Two years after the Ford Model T debuted, the first recreational vehicles were built. And while creature comforts were few – a toilet was considered a luxurious touch – they offered the same thing today’s recreational vehicles offer: the chance to take a bit of home with you when you hit the road.
One hundred years later, the appeal is very much the same, even if the vehicles are much more comfortable, according to The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, Va.
The full array of RVs will be on display at the Tidewater RV Show which started today (Jan. 22) at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The show runs through Sunday.
And while you’d expect an RV to have a kitchen, how about one with high-end, solid surface counter tops? Or a flat-screen LCD television? How about a central vacuum system, leather recliners or a computer work station?
The amenities once reserved for expensive motorhomes now are available on fifth-wheel trailers and travel trailers.
“Ten years ago, you would have seen a lot more motorhomes on the lot,” said Tim Loen of Chesapeake RV Solutions in Chesapeake.
“The motorhome used to be No. 1, when pickup trucks were crude. Ten years ago, they were construction trucks. They’re not for the construction guys anymore. Today, they are luxury vehicles.”
The result, Loen says, is a declining local market share for motorhomes as buyers realize the SUVs and pickups they use for daily commuting and chores can pull a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel trailer on the weekend.
“The majority of RVs are the type you pull,” says Jamie Dodd of Dodd RV in Portsmouth.
“They are the biggest sellers because most buyers already have an SUV, so they can hook it up and take off.”
They’re also less expensive than motorhomes. Dodd says that travel trailers start around $16,000 ; motorhomes start out at $80,000.
As you’d expect, buyers of less expensive RVs tend to be families, so manufacturers design them to sleep a minimum of six people, and as many as 10, allowing a family with children to take their friends on a weekend trip.
By contrast, motorhomes tend to appeal to retirees who want to visit friends or tour the country for long periods of time.
“Those units are extremely decked out. They sleep two to four people, maximum, and are very spacious for living comfortably,” Dodd said.
Driving a motorhome is similar to driving a transit bus, which limits their appeal. Power comes from a gas or diesel engine built by Ford and General Motors. Typical fuel economy runs between 8 and 10 mpg on gas models.
Diesels are about 10% more fuel efficient, but you’ll pay more. A gasoline-powered motorhome that costs $80,000 jumps to more than $100,000 when fueled by diesel. Maintenance also tends to cost more on diesel engines.
Nationwide, gasoline buyers and diesel buyers are evenly split . In Hampton Roads, about 70% of buyers opt for gas. “We’re in a market with military buyers, who are more price-conscious. Upfront price is key,” Dodd said.
Regardless of price, both Loen and Dodd say that RVs are more affordable than most people realize.
Since RVs have a kitchen and bath, they are considered second homes, and the interest on RV loans is tax-deductible. And unlike traditional vehicle loans, which last three to five years, RV loans stretch over a longer term, which lowers the monthly payment.
The cost is worth it, says Loen, a retired Navy Seal, who started selling RVs eight years ago after experiencing the RV lifestyle.
“There’s nothing better than when I get up in the morning and cook that pound of bacon. My kids are sitting there, telling stories. We get to sit down and talk like a family. We go away and there, we’re all going to sleep in, wake up, and eat breakfast together.”
There’s an attitude that pervades RV life that Loen especially likes.
“We really enjoy going to the campground and finding that the guy next to you could be a carpenter or a doctor. Everyone just lets their guard down,” Loen said. “If I could bottle that, I’d be a millionaire.”