Consistent with widespread projections that the RV industry is poised for a recovery in 2010, many dealers for recently formed Prime Time Manufacturing in Wakarusa, Ind., have enjoyed dramatic increases in retail traffic and sales during the first two months of the new year, according to a news release.
“This year’s Indianapolis show was the best I’ve seen in several years,” according to Dave Bane, president of Tom Raper RV in Richmond, Ind. “Customers are starting to feel more comfortable about their finances and seem ready to make the commitment to a new RV.”
Tom Raper RV, Prime Time’s largest dealer, is focusing on the towable market in 2010 to compliment its existing motorhome sales.
According to Bane, “For years, Tom Raper RV has been one of the nation’s largest motorized dealers. But we believe that towable RVs are going to lead the recovery so we are aligning ourselves with aggressive, innovative manufacturers like Prime Time in order to maximize our sales and profits. Prime Time has made a considerable contribution to the direction of our dealership with their product offering.”
Colleen Botello, sales manager at Hi-Way Campers in Plainfield, Conn., saw similar action at the recently completed Springfield RV and Camper Show where they sold nine Prime Time units.
“Traffic has been exceptional, retail sales are good, and we are starting to see some daylight. Consumers are taking more time in the buying process and are more cautious with their money, but they tend to be looking forward,” noted Botello. Two factors that are more of a priority for consumers, according to Botello, were weight ratings and value. “Prime Time’s LaCrosse offers a lot of bang for the buck with its upscale look and features while Tracer has opened up new markets for us with its low weights and towability,” Botello said.
Prime Time Regional Sales Manager Jason Gill said that many dealers will benefit from the pent-up demand that has been created the last two years as retail sales have slowed along with the national economy.
“Across the board, we are seeing huge increases in retail traffic and most dealers are selling more than they have the last couple of years,” commented Gill. “We are feeling confident about 2010 and Prime Time continues to increase production rates in anticipation of strong retail demand.”
Prime Time Manufacturing is a division of Forest River Inc, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Prime Time offers towable RVs under the brand names of LaCrosse and Tracer.
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.
Recreational vehicle dealers had cause to smile at this past weekend’s annual Detroit Camper and RV Show. The four-day event was packed morning to night, every day, according to ABC News.
Attendance at this year’s Detroit show was up 15% over last year. Industry insiders are encouraged by the enthusiasm after a big slump last year.
And the families who came to see everything from small pop-up camp vehicles to 40-foot luxury coaches with bathrooms, refrigerators and built-in barbecues were in a buying mood.
“Things have been great,” Chad Neff, general manager of American RV in Grand Rapids, Mich., said. “The traffic has been good and people are buying.”
American RV sells a full range of recreational vehicles from small economic campers to the fifth-wheel Montana, which has an interior floorplan that seems almost as large as a studio apartment. Neff, like many other RV dealers at the show, attributed increased industry sales to the improvement in the availability of credit.
“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “People right now, they’re willing to get out, and the banks are lending more money, and those things are helping us out.”
The increased interest is a dramatic change from last year’s show, which occurred amid the backdrop of a weakened U.S. economy and uncertainty about the future. RV enthusiasts weren’t buying because of job insecurity and the prospects of losing their homes, leaving little appetite for mobile ones. Several RV manufacturers filed for bankruptcy early last year and even industry giant Winnebago Industries Inc. had a rough go at it.
The RV industry has long been thought of as a good indicator of the overall economy’s performance because RVs are a major discretionary purchase that often require financing. After a sales slump, which coincided with the worsening economy, and an overall lack of enthusiasm at RV shows last year, 2010 has started with a boom for the industry. Attendance at this year’s Novi, Mich., show was up about 15% from last year, according to show director Bill Sheffer, who is with the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds.
“We’re encouraged by what we see,” Sheffer said this weekend. “I’m not an economist but I sure hope this is a harbinger of good things to come.”
Attendance was also strong at two other important RV shows last month. The annual Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show was up 26% from last year and the Florida RV Super Show surpassed 50,000 for the first time in the history of the show, according to organizers.
The Florida show is one of the most important indicators of retail demand for the industry, analysts and insiders say.
“A year ago this time, financing was terrible,” said John Monterusso, a Michigan motorhome dealer. “People’s existing RVs took a beating in value so a lot of people were upside down in what they already owned. But things are on the upswing. Sales are better.”
About 1 in 12 U.S. vehicle-owning households, or about 8.2 million, also owns an RV, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA. The industry employs more than a quarter-million Americans.
RV lovers and the culture associated with owning the vehicles runs deep across the country. Retirees love the time outdoors, on the road in their vehicles. And people with small children enjoy the family time.
“You’re outdoors, instead of being at a theme park or something,” said John Dotson, who visited the show with his wife looking for an entry-level RV in the range of $10,000 to $15,000, “Instead of relying on something else to entertain you,”
He said he has never owned an RV but thinks now is the right time to buy one.
Another Michigan resident at the show, Larry Nethot, said he was looking for a replacement RV. He and his wife are former backpackers and they need a new RV because she no longer likes the outdoors. “Our parents stole our retirement home, so we’ve got to find another place to sleep,” he said.
Nethot checked out an RV that had an LCD television, DVD player, a kitchen dinette and other home furnishing in it. “I like the outdoors but my wife can no longer stand it at the camp, ” he said.
The RV is a compromise for the couple.
Jeff Rank, the president of Prime Time Manufacturing in Wakarusa, Ind., attended the Novi show and was delighted with interest from prospective customers like Dotson.
“The traffic is awesome,” he said. “Let’s face it, the last couple of years, it’s been a struggle. People seem to be in a better mood.”
Rank sells the impressive high-end LaCroose RV, which is 35 feet long and features a 26-inch LCD screen inside. That people are looking to buy some of the high-end RVs is a real sign the industry is back on track, he said. “You’re already seeing the comeback in wholesale shipments to dealers,” he said. “It’s about a 50-70% increase in shipments.”
Rank’s family has been in the RV business since 1969 and he says the past few years have been one of the worst periods he has seen in the industry. “It seems like every decade we have had a 10-, 12-year run that has been whatever the U.S. economy is doing, our industry is doing.”
Following its success at the recent Louisville Show, Forest River Inc.’s Prime Time Manufacturing division is preparing to introduce its third product: a mid-profile Crusader fifth-wheel.
A 70,000-square-foot plant in Prime Time’s Wakarusa, Ind., factory complex will be outfitted for fifth-wheel production during a Dec. 24 to Jan. 3 holiday shutdown.
”We are very excited about the upcoming season,” said Prime Time President Jeff Rank. ”Dealers at the show were very, very upbeat — more so than I’ve seen in the last year or so.”
The Crusader will feature floorplans in the 25- to 29-foot range weighing between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds that can be towed by half-ton pickup trucks
The company currently has about 100 dealers and employs 75 people with plans to manufacture seven units a day after the first of the year, according to Rank. He added that Prime Time’s work force is expected to double in the next four or five months.
At the show, rapidly expanding Prime Time — founded in July — introduced its second product, the ultra-lightweight Tracer Micro and Executive travel trailer series. The company’s inaugural line was a LaCrosse travel trailers.
”Dealers were not only willing to buy, they were able to buy,” Rank said. ”With inventories very low, I think the banks (that finance wholesale floorplans) wanted to get inventories in line.”
Rank said he senses that retail lending on a national level is still a problem for the RV industry.
”A lot of dealers have built relationships with banks at the local level,” Rank said. ” That added to the sense of optimism. But it’s apparent that there are still some concerning about national retail financing.
”Nobody’s kidding themselves that the market is going to return to what it was a few years ago, but there are going to be some nice recoveries for some dealers out there.”
Prime Time Manufacturing has expanded its product offering with the introduction of Tracer, a new line of ultralight travel trailers targeting the growing segment of crossover tow vehicles. Industry insiders will get their first look at Tracer during the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. Tracer will be offered in nine models with weights starting at 2,785 pounds for the smaller Micro Series. Consumers who have additional towing capacity will enjoy the benefits of the full-depth slide rooms available on the Tracer Executive with weights starting at just over 5,000 pounds. All Tracers are standard with cherry cabinets and cherry hardwood cabinet doors, upgraded fabrics, oil rubbed bronze hardware and designer curio glass accents. On some larger models, the cherry interior is accented with cream cabinets for a residential two-tone effect. The Tracer Executive is standard with exterior upgrades such as EZ Tow wide-track suspension, motorhome style slam baggage doors, a convenient universal docking center, electric stabilizer jacks, and an electric awning. Interior features include a HD LCD television, DVD Player, raised-panel kitchen overhead doors and a unique radius-wrapped slide room fascia. Tracer MSRP starts at $15,900. Elkhart, Ind.-based Prime Time Manufacturing is a division of Forest River Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company.
Recently formed Prime Time Manufacturing introduced LaCrosse, its first entry into the towable RV market, during the 2nd Annual Forest River Pick Your Partner sales event this week in Elkhart, Ind. Designed to offer an affordable alternative to the more commonly used “stick and tin” construction, the aluminum-framed LaCrosse offers a laminated fiberglass exterior in eight models ranging in length from 26 feet to 36 feet. According to Chris Hermon, vice president, LaCrosse has many upgraded exterior standards normally found on more expensive RVs including remote keyless entry, bus style slam baggage doors, electric awnings, electric stabilizer jacks, and “EZ Tow” wide stance suspension. On the inside, LaCrosse features an extra large slide room called MAX SLIDE which utilizes a large 87” U-shaped dinette.
Other interior appointments include an air mattress hide-a-bed, adjustable shelf pantry, LCD television, DVD player, full extension drawer guides, raised panel kitchen overhead cabinets and residentially inspired furnishings and fabrics. Prime time has started full production of LaCrosse at its facility in Wakarusa, Ind. Prime Time Manufacturing is a division of Forest River Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company.
Forest River Inc. expects more than 1,600 people from about 600 RV dealerships to attend the company’s second annual dealer show Sept. 23-24 at its Elkhart, Ind., headquarters.
Some 300 towable and motorized RVs will be on display, according to Forest River General Manager Jeff Babcock. ”This is by far a bigger show than last year,” Babcock said. ”We are going to have 150 more units here than we did last year.”
Forest River’s new division, Prime Time Manufacturing (initially called Lifetime RV) will show a 32-foot double-slide prototype of its new laminated fiberglass-and-aluminum LaCrosse travel trailer and fifth-wheel series that will retail from about $22,000.
”We will be starting to ship the first part of October,” said Prime Time President Jeff Rank, who founded the division with Vice President Chris Hermon.
On the motorized side, Forest River will introduce an entry-level, gas-powered Georgetown motorhome retailing in the high-$70,000s — somewhat less than previous versions.
”We are going to be going after the lower-end gas market,” Babcock said. ”The motorhome market is starting to come back and I think we’ve purged most of the inventory that was out there. There’s no question that we are going to be a power in the motorhome business. We are going to go after it aggressively.”
Additionally, new floorplans will be introduced in Forest River’s retro-look R-Pod travel trailer while the company’s Coachmen division will show redesigned Chapparal, Brookstone and North Ridge fifth-wheels in the first collective showing of Coachmen’s lineup since Forest River purchased Coachmen Industries Inc.’s RV division last December.
As Forest River did last year, the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary will cover food and lodging costs for visiting dealers.
”We’ve had an unbelievable response from dealers,” Babcock said. ”Last year was small potatoes compared to what’s going to be going on this year.”