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.”
RV wholesale shipments were reported at 13,500 units in July this year, off 14.0% from last month and off 21.1% from this same month one year ago, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported.
Shipments had been improving steadily since the beginning of the year, and on a seasonally adjusted basis July’s total represented an annual rate of 171,000 units, the highest level since October last year.
July’s total was the smallest percentage decline in month-over-month comparisons since April 2008. Towable RVs were off 18.7%, while motorhomes were behind this month last year by 43.8%. Year-to-date, totals of 86,200 units were behind the first seven months last year by 52% through July.
By product segment, shipments were as follows:
- Travel trailers, 8,500.
- Fifth-wheels, 2,700.
- Folding camping trailers, 1,300.
- Truck campers, 100.
- Total towables, 12,600.
- Class A motorhomes, 400.
- Class B motorhomes, 100.
- Class C motorhomes, 400.
- Total motorized, 900.
The RV industry in northern indiana is beginning to breath a sigh of relief, however hesitantly, according to The Goshen (Ind.) News.
Shipments began a turnaround in January, after dropping from a high of 31,400 units in April 2008 to only 5,600 units in December. That turnaround has not gone unnoticed. Shipments totaled 13,300 in April.
“We’re going through a period right now of relatively good order backlog, which is a significant improvement over what it was three months ago,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing at Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind. “In fact, in the last 60 days, in terms of order intake, we’re at a good 50% of what we were doing last year at this time.”
A recent release from the company noted positive dealer attitudes at their “Homecoming” event held last week. And although the company’s RVs are constructed by a 1,200-employee work force, approximately 55% of its size a year ago, new products will be coming out. Johnson pointed to a new product line that the company will introduce near the beginning of the new model year.
“This year is going to continue to be challenging, but I think everyone, at least everyone at Jayco, is enthusiastic about our prospects for next year starting this fall and winter,” he said. “We’re spending a lot of time on product development and aggressive promotion programs throughout North America.”
He added, though, that it’s too early to be counting any chickens.
“There’s no doubt recovery has begun in the industry and the economy as a whole,” Johnson said, “but the bottom line is we’re not out of the woods yet.”
At Keystone RV Co., in Goshen, demeanors are also bright.
“We definitely saw things pick up about six weeks ago, and we’re seeing it from retail orders on our dealers’ lots,” Bob Martin, Keystone’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said.
Martin said everything was shut down this week to give their employees a well-deserved break. Next week, four additional plants will be opening back up.
“We definitely got busy, and it happened quickly,” he said.
So far this year, about 150 employees have been rehired due to increased production rates. Where their dealers were having problems selling units early in the year, they are now beginning to sell out.
“It’s been a good feeling and we’ve been blessed this summer,” Martin said. “Earlier this spring, we didn’t know what to expect, so this is a very welcome event for our company and our community.”
He pointed out that company officials are still watching out for the rest of the year, as nobody in the industry can accurately predict what could happen when the weather turns colder and the prime RVing season passes.
“We really don’t know what to expect going into the fall,” Martin said. “Much of what hindered us last year were banks and retail and wholesale financing, and that’s the X-factor we don’t know.”
Local RV dealerships are feeling the turnaround as well.
In Shipshewana, Wana RV & Engine Center President Gary Martin is excited.
“Our numbers for June are much, much better than what they were last year, and we’re actually starting to catch back up,” Miller said.
Like the manufacturers, he has noticed business picking up recently in particular.
“It’s just been the last four weeks that we have really been hopping that we can’t keep up, which is a good thing,” he said. “Fifth-wheel, travel trailers both are good. It doesn’t matter if they’re lightweight or bigger units. Sales are up right now.”
Ewing’s Outpost RV Sales Manager Dennis Johnson has seen much the same at their dealership.
“As of today here, we’ve had more traffic than we’ve had for a while,” he said. “Long story short, we’ve done actually pretty well.”
According to Dennis Johnson, they haven’t had all the problems some dealerships have seen, but times have still been tough. He said their business has shifted but stayed relatively constant since the beginning of the year.
“People’s sights have dropped down some as far as dollar amount that they want to spend and the size of the unit they want to purchase. Larger, higher-priced units are not selling as well,” Johnson said. “Over the last couple of weeks that’s changed some, we’re starting back in again with the bigger units.”
They are now up to about one sale each day, or between 30 and 35 units each month.
“We can’t complain,” Dennis Johnson said. “We’re still here, and that’s one thing a lot of people can’t say.”
He spoke confidently when asked about the future of the industry.
“I think, from everything I hear, there’s going to be a little lull here for a while yet,” Johnson said. “But I think it will come back and come back a little bit stronger than before because of pent-up demand.”