August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

RV industry rolls back after downturn

Now offering broader array of sizes, styles for wider appeal

Bolder and brighter exterior graphics are now a common theme throughout all price ranges of RVs. (James Buck / AP)

Industry experts say the RV business is often an indicator of the economy as a whole. When RV sales are struggling, so is the economy.

“RVs tend to be a discretionary purchase,” says Russell Eckstein, owner of Mount Comfort RV in Greenfield, Ind. “So when people feel good about the economy and their income, they buy RVs to get out and enjoy themselves.”

The recreational vehicle industry was hit hard during the recent recession and recorded one of its lowest sales years in 2009. It has since transformed itself, however, by offering a broader array of sizes and styles appealing to a mass market.

The result: Consumers are buying RVs again. The sector is poised to record its sixth straight sales increase in 2015, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

Industry experts attribute the increase to versatility, affordability and innovative designs in new models.

“I believe that manufacturers have done a pretty good job of introducing new models that appeal to today’s customers,” says John Myers, owner of Myers RV Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

While a large 35-foot Class A motor home is still the gold standard, a common trend is compact RV trailers that better fit a buyer’s budget and needs.

Kevin Broom, spokesman for the RVIA, says the industry has transitioned into manufacturing lighter, sleeker designs.

“Smaller is the overall footprint and lighter in terms of weight,” Broom says. “Consumers are looking for more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient RVs. Fuel economy is a part of it, but people like the sleek look.”

Eckstein says people tend to gravitate more toward lightweight trailers at his dealership.

There are several different types of trailers to choose from, from pop-up, folding camping trailers to large, expandable travel trailers that can sleep up to eight people.

Another trend, Eckstein says, are toy haulers that can haul golf carts, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. They can come in Class A and C, fifth wheel and travel trailers.

The more expensive units are the motor homes that are built as a complete unit and are not towed. Some of them have similar amenities as higher-end homes. They include multiple TVs, satellite dishes and surround sound, along with built-in dishwashers and washer and dryers, Myers says. Some even include granite countertops, marble floors, queen-sized beds and walk-in showers.

Bolder and brighter exterior graphics are now a common theme throughout all price ranges of RVs. Another trend, Eckstein says, is outside kitchens with a refrigerator, sink, stove and grill.

Just like buying a new home, RV costs vary significantly. The price of a small, bare-bones trailer — such as a truck camper or folding camping trailer — can be less than $10,000, while luxurious Class A units can go for up to $500,000. Myers says prices at his dealerships range from $12,000 to $430,000, with the average price about $54,000.