The RV industry faced difficult times in the last two years as both manufacturers and dealers closed their doors.
But the 30th Annual Edmonton RV Show and Sale added a solid dose of optimism to the industry’s outlook. When the doors to the show opened on Feb. 11, the crowd surged in to look at the latest in RVs and decide what to buy, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Within a few minutes of the opening, the first deals had been written. Many observers agreed it was the busiest opening to the show that they had seen in years.
Don Humphrey, manager of Roadmaster RV in Leduc, went further, saying it was the busiest opening night he had seen in his 30 years of attending shows.
“Sales are at least double last year,” Humphrey said in an interview, pointing out that there is “pent-up demand.”
“This year, people are eager to buy.”
This year’s RV show was the first held in the recently expanded Edmonton Expo Center and filled all the main floor halls, including the brightly lit new halls that opened late last year. In contrast, the recent Edmonton Motorshow did not use Halls A and B on the main level.
The show presented a variety of new RVs and features to grab the attention of consumers. A feature that attracted the attention of many visitors was the outdoor kitchens on a variety of RVs.
After years of seeing many RVs add more and more comforts of home, some of the trailers at the 2010 show took a back-to-basics approach to bring the outdoor experience back to camping. These more Spartan models are available both in tent and hard-wall travel trailers.
The Quicksilver tent trailers sold by Carefree Coach and RV exemplified the minimalist approach. These trailers are available in lengths ranging from just under nine feet to just over 21 feet. The Quicksilver line also includes tent-style truck campers that fold down for travel.
Quicksilver RVs, built by Livin’ Lite, rely on aluminum construction for strength, light weight and long-term durability.
“When I looked at today’s generation of pop-ups, I saw heavy, expensive units, but nothing that could be towed by a car or station wagon,” said Scott Tuttle, Livin’ Lite founder. “That’s when we decided to build our own tent camper that would be both affordable and able to be towed by most cars and minivans.
“Do our units have all the frills of the expensive units? No,” Tuttle said. “But that’s not what camping is all about. Camping for us is about having a great time in the outdoors.”
Not only can the Quicksilver units be towed by cars and minivans, the company also offers units designed to be pulled by motorcycles.
When Tuttle says Quicksilver units don’t have all the frills, he’s talking about trailers and truck campers that don’t have appliances or a bathroom. Storage cabinets and a sink are available in some units. Carefree also displayed one unit with a hole in the floor for ice-fishing.
Carefree president Elmer Lastiwka said Quicksilver trailers are priced at $4,000 to just over $9,000. “It’s affordable for any family with a small car.”
Because of the light weight of the Quicksilver campers, in some situations they could be towed by a quad, such as heading up a cut line into the wilderness or onto a lake for ice fishing. Using a quad would alleviate the fear of a truck or sport utility vehicle going through the ice.
The Kamparoo Camper, a lightweight, folding tent trailer manufactured in Australia and distributed by Kamparoo Campers in Wetaskiwin, is a similar concept.
Some travel trailers at the show also showed a more basic, affordable approach, including the Wolf Pup in the Cars RV and Marine display and the Takena Curv at the Roadmaster RV exhibit. Both of these trailers have a sloping, curved front to reduce wind resistance and make them easier to tow.
A number of manufacturers offer outdoor kitchens on their trailers this year. Some trailers with two entrance doors now come equipped with a bathroom just inside the rear door to shorten the mud trail when children go in to use the toilet.
Most outdoor kitchens are built into the rear corner of the trailer with a lift-up door that doubles as a canopy.
Outback Country RV sells the North Trail, made by Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, which offers a fully equipped outdoor kitchen that includes a sink, microwave, refrigerator, television and stove. The refrigerator is electric only — the main refrigerator inside the RV is a gas-electric model.
Tango trailers, sold by Western RV of Leduc, have a different outdoor kitchen design, one that slides out of the rear corner of the unit.
Tango’s Dane Found talked about the reasoning behind building an RV with an outdoor kitchen:
“The idea is that most people want to spend as much time as possible outside,” Found said, explaining that this is the first year that Tango has offered the outdoor kitchen.
In addition to offering the option of preparing food outdoors, the slide-out kitchen also fulfils other roles.
Found said it can serve as a privacy barrier in a campground and a windbreak at the campsite.
The outdoor kitchen has been well received by consumers, he said.
During the show, it wasn’t unusual to hear showgoers comparing the various kitchens as they made their way from exhibit to exhibit.
Although RV manufacturers have failed in recent years, some new companies have been started to fill at least part of the void. Arrkann Trailer and RV Center sells the Tracer Ultra Lite trailer line, manufactured by Prime Time Manufacturing, which started producing trailers in August. Prime Time strives to build trailers with designs that appeal to buyers while ensuring that they’re priced right.
Earthbound RV is another new line Arrkann has added to give customers a lightweight RV that’s easy to tow. Arrkann’s Ken Friedenberg said Earthbound interiors are reminiscent of a luxury car. The sleek exterior is slate grey, in contrast to the usual white RV exterior.
Friedenberg said his dealership was selected by RV usiness magazine as one of the top 50 RV dealers in North America and was the lone Canadian to make the top 10 in that group of 50.
Many RV dealers at the show displayed, in addition to tent trailers and various styles of travel trailers, motorhomes ranging from large bus-style Class As to Class B van conversions and the intermediate-size Class Cs.
In Class A, improved fuel economy such as that offered by the Avanti from Damon is a welcome change for buyers. While many Class As travel less than 10 miles per gallon, the Avanti raises that to better than 14 miles per U.S. gallon or more than 16 miles per Imperial gallon.
Chris Cook of Woody’s RV said the Avanti uses a number of European design features such as a sloped front and reduced height to improve fuel economy. Woody’s recently sold one of these units, which have prices starting around $130,000 US.
Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc., a Kitchener, Ont.-based manufacturer of Class B motorhomes, has added a rear slide to its van conversion based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. This van, in the Grove RV display, drew a steady crowd of interested onlookers.
Pacific Coachworks’ recent launch of the industry’s only powered outdoor “KSO” (Kitchen Slide-Out) exceeded company expectations, according to a news release.
“Dealers saw a huge opportunity to purchase a unique product that is sure to draw lots of retail attention during their spring show season,” said Dane Found, president of the Riverside, Calif.-based manufacturer. The Kitchen Slide-Out option is available on eight Tango travel trailer models ranging from 26 feet to 3 feet. It will also be offered on 2560RBSS and 2790BHSS fifth-wheel models. The outdoor kitchen concept is becoming more and more popular with customers simply because it reinforces the consumer’s desire to spend time outdoors with family, Found said. Tango’s patent pending slideout design can be incorporated into many more floorplans and sizes than side-mount kitchens currently offered by other manufacturers.
In addition to Tango “KSO” models, Pacific Coachworks launched a new line of Turbo toy hauler travel trailers.
“The Turbo received a huge thumbs-up from dealers for its outstanding quality and creative design,” Found said. The The 285KS displayed at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., featured a king-size bed slideout extending 49 inches on the roadside of the unit. The huge front bedroom featured exceptional change room space and storage.
Pacific Coachworks CEO Tom Powell said that “with the departure of several West Coast toy hauler manufacturers, we saw a void in the segment for a quality-built toy hauler.”
The aluminum-framed fiberglass laminated toy hauler is offered in four floorplans ranging from 24 feet to 34 feet. All Turbos feature particleboard free construction, roomy solid surface edged kitchen counters and country maple finished pocket-screwed lumbercore cabinetry that extended to the ceiling for additional strength and storage. Popular options include LCD TVs in the bedroom and living room, an 1,100-watt Jensen stereo with subwoofer, power lift bed, 4kw Onan generator with fuel pump station, power tongue jack and 16-inch aluminum wheels with Goodyear tires.
After facing an uncertain financial future, Riverside, Calif.-based Pacific Coachworks, a travel trailer manufacturer founded by two former executives of Thor California in July 2006, is returning to full production, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
The company, which builds the Tango and Tango Twist brands of travel trailers and fifth-wheels that can be towed, laid off most of its 150 employees in December. Executives plan to rehire 85 workers immediately. Tom Powell, founder and CEO, said he’s confident the travel trailer market will see a rebound in the fourth quarter, but “we’re still going to remain staffed as though it doesn’t,” he said.
He expects to have his full staff back by spring to work at the company’s 66,000-square-foot factory, he said.
The nearly 60 dealers in the Western United States and Canada that the company still sells its recreation vehicles to have reported a pent-up demand for trailers, he said.
“The feeling now of most people is, ‘OK, I’ve been through the worst recession since the Great Depression and I still have my job, my camper is still old and needs to be replaced,”‘ said Powell, adding that lending for trailer purchases has loosened.
At its height, the company employed 187 workers who were building 10 to 12 trailers a day. Now the company can manage to make a profit by building just four to five trailers a day, he said.
Powell, a 32-year RV industry veteran, said he had hoped to restart production by February or March but, despite having orders, he didn’t have the capital.
His company’s fate may have been much different had he not made a private stock offering that closed on June 30 and gave him the funding necessary to stay open.
Powell wouldn’t say how much was raised.
“There are a lot of people who are optimistic about 2010,” said Jeff Kurowski, director of industrial relations for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). But they’re not unrealistic, he said.
Industry forecasts indicate that the next year will see an increase in shipments but won’t exceed the volume of shipments in 2005 and 2006. Financing remains a challenge both for dealers seeking loans to buy new models to sell and for customers who have to put more money down, sometimes 20%, on trailers and motorhomes than they did prior, he said.
Kurowski said dealers are saying they’re running low on inventory and would like to order more if they can get loans.
There were 128,100 conventional travel trailers shipped in 2008 and another 57,000 fifth-wheel trailers, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). The trailers accounted for 78% of the total recreational vehicle market in 2008.
Only 3.7% of all conventional travel trailers and about 4% of fifth-wheel trailers were built in California, according to the group.
Powell said 24 of his competitors have left the industry in the past two years — including Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. in Riverside, which filed for bankruptcy March 10 and sold its trailer division.
“There are dealers scrambling to replace Fleetwood products and Weekend Warrior products and 22 others,” he said.