.”

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Heartland’s MPG in HGTV Special Spotlight

December 23, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Heartland RV's MPG teardrop trailer

Heartland RV's MPG teardrop trailer

Heartland Recreational Vehicle LLC’s retro-styled MPG ultra-lightweight travel trailer will be showcased as part of a one-hour TV special on HGTV filmed during last September’s Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show in Hershey, Pa.

The eco-friendly MPG, sporting aluminum-and-fiberglass construction and an aerodynamic teardrop design, caught the eye of host HGTV Chi-Lan Lieu who toured the annual consumer event searching for the hottest trends in today’s RV market, according to a news release.

The special is set to air Jan. 1 at 4 p.m. EST on the popular cable channel.

Chi-Lan Lieu

Chi-Lan Lieu

“One of the things that stands out with the MPG is its true teardrop shape,” said Ryan Wiese, sales representative for the Elkhart, Ind.-based builder. “It gives the trailer a very unique look and offers a lot more headroom than the competition because the rear end is rounded versus slanting down. But what really struck a note with HGTV is that we are bringing a full-featured, competitively priced laminated trailer to market that can be towed by most crossover vehicles and mini-vans.”

With a dry weight under 3,000 pounds, the aluminum-and-fiberglass MPG is available in eight 19-foot floorplans, six featuring a single slideroom and two offering a hybrid design with tent extensions. Originally targeted to attract a younger, more active buyer, Wiese said the demographic had broadened since the brand’s debut at the 2009 Louisville Show.

“Experienced RVers are seeing the MPG as a getaway or everyday unit to complement their larger trailer,” he said. “They also recognize the brand’s overall craftsmanship and styling. The MPG really has opened up a new market for our dealer body because its appeal has proven to be across-the-board.”

Equipped with a one-piece, seamless fiberglass roof, the MPG is available with an optional high-gloss, platinum fiberglass package that creates a distinctive, contemporary look enhanced by a choice of four colorful exterior graphics. Floorplans are designed to be versatile and maximize interior space with a spacious kitchen pantry and two models featuring fold-up bunk beds and a larger baggage door.

Interior of Heartland's MPG

Interior of Heartland's MPG

The MPG is also packaged with a host of standard amenities normally representative of higher-priced trailers such as A/C, microwave, two-burner cooktop and an AM/FM CD/DVD player equipped with an iPod connection and compatible with discs from digital cameras. Other key set-apart features include retro-style aluminum wheels, optional TV, 15-inch tires and rear bumper with a hitch receiver and built-in sewer hose storage.

“In just one year, the MPG has proven to be one of the hottest sellers in one of the hottest segments of the travel trailer market,” said Brian Linn, brand manager. “I think it was MPG’s striking design – a unique blend of contemporary and retro – that attracted HGTV for its upcoming special. But ultimately it’s Heartland’s ability to offer affordability without sacrificing structural integrity or those sought-after features that has made the MPG a big hit with consumers, and a tremendous value for our dealer body.”

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Heartland Debuts Full-Time Landmark Fiver

November 15, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Redesigned Landmark fifth-wheel for 2011.

Redesigned Landmark fifth-wheel for 2011.

Designed with the structural integrity and discerning features to accommodate a full-time RVing lifestyle, Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC introduces the new generation of Landmark luxury fifth-wheels.

The redesigned Landmark, which will be on display at this month’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., is built with an integrated system of laminated fiberglass sidewalls, flooring and roof to increase durability while reducing overall weight, according to a news release.

“The construction is tailored to meet the demands of all-weather conditions and the rigors of full-time use,” said Kary Katzenberger, brand manager for the Elkhart, Ind.-based builder’s Landmark and Bighorn fifth-wheel lines. “In addition to achieving increased strength and a lighter weight, fiberglass affords superior thermal insulation and noise reduction over wood-framed products. To back that up, we offer a warranty for full-time living on the entire Landmark line that gives the consumer peace of mind.”

Katzenberger reported that the Landmark has already been building a backlog and will begin shipping to dealers by the end of the month, including Lazydays. “The entire organization of Lazydays is very excited to get the Landmark in their line-up of high-end luxury RVs,” said Ken Stumpe, sales manager for the Seffner, Fla.-based retailer.

Katzenberger noted that a pivotal piece in the redesign was to combine the Landmark’s robust exterior construction with an attention to residential-style interior features that address both convenience and comfort. Initially available in four floorplans ranging in lengths from 38 to 41 feet, the Landmark series sports new high-end decors and layouts that provide versatile seating arrangements and optimal storage for full-time living.

“The Landmark is loaded with industry-first amenities, including a residential, eco-friendly ‘body spa’ shower head from Oxygenics that significantly cuts down on water usage,” he said. “We also wanted to create an attractive environment that is functional and maximizes living space, which is vital to the full-time consumer.”

Units are equipped with three to four sliderooms, including a deeper bedroom slideout that offers the “biggest bedroom in the industry,” according to Katzenberger. The Landmark also boasts Heartland’s new “Mega Shower” that is 90% larger than the industry standard and outdates the neo-angle shower used in most fifth-wheels today.

Katzenberger added, “Our goal, as with all our products, was to supply our dealer body with the best value in the full-time fifth-wheel market. Landmark hits key price points with better quality and more features than the competition.” MSRP’s for the redesigned Landmark start at $68,000 with GVWR’s ranging from 16,000 pounds to 16,550 pounds.

Highlights for the new line include:

  • A “Suites” bedroom/bathroom arrangement, featuring a large linen closet with room for a stackable washer/dryer; 30% larger walk-in front wardrobe; a 30% larger dresser with six larger drawer and overhead cabinets.
  • Option packages offering an auto-leveling system, back-up camera with wireless monitor and a “Yeti Extreme Cold Weather Package” that includes heated holding tank pads, radiant technology insulation in the front and rear caps with an R-38 equivalent rating, and a heated main water line with a low-volt polymer heating cable.
  • All-new exterior graphics and three elegant, residential-style interior decors set off by glazed pecan cabinetry.
  • Kitchens equipped with a large, stainless-steel sink, solid-surface stove covers and an optional Dometic Elite 4-door refrigerator.
  • Dexter axles, frameless exterior windows and Goodyear tires are standard.
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RVs’ Return May Indicate Consumer Recovery

October 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sales  for Thor Industries Inc. are on the road to recovery after being slammed by high gas prices, scarce credit and recession-racked consumers, Businessweek reported. U.S. consumers are favoring less expensive and more fuel-efficient models, analysts and industry experts say.

Americans’ willingness to spend, if not splurge, on so-called second homes on wheels could in turn provide a clue to positive trends in the broader economy.

“The RV industry is a great leading indicator for the overall health of the economy,” says Kathryn I. Thompson, founder of Thompson Research Group in Nashville, Tenn. Over the last decade, manufacturers have produced an average of 309,000 RVs a year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

On Sept. 28, Thor, the largest U.S. maker of recreational vehicles, reported a 51% jump in last quarter’s sales from a year ago. Profit rose 64%, with net income exceeding by 16% the estimates of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The recession took its toll on the industry. In March 2009, two of the largest RV makers — Monaco Coach and Fleetwood Enterprises — filed for bankruptcy protection.

LOOSER CREDIT, NOT GREATER DEMAND

Mac Bryan

Mac Bryan

On Sept. 24, the RVIA released August data showing that the 177,300 RVs shipped to dealers so far in 2010 had exceeded levels at this point in 2009 by 70%. In 2009, the number of RVs shipped to dealers was 58% below the 390,500 RVs shipped in the peak year of 2006, according to the RVIA.

A key factor in the RV recovery has been credit, says Robert M. “Mac” Bryan, vice president of the RVIA. Because of the credit crisis, neither consumers nor dealers could borrow to buy RVs, which in the case of motorized homes can cost at least $200,000. Much of the improvement in 2010 does not reflect a “change in demand, but an improvement in financing in vehicles,” Bryan says, as the financial crisis has eased and banks have reentered the RV financing market.

So far in 2010, the rebound in actual retail demand has been “fairly modest,” says Bret Jordan, an analyst at Nashville-based investment firm Avondale Partners. “The retail consumer never really came back in a big way,” says Jordan, who is based in the firm’s Boston office.

There are, however, signs that this could be changing. “After a tenuous summer, the season ended well,” Robert W. Baird analyst Craig Kennison wrote on Sept. 29 while unveiling the results of a survey of 104 RV dealers.

Baird’s survey showed that some parts of the RV industry are doing better than others. Sales of motorhomes rose 8% to 10% in the third quarter of 2010. Towable RVs, meanwhile, jumped 16% to 18%.

TRADING DOWN TO TOWABLE RVS

Consumers are deciding on towable RVs partly because of cost, but also because extra features have made them competitive with motorhomes, Jordan says. A “high-end towable vehicle” can cost $60,000 while a high-end motorhome with a diesel engine can be $200,000. Many new towable trailers now feature  “slide-outs” — portions of the trailer that can be expanded when parked to increase living space. “You’re getting comparable living space” to motorhomes, he says, adding: “There is a lot of utility in towables for the cost.”

In 2006, pricier motorhomes made up 14.3% of all recreational vehicles produced. So far in 2010, that share has fallen to less than 10%.

“You are seeing the trade-down effect,” Thompson says. “People aren’t necessarily giving up the RV lifestyle but they’re choosing less-expensive products.” RVs priced below $150,000 are “doing OK,” she says, while “anything below $100,000 is doing the best.”

According to Thompson, such trends could hurt Winnebago Industries Inc., the motorhome maker headquartered in Forest City, Iowa. They could favor Thor, for which towable RVs made up 70% of sales last quarter, she says. A maker of RVs under the Airstream, Dutchmen, Komfort, CrossRoads, and other brand names based in Jackson Center, Ohio, Thor announced on Sept. 17 the acquisition of Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, another specialist in towable RVs, for $100 million in cash and 4.3 million shares of Thor stock — or a total value of $247 million based on the recent share price. On Oct. 1, Thor said it would boost its quarterly dividend, from 7¢ to 10¢ per share.

BIG EXTRA: ADDITIONAL FLAT-SCREEN TV

Winnebago shares are down 14% so far in 2010, while Thor shares are up 9%.

To make cheaper RVs more attractive to consumers, manufacturers have piled on extra “bells and whistles,” Jordan says, like including three flat-screen televisions, instead of just two.

In response to the volatility of gas prices in recent years, RV manufacturers have made their products more fuel-efficient. “We’re seeing a great deal of attention [paid] to the greening of the RV,” Bryan says. RVs are being made of lighter materials and the efficiency of furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, and other appliances has been improved, he says.

There are further recent indications of returning retail demand. The Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show, an annual event held in Hershey, Pa., bills itself as “America’s largest RV show.” The exhibition, from Sept. 13-19, saw record attendance that was up 9% from last year and the number of RV units on display rose 43%.

Tiffin Motorhomes, a privately held RV company based in Red Bay, Ala., told show organizers that sales were 44% higher than last year.

“People had been holding back on purchases and now they were ready to buy,” says Heather Leach, marketing and education director at the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association (PRVCA).

RV DEALER: CUSTOMERS REMAIN “LEERY”

Exposure to the U.S. consumer is just one factor that makes the RV industry a good economic barometer, Thompson says. The industry is also affected by important credit trends, including the availability of short-term credit for dealers buying inventory and of long-term credit for customers buying RVs. The industry is also a good window into factors that affect U.S. manufacturing, such as raw material and labor costs.

The economic environment continues to concern the industry. Consumer spending rose 0.4% in August, according to data released Oct. 1 by the U.S. Commerce Dept. According to an unidentified RV dealer quoted in a Sept. 7 survey by Thompson Research Group: “Customers [remain] leery, kind of careful about everything.”

Nonetheless, industry participants say they are confident about the RV’s long-term appeal, especially as Baby Boomers retire and younger Americans seek affordable vacations. “Assuming gas prices remain reasonably affordable, it’s a cheap way to have a vacation,” Jordan says. “It’s cheaper than a second home.”

Park campgrounds are as busy as ever, Bryan says, a fact that underscores the appeal to Americans of the RV lifestyle. According to the National Park Service, the number of RV campers at National Parks rose 6.8% from 2008 to 2009. “Recreational vehicles have a very bright future,” Bryan says.

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