RVB’s 1st ‘RV of the Year': TMC’s Axis & Vegas

December 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

TMC's Axis is RV of the Year

Times change, and RVBusiness is changing along with them, which is a backhanded way of saying that the staff and contributors of RVBusiness and are dropping their annual “Best of Show” format in favor of a concept that looks instead at the entire model year: The “RVBusiness 2014 RV of the Year.”

Why? Because today, as most everyone knows, North American RV builders are introducing new models all over the calendar starting in September – from the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association’s (PRVCA) Hershey Show to Elkhart’s RV Open House to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Louisville Show and even the Florida RV Trade Association’s (FRVTA) Tampa Show in January.

So, faced with all these trade-worthy venues, we’re opting to keep the ball rolling in an inventive way by instead combing though the hundreds of new or upgraded models released for the current model year in an effort to select one of them as the most interesting, inventive and/or eye-catching new unit of the model year while naming three others as viable contenders.

In our January/February print issue, moreover, we’ll add an array of “Top 2014 Debuts” that should amount to a pretty provocative look at the model year when all is said and done.

“It’s not a task we take lightly,” said RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson, who oversees the selection process. “But it’s a process intended to showcase the extraordinary authenticity, originality and creativity in design, styling and engineering that’s fast becoming the hallmark of contemporary recreational vehicles. What else did we consider? Innovation takes precedence over amenities — and a unit’s potential impact upon the marketplace carries more weight than a 16,000-pound GVWR fiver.”

And it didn’t take a protracted debate among our staff and contributors to come up with our inaugural “RV of the Year” — Thor Motor Coach Inc.’s unusual “Recreational Utility Vehicle,” the Axis and Vegas Class A, one of a number of new cutting-edge North American recreational vehicles that exhibit smaller dimensions and a distinctly European flavor in a market still populated by plenty of big towable and motorized RVs.

Winnebago Trend at Hershey Show

Among the “RV of the Year” contenders – units that drew enough praise from the staff that they prompted us to pause before making a final selection:

Winnebago Industries Inc.’s Trend Class C Motorhome

Jayco Inc.’s Jay Smart Travel Trailer

Keystone RV Co.’s Montana Big Sky Fifth-Wheel

Why TMC’s Axis, Vegas?

Elkhart, Ind.-based TMC, a division of Thor Industries Inc., is actually not the first motorized manufacturer to introduce a contemporary 25-foot Class A coach — nor is it the first to build a motorhome on the Ford E-series chassis.

However, the Axis/Vegas is the first in the modern era assembled on a Ford E-350 commercial platform that not only helps to keep the unit’s $93,675 base MSRP well below six figures, but also provides nearly limitless repair facilities should a problem crop up on the road.

The Ford chassis also allows for higher gross vehicle weight ratings (12,500 pounds) and gross combined weight rating (18,500 pounds), allowing TMC engineers and designers to better equip the coach, while it’s wide stance, long 188-inch wheelbase and narrowed (by 7 inches) front clip further improve stability.

TMC combines that with attractive exterior styling that would put the coach right at home on any European highway. And there’s a profusion of space inside, including an electronically actuated bunk over the cockpit and a unique double-hinged “extender-room” door that essentially turns the mid-coach bathroom into a virtual changing room, which drew the overall kudo’s of RVB’s staff.

As for the contenders?

Jayco Jay Smart

Jayco Jay Smart: There’s no denying the impact that European design is having upon the American RV industry. The Jay Smart is less a U.S. travel trailer built with a smattering of European influences as it is a European caravan “Americanized” for domestic use. That’s not surprising, given that one of Jayco’s design and engineering consultants on this project, Brian Donat, has been working in Europe for three years. By reconfiguring the trailer’s center of gravity — the engineering team modified the chassis and hitch and extended the A-frame — the Jay Smart is designed to have a hitch weight of between 100-150 pounds. With four floorplans in the works from 19 to 26 feet, the Jay Smart weighs in at between 2,400 and 4,100 pounds. Other innovations include a friction pad on the front and back of the hitch that locks down tightly on the coupler to prevent chucking, an optional maneuvering system attached to the axles to enhance maneuvering into tight locations and acrylic windows throughout.

Winnebago Trend: While dealers got their first look at Winnebago Industries Inc.’s compact Winnebago Trend Class C motorhome at the Iowa manufacturer’s May Dealer Days, it was quickly evident from the “mob scene” that developed at its retail debut in September at PRVCA’s Hershey Show that U.S. consumers were intrigued by the Trend, the first U.S. Class C motorhome built on Chrysler’s Ram ProMaster van chassis – an Americanized version of Europe’s popular Fiat Ducato. Now it’s up to Winnebago, which has also introduced a Travato Class B motorhome on the Ram ProMaster, to determine over the long haul just how well current and new American motorhome buyers like the downsized, 9,350-pound GVWR Trend and its Itasca Viva! companion line. The four-sleeper Trend/Viva!, with its easy-access cab equipped with a powered StudioLoft bed, is available with MSRP’s of $88,650 in two floorplans with a fuel-efficient V6 Pentastar gas engine getting 14 to 16 mpg.

Keystone Big Sky interior

Keystone Montana Big Sky: Beyond all of the standard amenities available on Keystone RV Co.’s upscale 40-foot Montana Big Sky fifth-wheel — like its 12-cubic-foot Dometic fridge, 8,000-pound axles, 48-inch by 30-inch shower and outside entertainment centers — what really caught our eye was a hard-to-define aspect called eye appeal. The interior of the fifth-wheel — now a stand-alone Montana brand versus an upgrade of existing lines — simply looks that good, thanks to the combined efforts of Joe Kalil, director of interior design, and Mike Mack, product manager for the nation’s top-selling high-profile fifth-wheel line. “On the road there are 65,000 Montana owners, and they were wanting something to step up to, and that’s why this Big Sky was created,” says Director of Marketing Jim Mac. “And, yeah, it’s beautiful. I mean, that’s the first thing you see, and with a starting base MSRP of about $89,000, it’s quite competitive with some of the best known higher priced brands on the market.”

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RVIA Strengthening its Campground Connection

December 6, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

John Soard stands inside one of Fairmont Homes' units in Louisville during the 2013 RVIA show

Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) leadership expressed a growing appreciation for — and desire to work with — the campground industry during the 51st Annual National Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., which concluded Thursday (Dec. 5).

“They really are the missing leg of our three-legged stool,” said Matt Wald, RVIA park trailer executive director. “The manufacturers build RVs, the dealers sell them and the campgrounds are where people take them and use them.”

While RVIA and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) work closely, including on the industry’s Go RVing marketing campaign, RVIA is learning more about the campground side. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” Wald said. “We’re coming to appreciate the difficulties that campgrounds face, especially dealing with growing seasonal camping. The RVIA wants to help tackle zoning, taxation and environmental issues.

“It’s all of these issues where the customer’s impacted. It’s not the OEMs’ problems, it’s not the campground’s problem, it’s the customer’s problem.”

RVIA’s desire to work with campgrounds, Wald acknowledged, is “a different way of doing business. It’s what’s good for the industry.”

He thinks there’s a huge market of people who don’t realize the variety of accommodations available at campgrounds today, and that RVIA can help change that.

In addition to the association’s hopes to work with campgrounds, the RVIA and the former Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) are about 18 months into a two-year trial unification. Wald reported that park model RV makers are pleased with the progress.

“I think the transition’s been well received,” said Tim Gage, national vice president of park models, cabins and specialty products for Cavco Industries Inc. “RVIA’s resources are great and Matt Wald’s done a phenomenal job for us.”

Matt Wald

Gary Duncan, who heads Forest River Inc.’s park model division, echoed Gage’s comments, saying park models fit in with the RVIA. “That’s what this product is, it’s an RV.”

Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Recreational Park Trailers, said he’s pleased with the services the RVIA provides for park model builders and he’s happy with the transition. Looking ahead, “we’d like to see more exposure” as part of the industry’s advertising efforts.

John Soard, general manager and national sales manager of Fairmont Homes Inc.’s park model division, said, “we have some overseas possibilities that are creeping up on us here,” including opportunities in the Japanese market. “RVIA’s really been helping us with that,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefits to being part of RVIA.

Dick Grymonprez, director of park model sales for Champion/Athens Park Homes, one of the leaders of the mothballed RPTIA and now a member of the RVIA’s leadership team, added, “It’s been excellent.”

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Louisville Attendance Matches ’12 Totals; Up 1%

December 6, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Louisville attendance was on a par with last year.

Attendance at this week’s Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., was on a par with last year’s totals.

As reported by RVIA, the Tuesday through Thursday event attracted 7,751 attendees, representing a 1% gain from 7,658 last year. Included in that number were 2,874 “buyers,” down 3% from 2,978 in 2012, along with 2,548 dealer personnel, also down 3% from last year’s 2,623. RVIA noted that it had not yet calculated how many dealerships were represented at the show.

A further breakdown showed:

• Manufacturers exhibitors grew 3% to 1,761 from 1,705 in 2012.

• Non-member manufacturers totaled 32 compared to 57.

• Supplier exhibitors rose 6% to 2,092 from 1,966.

• Non-member suppliers were down 9% to 429 compared to 471.

• Accessory store representatives dropped 8% to 218 from 238.

• Campgrounds owners rose 8% to 28 from 26.

• The warehouse distributor category fell 12% to 80 from 91.

• Advertising press representative totaled 15 compared to 11 last year.

• Editorial press representatives rose 5% to 60 from 57.

• The finance category, including guests, fell to 74 compared to 84.


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RV Industry Expanding ‘International Presence’

December 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Industry leaders have touted the international expansion of the RV market as one of the indicators of the industry’s recovery. But, according to a report in the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth, local manufacturers and suppliers are mainly still in the “getting-to-know-you” stage with many foreign companies and haven’t seen a real influx of international products into the domestic market.

That’s not to say that local companies aren’t paying attention.

At Tuesday’s (Dec. 3) Outlook Breakfast of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 51st Annual National RV Trade Show, RVIA President Richard Coon presented statistics that showed growth in several international markets including Australia, New Zealand and China.

The biggest overseas market, Europe, was actually slightly behind where it was a few years ago, but the strides made in other markets has the industry hopeful.

Coon said more than 700 individuals from overseas had registered for the week’s show. That total included personnel from the 13 international exhibitors, as well as many others attending the show simply to check out what U.S. manufacturers and suppliers had to offer.

Foreign suppliers littered the show floor, including furniture suppliers Tecnoform of Italy, Crespo of Spain, Fiamma of Italy and Truma, a German company that recently opened an Elkhart location.

Lippert Component Inc.’s director of marketing Jarod Lippert said the Louisville Show has become the most significant time for Lippert to connect with potential international partners.

“The international guys, this is their one time of the year to come here and get ideas and see things and talk to us,” Lippert said.

Lippert said they’ve recently hired people specifically to handle international sales. “That’s something that we’re really pushing forward in the next year and beyond.”

To read the entire article click here.

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Louisville Complements September Open House

December 5, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

RVs on display at Louisville Show

There has been some question the last few years about attendance at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) National RV Trade Show. But, according to a report in the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth, many say the Louisville Show remains vital no matter what the numbers say.

The emergence of northern Elkhart RV Open House in September has raised questions of how the two shows will coexist as both develop and change.

Bob Martin, CEO of Thor Industries Inc., said he hadn’t received any sales or attendance numbers as of Wednesday (Dec. 4) afternoon but agreed that the Louisville show is no longer the big selling event for Thor’s companies that it was in the past.

“Dealers have started to buy a little bit more at the Open House, for us,” Martin said.

That doesn’t mean the event doesn’t serve a purpose, however. Louisville still provides a good chance for traffic and exposure.

“Actually, it’s been very positive so far,” Martin said. “Yesterday was very busy. I think Louisville may be a bigger show for some of the smaller manufacturers.”

And though many dealers may have already made purchases prior to the show, a strong market still has them looking for more product.

“Overall, dealers have been very optimistic,” Martin said. “They’re happy with where their inventory is at and very happy as they look at the year to come.”

Forest River Inc. General Manager and RVIA Chairman Doug Gaeddert sees the two shows interacting together to actually make things easier on the industry.

“The Open House was obviously awesome; Louisville is a beautiful follow-up to that Open House week,” Gaeddert said.

To read the full story click here.

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Motorhome Business Enjoys Extended Recovery

December 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Winnebago display at Louisville Show

The iconic American vacation machine, the motorhome, is experiencing an uptick in popularity.

As reported by the Goshen (Ind.) News, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) tracks manufacturer shipments of motorhomes to dealers and reported this week that those shipments are up 36.2% compared to 2012. RVIA’s numbers show 28,198 motorized RVs were shipped in 2012 and 38,100 will be shipped by the end of this year. And the industry’s projections expect 41,900 motorhomes will be shipped in 2014.

“The last two years was the beginning of a recovery,” said Winnebago Industries President and CEO Randy Potts, who was busy greeting dealers at the company’s display at this week’s 51st Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. “The four years before that was a tremendous struggle.”

He said of the RVIA’s projection of growth in the motorhome segment, “I think it’s reasonable, but of course only time will tell. I think it is a safe estimation.”

The Goshen News reported that 90% of Winnebago’s business is motorized RVs, and those are built in Iowa. The company builds its much smaller line of towable products in Middlebury, Ind. Like the job growth Elkhart County has experienced from the comeback in the RV industry, the rising RV sales are benefiting the economy in Iowa. Forest City-based Winnebago is expanding its Class B van line by leasing a vacant factory in Lake Mills, Iowa.

“We have promised to bring some jobs up there. We are going to assemble our B van products up there,” Potts said.Those vans are currently being assembled in Charles City, Iowa.

“We just outgrew that,” Potts said. “Our product line is expanding and volume is picking up, so we needed more capacity and this opportunity came up. It is going to work out well for everybody.”

Any expansion in motorized products is a positive change after the recession drastically shrunk that segment of the RV industry. While towable recreational vehicle sales and shipments have picked up quickly and account for the bulk of the 300,000 plus units that will be made this year, motorized units have not bounced back as fast.

“The motorhome business is more closely aligned with the housing market and housing dropped off dramatically,” Potts said. “There was the whole crisis over the mortgage industry and all that. I think motorhomes got pulled into that. In the same note, as the housing market started to come back, so did the motorhome business.”

To read the entire article click here.

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Economy, Cheap Loans Helping Stoke RV Sales

December 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Detroit may be booming, but the biggest vehicle news of the week may be coming out of Louisville, Ky. That’s where the RV industry is circling those giant metal wagons for its annual show.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that as companies such as Thor Industries Inc. and Winnebago Industries Inc. prepare to show off their newest homes on wheels, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) unveiled a bullish forecast. Thanks largely to cheap financing and an improving economy, RV sales are expected to top 316,300 this year, an 11% increase over 2012. The trade group expects a 6% gain next year.

Those numbers aren’t overly impressive when compared with the U.S. auto industry, which is on pace to move close to 16 million machines this year. After all, it took Ford only a few months to sell 300,000 of its F-Series pickups this year.

But these are often much bigger (and much more expensive) machines. Thor, for example, sells a 39-foot model — the “Outlaw” — that costs well over $150,000, sleeps eight, and has a garage in the back.

What’s more, the recent boom has been driven primarily by high-end models. This year, sales of motorized RVs (as opposed to towable models) are on pace to increase by 35%. The RV trade group expects a further 10% gain in the category next year.

The demand has led to a wave of hiring and surging stock prices. But the motorhome business will have to build up a little more momentum before it hits record highs.


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Annual Outlook Event Kicks off Louisville Show

December 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

RVIA President Richard Coon

The RV industry opened the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 51st National RV Trade Show at “Outlook 2014: Everywhere,” an informative, entertaining program that laid out details of the industry’s prospects for 2014 and provided an update on advertising and public relations efforts.

According to a press release, the breakfast event began at 7:30 a.m. this morning (Dec. 3) and was attended by more than 1,000 RV manufacturers, dealers and industry representatives. Following a talk from RVIA President Richard Coon about growth in RV shipments and presentation of the new projection for 2014 shipments, Go RVing co-chairs Bob Wheeler and Tom Stinnett partnered with RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson and RVIA Vice President of Public Relations and Advertising James Ashurst for a multimedia presentation recapping 2013 progress in advertising and public relations.

“Time is at a premium and household finances are being squeezed,” Thompson told the audience. “For many, RVs are an ideal solution that offer the flexibility to get away from the stresses of everyday life and have a great outdoor experience with loved ones – without breaking the budget.”

Thompson presented some of the industry’s media relations highlights, including coverage on TV networks including NBC, ABC, FOX News, FOX Business, and CNBC. He also discussed major print and digital placements, as well as a partnership with local dealerships around the country that resulted in media placements in more than 20 markets.

“There’s the old adage that all politics is local and the same can ring true in PR,” Thompson said. “The impact of local news cannot be overlooked. That’s why we worked with dealers in local markets. Who better to talk about the benefits of RVing than the people who sell them every day?”

James Ashurst

Stinnett and Wheeler reported on results from the “AWAY” Go RVing advertising campaign. The pair emphasized the impact of the campaign’s promotional partnerships and the effectiveness of Go RVing leads.

“As the industry surged in 2013, Go RVing’s increased promotional spend over 2012 helped keep the RV lifestyle message everywhere,” Wheeler said. “We continued to work with partners who provided us the opportunity to go beyond traditional advertising so we could stretch our dollars even further.”

Wheeler discussed Go RVing’s successful partnership with the Outdoor Channel on a promotion that saw more than 162,000 entries for a folding camping trailer giveaway, as well as efforts to create RV experiences for more than 15,000 consumers at non-RVing events such as fairs and music festivals.

Stinnett reported that the improved and streamlined Go RVing Leads Plus Program has seen a 35% increase in leads downloads in 2013. In addition, Stinnett presented analysis by Polk research showing that Go RVing leads are actually purchasing RVs at rates higher than marketing industry standards.

Stinnett also revealed a new initiative to maintain Go RVing’s reach year-round. This year, Go RVing launched a tailgating initiative in partnership with Sports Illustrated and ESPN. The initiative included a new TV commercial designed to appeal to sports fans while showcasing the amenities of RVs.

“I don’t know about the rest of you in the room, but at my business, we don’t stop selling product just because September rolls around,” Stinnett said. “And that was the thinking about extending Go RVing’s promotional push later into the selling season – to keep the RV experience fresh in consumers’ minds.”

After a brief appearance by football legend “Mean Joe” Greene and remarks from respected Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King, Ashurst closed the presentation by discussing some of the plans for Go RVing in 2014.

“We plan to elevate our tailgating initiative, and we are currently in discussions with some third party brands to build on what we did with Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS Sports,” Ashurst said. “We’re going to expand event efforts in 2014 by sponsoring a huge, multi-day country music festival that draws tens of thousands, and we’ll continue to work with top-tier cable networks like Travel Channel – both in advertising and in working RVs into their programming.”

In addition, Go RVing will create a new AWAY advertising spot that will allow the campaign to evolve the message while reducing creative and production costs.

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Motley Fool: Why Invest in Thriving RV Industry

October 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following is an investment analysis on the RV industry by The Motley Fool.

As many baby boomers contemplate retirement, quite a few are opting out of an overseas excursion and buying a recreational vehicle instead. With pent-up demand for replacement campers, as well as a flood of new buyers entering the market, sales of motor homes have jumped 30% from the previous year, making 2013 a year of record RV ownership.

More and more families are purchasing RVs for a variety of reasons. Travel trailers save an average of 23% to 59% on typical vacation expenses, and young buyers are discovering the convenience of owning a vacation home on wheels. Overseas travel has become expensive as rising fuel costs have led to airfare hikes, and rising political tension abroad has scared some travelers away from vacationing abroad as well.

Although many people still prefer the common camping experience — mosquitoes, mud, and meals cooked over a fire — camping in luxury with a TV, air conditioning, and most importantly a bed is turning the traditional camping excursion into a luxury experience.

Backlog and inventory

Thor Industries Inc. is the market leader in RV sales and distribution, with 31% of market share. Thor produces and distributes RVs, towable RVs, and fifth-wheel trailers. Revenue increased 35% from 40.9 million in the prior-year fourth quarter due to increased demand in all segments. RV retailers are seeing high demand from young families who are buying recreational vehicles for leisure and a fast, easy way to travel for a getaway weekend.

Inventory management is the key to Thor’s success. Like any motor vehicle dealership, inventory of recreational vehicles cannot build up or the excess will be sold at a discount on the showroom floor. Such sales hurt revenues and reduce profit margins. Thor’s sales growth proportionally matches that of its inventory increase, insuring that there is no excess buildup.

To read the complete article click here.

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RVDA Survey: Dealers ‘Cautious’ at Midsummer

September 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following story, appearing in the latest digital issue of RV Executive Today, reports on results from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) latest RV Business Survey.

RV dealers were a little more cautious in their outlook as of midsummer compared with the same time last year, according to the latest RVDA survey, which was conducted in late July and early August.

Some 56% of the dealers surveyed said their inventory levels were “just right,” the same percentage who felt that way a year earlier. However, 25% of respondents said their inventory levels were too high while a year earlier only 16% had the same response. Nineteen percent of dealers said inventories were too low compared to 28% last year.

As far as ordering plans are concerned, 25% of the dealers who responded said they planned to order more RVs during the second half of 2013 than they did during the second half of 2012. Last year, 36% of dealers said they planned to order more during the second half of 2012 than they did during the same portion of 2011.

An even 50% of dealers who responded to the midsummer 2013 survey planned to order “about the same” number of RVs during the second half of 2013 as they did during the second half of 2012. A year ago, 20% planned to order the same number as they did during the second half of 2011. The percentage planning to order fewer units stayed about the same – 19% in 2013 and 20% in 2012. Six percent of dealers were undecided as of midsummer 2013, while 24% were undecided a year earlier.

Towable market still in good shape

A slight majority of midsummer survey respondents – 53% – said the retail market for towable RVs was better than it was a year ago. Another 40% of respondents said their towable sales were about the same as a year earlier, and only 7% said they were worse.

During the midsummer of 2012, 72% of dealers said their towable sales were better than they were a year earlier, 20% believed they were the same, and 8% said they were worse.

Although still not as robust as the towable sector, the motorhome business showed significant improvement during the past year. Twenty-nine percent of dealers said it was better as of midsummer 2013, while only 14% said it was better in midsummer of 2012. Another 29% said the motorhome business was worse as of midsummer 2013, a slight increase over the 24% who believed the same as of midsummer 2012.

Forty-three percent of dealers said their motorhome sales as of midsummer 2013 were about the same as a year earlier; a year earlier, 62% said motorhome sales were about the same as the prior year.

Retail Financing Availability Improves

There was a slight improvement in the availability of retail credit between 2013 and 2012, according to the dealers responding to the survey. Eighty percent of dealers who responded in midsummer 2013 said the right amount of retail credit was available for their customers, compared with 72% a year earlier.

Almost all dealers – 94% – said in the latest survey that there was an adequate amount of wholesale financing available, compared with 96% who felt that way the year prior.



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