The RV industry faced difficult times in the last two years as both manufacturers and dealers closed their doors.
But the 30th Annual Edmonton RV Show and Sale added a solid dose of optimism to the industry’s outlook. When the doors to the show opened on Feb. 11, the crowd surged in to look at the latest in RVs and decide what to buy, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Within a few minutes of the opening, the first deals had been written. Many observers agreed it was the busiest opening to the show that they had seen in years.
Don Humphrey, manager of Roadmaster RV in Leduc, went further, saying it was the busiest opening night he had seen in his 30 years of attending shows.
“Sales are at least double last year,” Humphrey said in an interview, pointing out that there is “pent-up demand.”
“This year, people are eager to buy.”
This year’s RV show was the first held in the recently expanded Edmonton Expo Center and filled all the main floor halls, including the brightly lit new halls that opened late last year. In contrast, the recent Edmonton Motorshow did not use Halls A and B on the main level.
The show presented a variety of new RVs and features to grab the attention of consumers. A feature that attracted the attention of many visitors was the outdoor kitchens on a variety of RVs.
After years of seeing many RVs add more and more comforts of home, some of the trailers at the 2010 show took a back-to-basics approach to bring the outdoor experience back to camping. These more Spartan models are available both in tent and hard-wall travel trailers.
The Quicksilver tent trailers sold by Carefree Coach and RV exemplified the minimalist approach. These trailers are available in lengths ranging from just under nine feet to just over 21 feet. The Quicksilver line also includes tent-style truck campers that fold down for travel.
Quicksilver RVs, built by Livin’ Lite, rely on aluminum construction for strength, light weight and long-term durability.
“When I looked at today’s generation of pop-ups, I saw heavy, expensive units, but nothing that could be towed by a car or station wagon,” said Scott Tuttle, Livin’ Lite founder. “That’s when we decided to build our own tent camper that would be both affordable and able to be towed by most cars and minivans.
“Do our units have all the frills of the expensive units? No,” Tuttle said. “But that’s not what camping is all about. Camping for us is about having a great time in the outdoors.”
Not only can the Quicksilver units be towed by cars and minivans, the company also offers units designed to be pulled by motorcycles.
When Tuttle says Quicksilver units don’t have all the frills, he’s talking about trailers and truck campers that don’t have appliances or a bathroom. Storage cabinets and a sink are available in some units. Carefree also displayed one unit with a hole in the floor for ice-fishing.
Carefree president Elmer Lastiwka said Quicksilver trailers are priced at $4,000 to just over $9,000. “It’s affordable for any family with a small car.”
Because of the light weight of the Quicksilver campers, in some situations they could be towed by a quad, such as heading up a cut line into the wilderness or onto a lake for ice fishing. Using a quad would alleviate the fear of a truck or sport utility vehicle going through the ice.
The Kamparoo Camper, a lightweight, folding tent trailer manufactured in Australia and distributed by Kamparoo Campers in Wetaskiwin, is a similar concept.
Some travel trailers at the show also showed a more basic, affordable approach, including the Wolf Pup in the Cars RV and Marine display and the Takena Curv at the Roadmaster RV exhibit. Both of these trailers have a sloping, curved front to reduce wind resistance and make them easier to tow.
A number of manufacturers offer outdoor kitchens on their trailers this year. Some trailers with two entrance doors now come equipped with a bathroom just inside the rear door to shorten the mud trail when children go in to use the toilet.
Most outdoor kitchens are built into the rear corner of the trailer with a lift-up door that doubles as a canopy.
Outback Country RV sells the North Trail, made by Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, which offers a fully equipped outdoor kitchen that includes a sink, microwave, refrigerator, television and stove. The refrigerator is electric only — the main refrigerator inside the RV is a gas-electric model.
Tango trailers, sold by Western RV of Leduc, have a different outdoor kitchen design, one that slides out of the rear corner of the unit.
Tango’s Dane Found talked about the reasoning behind building an RV with an outdoor kitchen:
“The idea is that most people want to spend as much time as possible outside,” Found said, explaining that this is the first year that Tango has offered the outdoor kitchen.
In addition to offering the option of preparing food outdoors, the slide-out kitchen also fulfils other roles.
Found said it can serve as a privacy barrier in a campground and a windbreak at the campsite.
The outdoor kitchen has been well received by consumers, he said.
During the show, it wasn’t unusual to hear showgoers comparing the various kitchens as they made their way from exhibit to exhibit.
Although RV manufacturers have failed in recent years, some new companies have been started to fill at least part of the void. Arrkann Trailer and RV Center sells the Tracer Ultra Lite trailer line, manufactured by Prime Time Manufacturing, which started producing trailers in August. Prime Time strives to build trailers with designs that appeal to buyers while ensuring that they’re priced right.
Earthbound RV is another new line Arrkann has added to give customers a lightweight RV that’s easy to tow. Arrkann’s Ken Friedenberg said Earthbound interiors are reminiscent of a luxury car. The sleek exterior is slate grey, in contrast to the usual white RV exterior.
Friedenberg said his dealership was selected by RV usiness magazine as one of the top 50 RV dealers in North America and was the lone Canadian to make the top 10 in that group of 50.
Many RV dealers at the show displayed, in addition to tent trailers and various styles of travel trailers, motorhomes ranging from large bus-style Class As to Class B van conversions and the intermediate-size Class Cs.
In Class A, improved fuel economy such as that offered by the Avanti from Damon is a welcome change for buyers. While many Class As travel less than 10 miles per gallon, the Avanti raises that to better than 14 miles per U.S. gallon or more than 16 miles per Imperial gallon.
Chris Cook of Woody’s RV said the Avanti uses a number of European design features such as a sloped front and reduced height to improve fuel economy. Woody’s recently sold one of these units, which have prices starting around $130,000 US.
Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc., a Kitchener, Ont.-based manufacturer of Class B motorhomes, has added a rear slide to its van conversion based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. This van, in the Grove RV display, drew a steady crowd of interested onlookers.
Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, one of the industry’s leading fifth-wheel builders, is making similar impact in the high volume travel trailer market after entering the sector in May 2008 with its lightweight North Trail line, according to a news release.
According to the latest report from Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI), the Elkhart, Ind.-based firm experienced a dramatic 159% increase in year-over-year travel trailer sales through the first 11 months of 2009 to earn a No. 10 ranking. Among all towable manufacturers, Heartland held the No. 4 spot in terms of market share.
“We are seeing the same type of growth in travel trailers that we experienced in the fifth-wheel market after launching fifth-wheel production in 2004,” said Tim Hoffman, vice president of sales. “It all comes down to understanding the needs of the consumer and our dealer body. We are building product that hits key price points and offers features that are highly salable in a very competitive environment.”
For November, Heartland posted a 67% increase in travel trailer unit sales over the previous year while improving its market share from 1.9% to 3.3%. Those figures came in an essentially flat market as overall travel trailer sales dipped 1.5%.
Heartland’s aluminum framed, laminated North Trail Line continued to gain ground in November, registering year-over-year gains in both unit sales and market share. Buoyed by the success of the North Trail, Heartland continued to expand its travel trailer offerings with the launch of the three new brands at last year’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., including:
- The teardop MPG line.
- The Caliber series, a full-featured ultra-lightweight fiberglass trailer.
- The entry-level Focus featuring five 7 ½-foot-wide floorplans and three hybrid tented models.
“With the launch of these new brands we have established Heartland as a full-line travel trailer and fifth-wheel manufacturer,” Hoffman noted. “Our commitment is to bring our travel trailer numbers in line with what we are doing on the fifth-wheel side.”