RV Dealers/Manufacturers Bullish on 2011

January 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s going to be a good year for recreational vehicle sales, say RV dealers and manufacturers and the RV trade organization.

“We had an excellent year in RV sales in 2010. We feel that 2011 is going to be the best year we have ever seen in the RV industry,” Gary Miller, owner of Wana RV in Shipshewana, Ind., told The Goshen (Ind.) News.

Miller’s expectations are for his growing RV sales business. As a whole, the industry is expecting an increase of 3.9%. That number is based on a consumer survey by Richard Curtain of the University of Michigan. Curtain has been an analyst from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) for many years.

After three years of declines, the RV industry rebounded in 2010 with a 47.7% gain in shipments. As of November, the year’s total shipments reached 224,000 units.

This month, retail shows are beginning across the country and manufacturers and dealers are trying to gauge if Curtain’s prediction for another year of gains will come true.

“… If I can go by my two days of sales, we are up compared to last year,” said Joe Weider, operations manager for General RV Center in North Canton, Ohio. Weider’s sales staff was at the RV show in Cleveland, the biggest indoor sales event in the country. “My crystal ball says we should have a pretty good year.”

Weider said his sales center is the largest motorhome dealership in Ohio and also sells fifth-wheels and travel trailers. They have added some new manufacturers and products this year. But Weider said the sales year is too young to gauge if there will be any trends this year.

Phil Sarvari, executive vice president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc. in Nappanee, Ind., said the year’s sales will depend on consumers’s attitudes.

“As long as people feel good and they know they are going to have jobs, they will be willing to spend,” Sarvari said.

Americans have embraced RVs, he said, and want to continue camping and using that outdoor experience to bond with their family and friends. “It is a way of life. It is relaxing. They support each other, they tell stories and play games. You know, that is important,” Sarvari said.

At Jayco Inc. in Middlebury, the storage lots have many newly made units ready to be shipped.

“We’ve garnered a lot of momentum with the introduction of new products,” said Jim Jacobs, a vice president at Jayco.

Jacobs said the company has added new products and new price points to generate business. “That is what is going to carry our momentum. You have to be innovative to survive in this industry,” he said.

Motorhome sales dipped drastically when the recession began, and since it has ended the RV segment has continued to struggle. In 2010, Class A luxury motorcoaches averaged around 1,000 units shipped each month. The Class C motorhomes averaged even less.

But if manufacturers offer a quality product, Jacobs said there are buyers wanting them.

“In the Class A line, we have been extremely happy with the performance of the Entegra line,” Jacobs said. “Not only from the response from the dealer network, but the response from the consumer network. There are a lot of consumers out there still buying high-end diesel products. That customer is still there.”

To the east of Jayco’s Middlebury complex, Miller is getting ready for the upcoming RV show at the Century Center in South Bend. He plans to take 24 units and his son Justin will help with sales.

Miller has added units from Forest River Inc.’s Rockwood line made in Millersburg. He also has Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. and CrossRoads RV products.

He expects a good show in South Bend as financing is more available for buyers this year.

“As far as retail financing RVs, it definitely has gotten better than it was a year ago,” Miller said. But financing has changed. He said two years ago buyers could make a purchase without a down payment. Now a 10% down payment is standard practice.

“It really is a good thing because people will pay that 10% so when they are ready to sell it or trade it in they are not upside down on the unit. They don’t feel like they are taking such a loss,” Miller said.

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Richard Curtin Scales Back ’10, ’11 Forecasts

November 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Today in Louisville

Today in Louisville

University of Michigan Economist Richard Curtin’s latest forecast for 2010 and 2011 wholesale shipments have been scaled back from his most recent forecast, published in September.

Curtin forecasts wholesale RV shipments to finish 2010 at 236,700 units, a 43% increase over the 165,700 units shipped in 2009.

Looking ahead to 2011, Curtin sees RV shipments climbing by 4% to 246,000 units.

His forecasts were released today (Nov. 30) at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

In September, Curtin projected that shipments would reach 239,900 units by the end of 2010 and 259,600 units in 2011.

As for his 2011 forecast, he sees increases spread across all vehicle types:

  • Travel trailer shipments are expected to climb 3% to 145,600 units.
  • Fifth-wheels are expected to jump 5% to 57,200 units.
  • Folding camping trailers will increase by 2% to 14,000 units.
  • Truck campers will see an 8% rise to 2,900 units.

Motorized segments are also expected to see gains:

  • Class A motorhome shipments are set to rise 2% to 13,300 units.
  • Class B motorhomes will hit 1,900 units on 19% growth.
  • Class C motorhomes will increase by 8% to 11,100 units.
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RV Industry Ponders the Size of the Rebound

October 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Armed with spreadsheets and sales projections, Derald Bontrager and key executives at Jayco Inc. huddled in the fall of 2008 to figure out how their recreational vehicle manufacturing company could reduce costs enough to survive the depths of the recession.

Again and again, they met during the next several months, each time realizing more jobs held by local workers had to be eliminated. And in a family-owned business such as Jayco, which is based in the Northern Indiana town of Middlebury, laying off people is personal, the South Bend Tribune reported.

“That was the most difficult and challenging part of the downturn,” said Bontrager, president and COO at Jayco, which laid off more than half of its work force, or about 1,300 people, between late 2008 and mid-2009.

Like Jayco, RV manufacturers across the country dramatically slowed production after consumers, many of whom lost their jobs or access to credit, stopped buying.

At least seven manufacturers closed Indiana production facilities or closed completely, pushing unemployment last year in Elkhart County to nearly 19%.

Indiana’s RV industry was among the first economic sectors to tumble into recession, experts agree. Whether it can be the first to emerge from the economic depths remains to be seen.

Industry leaders say time will tell whether higher shipment figures in recent months are actually the result of more consumer purchases or dealers replenishing their inventories.

Most plants in Elkhart County and across the country had been running at near capacity in 2006 and 2007 as recreational vehicles and customers filled retail lots.

Dealers reported brisk sales until banks and lending institutions stopped lending money to consumers and dealers that year, which consequently halted purchases, as well as RV orders.

After years of shipment growth that culminated with a high of 390,500 shipments in 2006, inventory levels dropped to historic lows in 2009, according to statistics from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

That year, RV shipments plummeted to 165,700 vehicles. Indiana RV manufacturers produce about 75% of all RVs made in the U.S. The state ranks eighth or ninth in overall RV retail sales, with about 6% of all RV dealers based in Indiana.

“When the credit markets locked up and froze in the last half of 2008, industry shipments really dropped because consumers weren’t able to get credit,” said Kevin Broom, RVIA director of media relations. “Even consumers who were well qualified with cash and high credit scores could not get loans. People got nervous, and they postponed large discretionary purchases like RVs.”

Dealers decided to replace the few RVs that were selling off their lots much more slowly, which also affected suppliers and their work forces, and the lack of activity dropped inventory levels to historic industry lows for most of 2009.

Broom said the slowdown forced most — if not all — RV manufacturers to lay off workers.

About 15 U.S. companies filed for bankruptcy in 2008 or 2009, including Monaco Coach Corp., Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Country Coach, Travel Supreme and Rexhall RV.

The slowdown also negatively affected RV dealers. About 10% of total dealerships nationwide — an estimated 180 — closed during this period, said Phil Ingrassia, a spokesman for the national Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).

It was not until mid-2009 that the credit market loosened a little, which lured some consumers back to dealers’ lots. The industry has started feeling a level of normalcy again as people adjust to new financial situations, Broom said.

Total shipments are expected to reach 239,000 units in 2010, slowing during the second half of the year, according to Richard Curtin, an RV industry analyst and director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan.

Shipments are expected to rise moderately to 259,600 units in 2011, and job and industry growth should remain subdued as the industry feels the lingering effects of the economic downturn, Curtin said in a September news release from the RVIA.

“Consumers are reconsidering their spending and saving habits,” Curtin recently told the RVIA.

Several headwinds face the RV industry in an overall economic rebound: unemployment, consumer confidence, the financial markets, housing and credit.

Although shipments have been up since mid-2009, Mark Bowersox, executive director for the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association/Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA/RVIC), said that does not mean the industry is leading the country out of the recession.

Many Indiana manufacturers still do not have enough RV orders to keep their plants going all day, every day, Bowersox said, which means their fall shutdowns between product lines might be longer than usual.

“There are a lot of dealers wrestling with how much inventory to have on their lot for the spring selling season — five or 500,” he said about future vehicle orders that must be placed this fall in time for spring sales.

RVIA leaders cannot be certain about the length of time it will take the sector to rebound to record shipment levels seen in 2006.

“The industry is recovering, but we’re not to our destination yet,” Broom said. “It has given the RV maker an opportunity to go back and redesign and to refocus on the product, on where consumers will be in the future.”

He said smaller, lighter, more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient recreational vehicles are ways the industry is moving.

Jayco, which is being cautious as it adds personnel and other overhead costs back into its Elkhart County manufacturing plant, is focused on “greening” its vehicles, Bontrager said.

“We need to figure out a way as a company and industry to provide a high-quality product with all the features the consumer has come to expect at a lower price point,” Bontrager said.

Most of the 500 employees who have been called back to work are in production. In other parts of the company, processes are becoming more efficient with a smaller work force, he said.

Bontrager thinks the RV industry and the economy have reached recovery mode but said he cannot be sure the recession is over. Not yet.

“I certainly would say that we’ve reached the bottom of the recession. Now we’re talking about how we can meet the demand rather than cutting costs,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re very cautious. This has been a prolonged recession compared to others. And consumers are spending less but expecting the same.”

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Curtin: No ‘Double Dip,’ But A Slow Recovery

September 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Richard Curtin

Richard Curtin

Richard Curtin, director of the Surveys of Consumers at the University of Michigan, told the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) board of directors the national economy will avoid a double-dip recession but continue its recovery at a slower pace that will moderate wholesale RV shipments in the upcoming year.

Curtin made these projections in a presentation to the RVIA board at its annual September meeting today (Sept. 21) at the Hotel Park City in Park City, Utah, according to an RVIA news release.

Focusing on the national economic outlook, Curtin said that among the scenarios for 2011, there was the greatest probability for a “slow growth” model. He defined this as GDP increasing by 2.5%, unemployment at 9.6%, job creation hitting 100,000 jobs per month, personal income growth at 2.4%, housing starts at 780,000, and slight gains in consumer confidence and credit conditions.

Curtin said that there is only a one-in-10 chance that the economy will slip back into a double-dip recession.

Gradually rising consumer sentiment, a modest gain in consumer spending and an improved credit market will accompany this slower growth. However, continued high rates of unemployment and sluggish income gains will continue to be a drag on the economy.

Curtin also said that the greater probability for the “slow growth” model would put wholesale RV shipments in the 259,000-unit range that was projected in the Fall 2010 issue of RV Roadsigns. In that projection, shipments are expected to reach 239,900 units by the end of 2010 and 259,600 units in 2011.

In his remarks, Curtin also discussed the new consumer mindset that businesses need to consider as a result of the economic hardships of the past several years.

“Consumers are reconsidering their spending and saving habits,” Curtin said. “Given the strong underlying demand for the RV lifestyle, consumers will gravitate toward products that offer an equivalent experience at a price that meets new economic constraints.”

He advised companies to “rightsize” rather than “downsize” as they move forward. “Rightsizing means delivering an optimal mix of size, convenience, and features to meet the new realities facing consumers,” he added. “This may mean smaller units with fewer features.”

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RVIA: RV Growth is Expected to Moderate

September 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RVIA logoEditor’s Note: The following release, contained in the fall issue of Roadsigns, comes courtesy of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) based on research by Richard Curtin from the University of Michigan.

Richard Curtin

Richard Curtin

RV Shipments totaled 76,000 units in the second quarter of 2010, the largest year-to-year gain the past quarter century. The outsized increase followed record-setting declines due to the recession and credit freeze. The second quarter gains were shared by travel trailers and motorhomes, while folding camping trailers and truck campers posted more modest increases.

The rapid pace of increase will moderate during the year ahead. Total shipments are expected to reach 239,000 in 2010 and 259,600 in 2011. On a seasonally adjusted basis, RV shipments will slow in the second half of 2010 and then rebound by the end of 2011. It will take one year for the seasonally adjusted total to again equal the level recorded in the second quarter of 2010.

(As the towable RV market has improved, Curtin has repeatedly upgraded his 2010 year-end forecast each quarter from 169,500 units in mid-2009 up to 185,800, 203,500, 215,900 and 230,300 earlier this summer — a 39% gain over 2009’s total shipments of 165,700. The industry shipped 237,000 units in ‘08.)

RV sales face continued challenges from the slowdown in prospects for economic growth. Uncertainty about future taxes, depressed home values and tight credit conditions will restict motorhome sales, and lackluster income growth and high unemployment will limit gains in folding camping trailers and truck camper sales.

Conventional and fifth-wheel travel trailers are expected to maintain their 83% share of the RV market, while motorhomes will account for 10% of the total. The trailer share us up by 20 percentage points from a decade ago, half coming from folding camping trailers, a close substitute, and half from motorhome sales.

Downsizing Versus Rightsizing

The Great Recession has been followed by a recovery only an economist could recognize. Lackluster economic growth, falling wages and high unemployment do not signify a recovery to most people. Importantly, consumers have come to expect that dismal economic prospects will persist for years to come. These new constraints have caused consumers to reconsider their spending and saving habits. Postponement works well to bridge a brief recession, but a more thorough rightsizing of consumption is required when the slowdown is expected for an extended period. Given the strong underlying demand for the RV lifestyle, consumers will gravitate toward products that offer an equivalent experience at a price that meets their new budget constraints. Downsizing will not be as successful as rightsizing RVs. Rightsizing means delivering the optimal mix of size, convenience and features to meet the new constraints facing consumers. While the challenges in developing new products will be as great as the economic hurdles now facing the industry, rightsized RVs will reap the long-term payoff from consumers.

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Curtin: RV Shipments Will Rise 39% This Year

June 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Richard Curtin

Richard Curtin

Richard Curtin has revised upward his already optimistic forecast for wholesale RV shipments for 2010.

His latest forecast, appearing in the Summer issue of RV Roadsigns, predicts shipments will total 230,300 units this year, a 39% gain over 2009. RV Roadsigns is published quarterly by the Recreation vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

In February, he forecast shipments in 2010 would total 215,900 units, a 30% increase over 2009. In December, Curtin projected 2010 shipments to reach 203,500 units. That was a step up from Curtin’s previous 2010 prognostication of 185,800 units and, before that, 169,500 units, the last of which was issued last June.

Curtin will be speaking on Wednesday (June 9) at a luncheon in the Century Center in South Bend, Ind., as part of the RVIA’s Committee Week.

Here is Curtin’s latest forecast:

“Total RV shipments rose to 59,900 in the first quarter of 2010, up from just 30,500 a year ago. This year-to-year gain in shipments was 96%, the largest ever recorded. The extraordinary gain was widely shared by conventional and fifth-wheel travel trailers, as well as all types of motorhomes.

“RV shipments are expected to total 230,300 in 2010, an anticipated gain of 39% above the 2009 total of 165,700 units. The expected percentage gain will be the largest for Class A and Class C motorhomes, closely followed by conventional and fifth-wheel travel trailers. While the initial surge in shipments was due to restocking depleted dealer inventories, sales of RVs to consumers will also improve in 2010.

“The industry is firmly on the road to recovery, although the overall pace of progress will slow in the second half of 2010. While improved, job and income growth will remain subdued, and the availability of credit will slowly improve in the year ahead. Volatility in financial markets, lackluster trends in home prices, and prospects for higher inflation, interest rates and taxes in the year ahead will keep consumers in a defensive spending posture. The lingering effects of the economic downturn on the lower end of the RV market will push shipments of folding camping trailers and truck campers as a share of the total market to the smallest level on record.”

Curtin’s forecast includes the following category shipment figures:

  • Travel trailers, 140,600.
  • Fifth-wheels, 50,000.
  • Folding camping trailers, 14,700.
  • Truck campers, 2,400.
  • Class A motorhomes, 11,200.
  • Class B motorhomes, 1,600.
  • Class C motorhomes, 9,800.

The New Normal

“A recovery that is slower and more variable will be the new normal for the RV industry. This means that keeping inventories in line with sales is both more important and more difficult than during past recoveries. It is more important since a costly mismatch between inventories and sales is more likely when variations in the pace of upward market growth are more common. It is more difficult to assess given the wide array of economic, financial and new regulations that will influence market trends in our increasingly globalized economy. Inventory management is about timing, and poor timing means either lost profits or lost sales. There is no doubt that it was necessary to restock depleted dealer inventories in advance of renewed strength in retail sales. A customer centric approach is now required, however, to closely align production with sales so as to provide the right selection of RVs at the right locations at the right time. The financial health of the entire industry, including manufacturers, suppliers and dealers, depends on the deployment of advanced inventory management techniques.”

RV Roadsigns is published quarterly and available to RVIA members at a password-protected link. Those who aren’t RVIA members can subscribe to the newsletter in the RVIA Store at Richard Curtin is affiliated with the University of Michigan Consumer Survey Research Center.

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Karlgaard to Speak During Committee Week

May 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine and a regular panelist on the business show ”Forbes on Fox,” will be the keynote speaker at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) annual meeting June 9 during RVIA’s Committee Week at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind., according to RVIA Express.

In a talk titled, “U.S. Outlook: Is the Recovery Durable?” Karlgaard will give an outlook for stocks, home prices and asset classes while also discussing which sectors of the economy will benefit from increased government intervention and which will lose ground. He will examine how the results of the 2010 midterm elections might change the business landscape and which products and services, growth models and economic regions are likely to perform best in the immediate future and in the long-term.

Also at the meeting, RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon and RVIA President Richard Coon will discuss the state of the association and speak on a wide range of topics including government relations, standards, industry education and RVIA-sponsored trade shows. RVIA Treasurer Bob Olson will detail the association’s finances.

In a presentation titled, “RVIA Public Relations: The New Consumer and the Road Ahead,” RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson and Gary LaBella , vice president and chief marketing officer, will provide an analysis of the post-recession consumer, examine the new Harris survey findings on the factors that influence RV purchase decisions and give an overview of the media exposure created for the RV industry through the association’s public relations programs.

In “Go RVing: We’re Back in the Saddle Again,” Go RVing Co-Chairman Bob Olson of Winnebago Industries Inc. and LaBella will provide a briefing on the award-winning ad campaign. RVIA will also honor industry and association leaders by presenting a host of awards.

At a luncheon immediately following the membership meeting, economist Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan, will provide his outlook for the RV market for the upcoming year. Curtin has directed RVIA’s RV Consumer Demographic Profile research for 30 years and authors the association’s quarterly RV Roadsigns newsletter.

For more information on the RVIA Membership Meeting and the industry forecast luncheon, contact RVIA’s Meetings and Shows Department at (703) 620-6003 ext. 305 or visit

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South Carolina Sees Upturn in Rec Business

April 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Cozy campers, morphing motorcycles and billowing boats are the types of vehicles that individuals, couples and families take out for fun and trips.

Unfortunately for those industries, far fewer people bought those products in 2009 than in previous years. Prime culprit: the lagging economy, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

“It’s just everything hit us at one time,” said Gloria Morgan, owner of The Trail Center in North Charleston, S.C. “We are hoping for a recovery.”

This year is apt to be an improvement, national and Charleston area observers contend. Local retailers said people are wandering into showrooms and are shopping, if not in cruises, zooms and waves, at least in lurches, fits and trickles.

A few days with temperatures in the 80s hasn’t hurt locally.

“Naturally, the weather is warmer,” said Morgan, noting that customers are most intrigued with the center’s pop up campers from its main brand, Jayco. “The winter had been bad. They just want to get out and see.”

National figures paint a grim result for 2009 but a brightening outlook for this year. Consider:

  • Recreational vehicle shipments are projected to total 215,900 this year, up 30% from 2009, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Dealers are restocking inventory as sales continue to pick up.
  • RV shipments barely topped 165,000 last year, off 30.1% from 2008. “Lower shipments in 2009 were caused by the longest and deepest U.S. recession since the 1930s, the tightest credit conditions in several decades, job losses, falling household wealth, slower growth in real incomes and historically low consumer confidence,”  said Richard Curtin, RV industry analyst and director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan.
  • Motorcycle sales dropped 40.8% in 2009 from the year before, with 520,502 dual sport, off-road, street bike and scooters sold compared with 879,910 the year before, based on figures compiled by Street bikes make up the lion’s share of the market with more than 60% of all sales. The shallowest decline was in off-road cycles, which dropped 28.4% year to year.
  • There are pockets of growth in the cycle business this year: BMW Motorrad USA saw sales jump 52% in February from the year before.

Lowcountry revved up

The tough economy hasn’t stopped Charleston area motorsports dealers from expanding their operations. Velocity Powersports unveiled an expansive new retail center at Interstate 26 and College Park Road last year. American Biker of Charleston moved from cramped quarters to a roomy new building on Treeland Drive in Ladson.

On the boating scene, Sea Ray of Charleston found a home at the massive Sportsman’s Island center off I-526 at Clements Ferry Road selling Scout and Boston Whaler watercraft. Duncan’s Boats is moving back to its original spot on the Ashley River.

One edge for the recreational side of the motor vehicle business is the variety: people can choose from RVs, campers, jet skis, power boats, fishing vessels, motorcycles, trikes and scooters.

Charleston Powersports, which is in the process of moving into a much larger building, is seeing signs of sales improvement. It offers Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki motorcycles, two types of scooters, all-terrain and utility-terrain vehicles, jet skis and jet boats.

“We carry something for everybody,” says Kyle Carter, sales manager.

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RVIA: Wholesale Shipments to Grow 30% in ’10

February 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RVIA logoWholesale RV shipments are expected to total 215,900 units in 2010, according to  Richard Curtin’s latest projection in the Spring 2010 issue of RV Roadsigns, quarterly forecast of RV deliveries to RV retailers published by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

The gain to 215,900 units would be a 30% rise over the 2009 year end total of 165,700 units. It is also a gain of 6% over Curtin’s most recent forecast delivered in winter, 2009. In December, Curtin projected 2010 shipments to reach 203,500 units. That was a step up from Curtin’s previous 2010 prognostication of 185,800 units and, before that, 169,500 units, the last of which was issued last June.

Curtin attributes the rising shipment totals seen in late 2009 and early 2010 to the restocking of dealer inventories as well as an improving trend in RV sales to consumers.

“There will be some economic conditions, such as lagging job and income growth and lingering credit constraints, that could slow the pace of progress,” said Curtin. “But, the industry is firmly on the road to recovery with the expected gains in RV shipments next year to be shared by travel trailers as well as motorhomes.”

RV Roadsigns is published quarterly and available to RVIA members at a password-protected link. Those who aren’t RVIA members can subscribe to the newsletter in the RVIA Store at

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Baird: Curtin 2010 Forecast Too Conservative

December 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

baird_new_logoEditor’s Note: The investment firm Robert W. Baird & Co. hosted an investor field trip to the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.,  this week. Here are excerpts from the company’s report contained in a current client newsletter:


Low dealer inventory and strong OEM backlogs have insiders optimistic, supporting our robust (wholesale) recovery scenario. We remain bullish on wholesale fundamentals, but prefer a margin of safety until the magnitude of the retail recovery becomes clearer.


Light attendance. Attendance was light, by our estimation. Our sources indicate attendance was flat after falling 40% in 2008 as dealers conserve resources. Investor interest was up.

Don’t worry. Be happy. We sensed relief and contrived optimism at the show. The “bottom” we and others identified earlier this year – which is evident in low dealer inventories and robust OEM backlogs – has nearly everyone focused on a better 2010. We continue to believe the return to a “normal” inventory replenishment rate will drive a robust recovery in 2010 – but retail demand must recover if the recovery is to be sustainable.

The bank is boss. More than ever, bank decisions about consumer credit and wholesale lending control the fate of the RV industry. By enforcing more disciplined inventory management and demanding that consumers/dealers have more “skin in the game,” banks will influence industry growth and determine the winners and losers. Having been caught holding distressed collateral from weaker OEMs, banks want better partners. In an industry with few barriers to entry – access to capital provides an opportunity for well-managed businesses. Among the winners, one banker listed Thor Industries Inc., Forest River Inc., Tiffin Motor Homes Inc., Jayco Inc., Winnebago Industries Inc. and Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC.

Conservative RVIA forecast.  Richard Curtin revised his 2010 shipment forecast – but remains overly conservative in our view, especially in motorhomes. He sees 2010 towable shipments up 30% (up from 29%) and motorhome shipments up 25% (down from 27%). For perspective, we expect motorhome shipments to be up 108% at Winnebago.

Outlook. We remain bullish on fundamentals as a robust wholesale recovery unfolds, but prefer a better margin of safety.

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Coon Gives Positive Forecast at RVIA Breakfast

December 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Richard Coon at Outlook Breakfast (Photo courtesy of RVIA)

Richard Coon at Outlook Breakfast (Photo courtesy of RVIA)

Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) President Richard Coon said today (Dec. 1) that the RV industry is primed and ready for recovery, emphasizing the continued popularity of RVing among customers and potential buyers and the recent uptick in wholesale RV shipments as evidence that the worst of times may be over for the RV industry.

Coon delivered this industry forecast at the  “Outlook 2010: Let the Sun Shine” market expansion showcase, kicking off the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

“We have survived the Great Depression…numerous recessions and market downturns…fuel crises…acts of terrorism and wars. But we have endured,” Coon said. “Why? Because RVs are woven into the fabric of America. Americans love RVing, they love our products and how they enrich their lives, allowing them to spend time in the great outdoors with loved ones.”

According to a news release, Coon pointed to a strengthening stock market, slowing job loss, higher productivity, increasing home sales, and rising manufacturing hours as reasons for economic optimism; while noting that weak consumer confidence, continued high unemployment and anemic consumer spending still present challenges.

But the most telling sign that the RV industry is on the road to recovery can be found in wholesale shipment numbers, which have been trending upward for several months. Coon reported that, in October, total units were 16,600, an increase of 23% over October 2008 shipments. Seasonally adjusted, October shipments hit an annual rate of more than 216,000 units, marking the third consecutive month that annualized shipments topped 200,000 units.

Based on these positive developments, Coon reported that University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin now forecasts wholesale shipments to finish this year at 159,500 units.

Looking ahead to 2010, Curtin sees RV shipments climbing by 27% to 203,500 units, with increases spread across all vehicle types:

  • Travel trailer shipments are expected to climb 31% to 130,400 units
  • Fifth-wheels are expected to jump 25% to 42,800 units
  • Folding camping trailers will increase by 11% to 13,900 units
  • Truck campers will see an 11% rise to 2,000 units.

Motorized segments are also expected to see gains:

  • Class A motorhome shipments are set to rise 20% to 6,100 units.
  • Class B motorhomes will hit 1,400 units on 17% growth
  • Class C motorhomes will increase by 30% to 6,900 units.

During his talk, Coon briefly outlined RVIA’s plans to lead celebrations of the RV industry’s 100th anniversary in 2010, and encouraged industry members to take part in noting the proud past and bright future of the industry. “As we head into a new year, we should all resolve to have the courage to believe in our industry’s recovery, and resolve to overcome these difficult times” he said.

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Curtin: Industry’s on a Gradual ‘Road to Recovery’

September 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite recent recessionary setbacks, relative gains posted thus far this year by travel trailers are pointing to a “road to recovery” for the RV industry, Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, reports in his fall “Roadsigns” prognostications for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

 “Total RV shipments were 42,300 in the second quarter of 2009,” he reports. “Although this was the lowest second quarter reading since 1982, year-to-year declines have begun to narrow, and signal that RV shipments are on the road to recovery. The greatest relative gains since the start of 2009 were made by travel trailers and the least by motorhomes.

 “While total RV shipments are expected to fall to 146,200 in 2009, the low point was in the first quarter,” he adds. “RV shipments can be expected to begin posting seasonally adjusted gains in the balance of 2009 and into 2010. The gains will focus on conventional travel trailers during the next year or so, although all types of RVs will begin to improve.”

 Looking ahead, Curtin predicts total shipments of 185,800 units in 2010, a 27% pickup from 2009 and a marginal upgrade from the 169,500 units he had forecast for 2010 back at RVIA Committee Week in June. While it’s definitely good news, those numbers still lag significantly behind the 237,000 shipments the industry posted in 2008 or, even more so, totals of 390,500 units in 2006.

 Curtin looks for renewed RV sales growth in the second half of ’09 due to improved economic conditions and the easing of the financial crisis. On the other hand, he warns, lagging consumer demand will remain a factor through most of next year due to continued job losses, shorter work hours, smaller income gains, tight credit and declines in household wealth as well as Americans’ need to restore savings and pension accounts.

 Most notably, he points out, motorhomes’ share of total shipments are expected to fall to 7.8%, about a third of the motorized share in 2000.

 “After the energy shocks of the 1970s,” adds Curtin, “motorhome sales bounced back to capture one-third of the total market from 1983 to 1990. Likewise, the current dominance of travel trailers is likely to yield market share over time due to the downsizing of household tow vehicles.”

 All in all, Curtin, however, continues to look for a slow – but certain – turnaround from the recent downturn.

 “The recent financial meltdown has affected every aspect of the RV industry, including manufacturers, dealers and consumers,” says Curtin. “The transformation of the industry has only begun and can be expected to be more comprehensive and require more restructuring than following any prior recession. Unlike past recoveries, the full restoration of RV sales will be slow and uneven.

 “Importantly, given the strong commitment of the consumers to the RV lifestyle, there is no question about the favorable prospects for the industry. It will simply take longer than usual for consumers to reestablish their economic footing following the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s. The same can be said about financial institutions as they have been slow to establish new regulations and restore more normal credit flows, a key to a healthy RV industy.”

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July 30, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: This is a recent installment of’s Elkhart Project examining the impact of the recession on the RV industry.

Bill and Esthermay Brooks are nomads of the Interstate system. They’ve crossed the continental United States five times over the last 15 years, chalking up visits to all the lower 48 states in their national roving. They plan to steer their 35-foot-long Georgie Boy Pursuit motor home north to visit the 49th state, Alaska, in 2011.

“Our longest trip was five and a half weeks – we drove 10,000 miles and visited 22 states and Canada,” said Bill Brooks, a police officer from Cobb Island, Md. “Eventually, we have a goal of spending a whole month in every state. We want to do it while we’re still young enough.”

The Brooks, both 55, are living a peculiarly American dream. They are fierce adherents of the RV lifestyle, a strange blend of individualism and wanderlust that drives thousands of Americans to spend their summers barreling down the nation’s highways and back roads, stopping at campgrounds and meeting up at gatherings of other recreational vehicle enthusiasts.

But the RV lifestyle has stalled in recent years.

While a record 8.2 million RVs are crisscrossing the nation’s roads, it has been a terrible year for the industry. RV sales have plunged 65% from their peak just a few years ago, and the deep recession has hit the core RV demographic of those aged 40 to 60 particularly hard. They have endured sharp losses in their home values, stock portfolios and household wealth. Experts don’t expect much of a sales rebound for years to come.

“These factors have really hit the industry hard, and I think 2009 will be a tough one for the industry,” said University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, who studies the RV industry. “I think we’ll see fewer RVs sold than at any time since 1980.”

When gas prices hit $4 a gallon last summer, many RVers left their motorhomes in the driveway rather than shoulder the cost of a vehicle that might get only, at best, 10 miles per gallon.

RV sales have cratered since hitting a peak of 390,000 units in 2006. Curtin expects sales of just 136,500 units this year, down 65% from the peak. Sales could rise to about 169,500 units in 2010, Curtin said, although given the uncertain economic outlook the figures could change by 15% in either direction, he said.

While the weak economy has dented the RV business, it’s not a complete write-off, Curtin said. He says campgrounds and national parks are reporting strong RV visits, with some completely booked for the summer. This underscores the strong American desire to camp and travel, and it’s why he thinks the RV industry eventually will bounce back.

“The RV industry follows the cycles in the economy. When times are good, RV sales are good, but when the economy goes bad, RV sales are terrible,” he said. “It will take time for the industry to fully recover.”

The slow recovery means trouble for the nation’s RV manufacturers and dealers. When industry sales peaked, the market was saturated with vehicles, said Curtin. Dealers are now trying to sell many of those vehicles at deep discounts, making new sales especially challenging, he said. In addition, credit is still hard to get for RV buyers.

That means more bad news for Elkhart, Ind., the center of the nation’s RV manufacturing business, where massive job cuts in the region’s manufacturing sector have helped to push the area’s unemployment rate to 17.5%, nearly twice the national average. Other RV manufacturing centers like Forest City, Iowa, where motorhome manufacturer Winnebago Industries Inc. is based, also are likely to suffer, said Curtin.

And RV dealers are feeling the pain. More so than cars, RVs are a luxury item that most consumers will put off buying during harsh economic times. In an industry research report published in April, market analysis company IBISWorld forecast that hundreds of RV dealers will go under as operators cut staff and reduce costs. IBISWorld expects the number of RV dealers to fall by 12% in 2009.

Industry revenue was down 22.5% to $15.5 billion in 2008, and a further decline of 19.6% is expected in 2009, with revenue sliding to $12.5 billion, according to IBISWorld.

Over the next five years RV sales are expected to rebound, supported by a stronger economy, with the biggest improvement expected in 2011 and 2012, according to IBISWorld.

Curtin is also bullish on the RV life, with its opportunities for camping, fishing and visiting national monuments. Many younger RVers are taking up the pastime, and the industry is moving forward with more lightweight, fuel-efficient and “greener” RVs, he said.

Greener, lighter RVs

“The buzz in the industry is how can we adapt and change to deal with the poor sales,” he said. “After all, this is essentially a small house on wheels and it uses a lot of energy, primarily for driving and cooking, so there are lots of opportunities to save and conserve energy. For this reason I think the industry is determined to make sure they can have green and more energy efficient units all round.”

Earlier in the decade, when large sport utility vehicles were the rage, there was strong demand for large, towable travel trailers and “fifth-wheel” trailers, which make up about 80% of RV sales. With a trend toward more sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, RV manufacturers are going to have to find ways to make their vehicles lighter and more easily towed, said Curtin.

The RV industry has developed few new products in recent years, slowing the industry’s growth. Only when RV manufacturers produce a vehicle that is green and fuel efficient will the industry see another group of strong growth years, noted IBISWorld in its report. This will be especially true if gas prices rise.

Demand from retiring Baby Boomers, broadly defined as those born between 1943 and 1965 and the largest market segment for RVs, also is expected to spur growth in sales.

According to an estimate from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), up to 30 million people consider themselves RV enthusiasts. A typical RV owner is in his or her mid-50s, married, owns a home and has an annual household income of over $70,000.

For the Brookses, an RV trip is quite simply the cheapest vacation around. When they weighed an RV trip against taking an airplane and staying at a hotel, the RV option worked out to be about 50% cheaper.

Bill Brooks figures he saves close to $100 a day in food alone by cooking in the RV instead of eating out.

Then there are the intangible benefits of being on the open road, he said.

“When you’re sleeping in a RV, you know who slept in that bed last night, and you know who washed those dishes or cleaned that glass,” said Bill Brooks. “So having that peace of mind, that’s the mindset of many campers. They like to be in their own space with their own things.”

“My sister’s idea of roughing it is a hotel without room service – she wants to jet to wherever she’s going and get there and back as quickly as possible, but RV-ers like to stop and smell the roses,” he said. “They like to pull over and read a road sign, or see a historic market; they want to travel the blue roads, meet the locals and talk to them.”

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Newmar: Gaining Market Share with Its Gas Products

July 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

newmar-logoSales have picked up for Newmar Corp.’s towable and core diesel and gas products, according to company executives attending the 8nd Annual Family Motor Coach Association Convention (FMCA) in Bowling Green, Ohio, which ended Thursday.

”We’ve been in production either four or five days a week for the last 12 weeks,” said Kyle McCrary, director of luxury products and product design for the Nappanee, Ind., manufacturer. ”Our towables and our core diesels and gas (motorhomes) are doing extremely well. The high-end is still a little slow, a little challenging.”

Newmar Chairman Matt Miller also said that Newmar’s recently announced program of providing maintenance and repairs for non-Newmar products has gone well. ”We see a need for disenfranchised owners who perhaps don’t have a place to go to get service,” Miller said.

About 2,600 coaches pre-registered for the FMCA convention on the grounds of Bowling Green State University and Wood County Fairgrounds about 25 miles south of Toledo.

While not suggesting that things have turned around completely, McCrary said that Newmar expects business to pick up in 2010, primarily agreeing with Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) who estimates that wholesale shipments will increase by 24% next year.

”We are gaining market with our gas products,” McCrary said. ”Some of that has to do with changes that we made in our products, but it also has to do with some of the economic issues that our competitors have faced.”

He said some prospective high-end buyers are concerned about the tax policies that are being discussed in Congress and by the Obama administration.

McCrary noted that ”financial issues” are continuing to vex the industry, on both the wholesale and retail sides of the equation but not to the degree they did earlier in the year.

”We are seeing a definite turn, a trend,” McCrary said. ”We are seeing us start to move out of this bottleneck that was created by the lack of banks’ lending money, whether it was on the wholesale or retail end of it.

”But the (lack of credit) has created a huge pent up demand,” he said. ”When this thing does finally move, we are ready for it. We see that it is happening. It is definitely coming.”

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Curtin: 24% Hike for Shipments in 2010 over 2009

June 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The recreation vehicle industry’s shipments are projected to total approximately 169,500 units in 2010 – a 24% increase from the 136,500 predicted for 2009 – according to a new forecast by RV industry analyst Richard Curtin, released at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Annual Membership Meeting today (June 9).

Seasonally adjusted shipments reached their low point in the first quarter of 2009, and gains are expected over the next two years as the negative financial factors that caused the steep drop in RV sales will slowly give way to improved conditions in the market.  

Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, which produces the closely watched monthly Index of Consumer Sentiment, briefed RVIA members on his analysis of the industry’s future at RVIA’s annual Committee Week, being held this week in Washington, DC.

“The persistent appeal of the RV lifestyle as well as the good economic value provided by this form of recreation will energize future growth in the RV market, once again driving the RV market to higher levels,” said Curtin.

In addition, RVIA President Richard Coon addressed key issues critical to the industry’s long-term profitability, including the need to continue RVIA’s work to secure sufficient RV wholesale and retail financing, vehicle fuel economy, and the growing “green” movement.

Curtin said there is considerable uncertainty about the future course of the economy as well as future RV sales.  This uncertainty means that RV shipments in 2010 could as much as 15% more or less than his forecast.

“This is the longest and deepest U.S. recession of the past half century,” said Curtin. “However, while fluctuations in sales are expected, there has been no change in the strong preferences expressed by consumers for the RV lifestyle.”

Consumer confidence has surged in recent months because of optimism about the Obama administration’s economic stimulus efforts and financial reforms, which RVIA worked hard to be sure included the RV industry.  While these programs will aid consumers, Curtin said the pace of gains in RV sales will be more gradual than in the initial phase of past recoveries because of lingering effects from the credit crisis, slow economic growth and higher levels of unemployment.  In addition, the priorities of many consumers have shifted toward debt repayment and restoration of savings and retirement accounts. 

Curtin emphasized that economic adversity has caused consumers to postpone the purchase of an RV but not to forsake their commitment to the RV lifestyle.

“The RV industry is in the business of helping families form lasting bonds and having a great time getting outdoors,” said Coon. “Those are core American values that will endure and create a lasting demand for RVs.”

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