RV wholesale shipments tracked by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reached 321,127 units in 2013, a gain of 12.4% over the previous year. This was nearly twice the annual total of 2009 and marked the fourth consecutive annual increase since the end of the last recession for the RV industry. Monthly totals saw wholesale deliveries climb 14.3% in December, rising to 21,676 units in the latest survey of manufacturers. This was the largest December total in six years and marked the 24th consecutive monthly increase dating back to December 2011. Seasonally adjusted, the December 2013 total was at an annualized rate of nearly 350,000 units. Towable shipments were at 18,776 units, up 11.6% over this same month last year while motorhome totals surged 35.3% to 2,900 units in the final month of 2013.
As far as RV shipments go, the national numbers are borderline robust for September in the recently released survey by the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
The South Bend (Ind.) Tribune reported that not only is the number of shipments up 18.6% over September of 2012, it was the best September in the last six years. It also marks the 21st straight month that shipments have topped the corresponding month from the previous year.
The news is especially important to Elkhart County and nearby areas that account for 83% of all new RVs made in the United States. About 24,000 people in Elkhart County and northern Indiana work in the industry.
“We continue to be impressed with the resilience of our industry,” said Matt Rose, director of recreation vehicles for Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA-RVIC). “Consistently strong shipments mean more people than ever are making an investment in their leisure time and their families. Increased shipments of RVs equates to more jobs for northern Indiana families.”
At Great Lakes RV Center in Elkhart, the shipment numbers were not a surprise. The dealership is experiencing great business like the rest of the industry, said Rob Reid, president of Great Lakes RV Center.
Nationally, towable RVs rose nearly 2,500 units or 14.8% in September compared to the same month last year. Motorhome shipments were up 46.3% with a total of 3,317 units shipped.
In addition to some used motorhomes, Great Lakes RV Center sells towables, mainly from the Heartland brand.
“It’s been a good array from entry-level lightweight travel trailers all the way up to the $80,000 to $90,000 fifth-wheels,” said Reid, whose dealership also sells some Keystone products.
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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.
Wholesale shipments of all RVs continued at a torrid pace in July where manufacturers reported a total of 26,212 units for the month, an increase of 14.7% ahead of the same month one year ago. Conventional and fifth-wheel travel trailers and Class A and Class C motorhomes grew the most with truck campers and Class B motorhomes off slightly.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, wholesale shipments in July were at an annualized rate of more than 339,000 units, nearly 12% greater than the previous month and ahead of this same month last year by more than 14%. Through July, manufacturers have reported a total of 201,120 units shipped to retailers, up 13.1% over this same period last year.
This summer, more families seem to be gassing up recreational vehicle than ever before.
Trent Fink, of Fink’s Custom Vans & RV Center in Zanesville, Ohio, said lower lodging costs associated with RV travel are appealing to more people in the current economy, according to a report in the Newark Advocate.
“I talked to some people who took their camper out and paid like $12, $13 a night,” Fink said. “You can vacation year-round, and you save on a lot of hotel rooms.”
Fink said his sales seem to be down “but we get our fair share,” noting rentals of RVs also are becoming popular.
Fink’s Larry Pletcher said he’s also heard people complaining about the high price of hotel stays and said taking an RV out is becoming a popular, cost-saving alternative.
“When you get done paying for it, it’s yours. A lot of people find someplace to park it, and that becomes their spot to go to every year,” Pletcher said. “There’s also concern over bed bugs in hotels. You don’t have to worry about who slept there the night before and the night before that in your own RV.”
Some businesses, such as Grubb Hitch, Trailer & RV Center have seen an increase in sales among people looking for service and accessories for their RVs.
“We’ve had trailers and RVs lined up,” said Scott Blumenstock, Grubb’s owner. “People are dedicated to them; they love to take these things out.”
Although Grubb doesn’t sell RVs, Blumenstock said an increased interest in rentals — the closest RV rental is at Stoney’s RV near Cambridge — has him considering adding rentals in the future. Other RV retailers around the state are noting sales increases.
Ryan Meeks, sales manager at Craig Smith RV Center in Galion, said RV sales are up from 2012.
“We’re off to a very good start,” he said. “I think a lot of it is due to the improvement in the economy — people having more confidence and people starting to spend money on things they really enjoy.”
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There are expectations that this year’s Midwest RV Super Show just might have its best year since before the 2007-2009 recession, according to a report in the Goshen (Ind.) News.
As one-ton pickups pulling luxury fifth-wheels and travel trailers arrived at the RV/MH Hall of Fame off C.R. 17 in Elkhart this week, organizers and dealer staffs were busy directing drivers to the right display areas.
“Last year was big,” said Chad Shepard of Pete’s RV Center in Schererville. He and the Pete’s staff were busy placing their Keystone Cougar fifth-wheels and Forest River Vengeance toy hauler RVs in just the right spots in the display area east of the RV/MH Hall. “It was real strong. This year we are hoping for even better. The market is really, really strong,” he added.
Typifying the industry’s growth, Thor Industries Inc. reported record sales for its fourth quarter, which ended July 31. In addition, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported that July RV sales nationwide rose 12.8% in the first six months of this year.
That robust gain is very good news for the show’s organizers, the Indiana Manufacturing Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Industry Council (IMHA-RVIC).
“We will be having close to 300,” said Matt Rose of the number of RVs that will be on display. Rose oversees the several Indiana RV shows sponsored by the IMHA-RVIC. “Last year we had eight dealers. This year we have 13.”
That gain in dealerships is good news for consumers, who want to see and compare RVs at one location.
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If you want to put the current RV shipment numbers in perspective, look only to 2009, according to a report in the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune. Yes, 2009 was the worst year for the recreational vehicle industry since 1982, with just 165,700 RVs being shipped.
And yes, RV shipment numbers have gone up each year since 2009 with this June being the 18th straight month that shipments beat the same month of the previous year.
Still, having shipment numbers through six months this year already substantially greater than all of recession-affected 2009 is noteworthy.
Through June 30, 174,871 units have been shipped, according to the latest release by the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). That mark is also 12.8% higher than the midway point of 2012.
Total monthly wholesale shipments to retailers of all RVs this June were reported at 30,856 units, an increase of 12.1% compared with the same month in 2012.
“I always say that the RV market is a reflection of consumer confidence,” said Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council. “Look where the stock market is. Fuel prices have been consistent. It hasn’t jumped over $4 a gallon repeatedly. They’ve been stable.
“By most statistics,” he added, “the economy is getting better.”
The fear of sequestration and the cutting of $85 billion from the federal budget from March through September never even affected the industry –– just as Bowersox accurately predicted –– in early March.
“Americans have become more comfortable at being uncomfortable,” Bowersox said then and again Monday in a phone interview.
The Tribune reported that the industry is not expected to slow down any time soon. Revised predictions for 2013, have the industry shipping just less than 310,000 units. That would mark the first time since 2007 (about 353,400 were shipped that year) that the total has reached 300,000.
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Midway through the summer driving season, signs of the U.S. recovery go by in a blur as vacationers ply the byways either driving or towing proud new recreational vehicles.
Investor’s Business Daily reported that shipments of motorhomes jumped more than 30% this year through May versus the same period in 2012, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Shipments of comparatively less expensive travel trailers rose 11%. Trailers make up a bigger slice of the RV fleet, with sales of 128,037 through May compared to just over 15,000 motor homes.
Most of the units are being bought by dealers to place in inventory, rather than sales to the final owner. Still, the rise in confidence is a welcome change after the industry rolled over early and hard when the economy tumbled. RV sales fell off nearly 50% from peak to trough.
The industry is particularly sensitive to factors such as consumer discretionary spending and rising fuel prices. It “rolled over” before housing and other sectors, and “was in an all-out free fall” by 2006, said Kathryn Thompson, CEO of Thompson Research Group.
“This industry is about as discretionary as you can get,” Thompson said.
The RV industry started upshifting somewhat in 2010. Sales accelerated in the second half of last year.
“You’re seeing a release of pent-up demand,” said analyst Gerrick Johnson of BMO Capital Markets.
“People who hadn’t bought anything are now replacing (aging RVs),” he said.
Much of that rebound is due to increasing consumer confidence, buoyed by rising home prices and the stock market’s advance to new highs.
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Editor’s Note: Robert W. Baird & Co. recently partnered with the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) to contact 146 RV dealers regarding demand during the second quarter. The following is a summary of the results.
Solid industry trends continue. Dealers indicated that peak-season trends are very strong – particularly in motorhomes. Retail demand was robust – new motorhome demand jumped 28% while new towable demand improved 11%. Meanwhile, inventory is lean-to-balanced and dealer sentiment remains high, leaving manufacturers well-positioned as the evaporation of negative equity spurs new retail demand. We remain bullish on fundamentals and would look to add on weakness.
Peak-season strength. Dealers reported robust growth in motorhomes (+27-29%) and solid demand for towables (+10-12%) in April-June. Dealers also noted strong demand for used RVs (particularly motorhomes), driving used values higher according to dealers. We believe better used RV values (combined with a better housing market and higher stock prices) have helped reduce the negative equity that had prevented consumers from purchasing new RVs.
Dealers short on motorhomes. Dealer inventory appears lean in motorhomes and balanced in towables. On a days inventory basis, motorhome inventory appears flat relative to last year (99 days vs. 101 days), but by a 9:1 ratio dealers indicated that inventory was “too low” versus “too high.” The desire for inventory is also evident in the strong motorhome backlogs Winnebago (+130%) and Thor (+105%) recently reported. A limited supply of Class A chassis has exacerbated the inventory shortage. The number of days of towable inventory also appears flat, but slightly more dealers consider inventory “too low” than “too high” – a sequential improvement. Recall that dealers stocked up ahead of the retail season – a bet that paid off.
Dealer sentiment high. Dealer sentiment remains near record levels, based on our proprietary index, but fell slightly versus April. Some dealers pointed to Internet competition and supply shortages as sources of frustration, but strong retail trends and favorable credit conditions keep confidence high. We note that credit has been a tailwind in recent years but could face a challenge as interest rates rise – a trend to watch.
If you got trapped on the highway behind any pokey motorhomes or recreational vehicles over the holiday weekend, take solace in this: You were being inconvenienced by an American industry on the rebound.
MarketWatch reported that the most recent sales figures from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) show that RV and motorhome shipments to dealers for the year through May topped 144,000, a 13% increase over the previous year, keeping the industry on track for its best year since the recession started, The mega-camper business all but collapsed during the last recession, thanks to the combination of economic upheaval and high gas prices, with sales falling 58% from 2006 to 2009. Shriveling credit markets played a role, too, with many lenders unwilling to finance RV and motorhome purchases even as they freed up money for car loans in general.
Indeed, some analysts say looser lending policies are a major factor behind the current rebound. A spokesman for Thor Industries Inc., the company that makes Airstream and other popular RV brands, recently told Kyle Stock of Bloomberg BusinessWeek that buyers can now “get financing pretty easily up to about $150,000.”
A quick search online suggests that interest rates on RVs start at around 4.4%, compared with under 3% for the typical auto loan.
RV salespeople say that retiring “snowbird” Boomers are their biggest customers; the trade group doesn’t publish specific age breakdowns, but its literature suggests that ownership rates are highest among those between age 55 and 75.
Speaking of snowbird stereotypes, the archetypal motorhome, in which the driver’s cabin and the living quarters are all on the same chassis — Jack Nicholson’s Winnebago in the movie “About Schmidt,” for example — accounts for only about 12% of RV sales. Travel trailers that get towed behind another vehicle, like the Airstream, make up the majority of the market. Some of those are quite modest, but price tags on the most luxurious models can top $90,000.