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As we head further into 2017, many things are uncertain but one thing is for sure: RV manufacturers and dealers are happy campers indeed.

Nationwide, the motor home, trailer and campground industry is coming off its best sales year in four decades — and envisions even more consumers driving away in trailers and motor homes in 2017.

“Total sales in 2016 were more than 400,000 units — I get a chill just saying that,” said Bill Sheffer, executive director of the Okemos-based Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds.

The trade group puts on several camper shows each year in Michigan, including the Detroit Camper & RV Show starting next week at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, and they’re hopeful for an enthusiastic, checkbook-in-hand crowd. Sheffer said that in the few brief weeks since the season kicked off, he has been hearing from promoters about record attendance at RV expos in Michigan and Florida.

Having struggled through the Great Recession — when U.S. sales dipped to about 165,000 and many dealers folded for good — the industry is basking in the rebound. The national Recreational Vehicle Industry Association projects that 438,000 units will ship this year, and its recent economic study says that alone will drive about $16 billion into the U.S. economy. Add in service, campground revenue and other related spending and the total economic boost, the association says, is about $27 billion a year.

Michigan — one of the incubators of the RV, dating to the Covered Wagon Co. founded in Mount Clemens 1929 — comes in for its share of economic bounty. More than 4,200 workers here contribute to the RV and campground industry, earning more than $200 million a year. Michigan is home to 105 RV dealerships, according to the RVIA, and including ancillary businesses, total economic impact in the state is more than $1 billion a year.

Dave Rochette, president of Westland Camping Center, doesn’t want to jinx anything by being overconfident. But, he says, encouraging signals of an upbeat 2017 are falling into place. Last fall’s RV show was Westland Camping’s best in years, and December was their strongest December ever.

Even in January — “Usually kind of a dead month,” Rochette noted — the firm sold several trailers, one to a customer as far away as Idaho.

What’s behind the revival in sales and interest? Hypotheses abound: People can’t afford second homes or cottages — or don’t want to chance the real estate market — so they opt for trailers and coaches. Increasingly fed up with storing and maintaining “stuff,” we hunger instead for the adventure and experiences of the open road.

Perhaps the “tiny house” craze on reality TV might be luring people to the idea of a compact, place-for-everything home on wheels. And the growing ability to telecommute and home school makes geography less of an obstacle to earning a living — perhaps one reason dealers say see more youthful families browsing showrooms in what traditionally has been a retiree-oriented market.

Even prosaic notions like relatively low gas prices and the tax-deductibility of some RV loan interest (it may count as a second home) come into play.

Whatever the motivation, manufacturers and sellers welcome the new crop of RV shoppers, while making sure RV-ing does not equal “roughing it.” Life on the road today can be as cushy as home.

“Particularly the younger shoppers nowadays want technology,” said Rochette. “Satellite, solar power adapters, you name it. Trailers under $20,000 these days can come with a 44-inch HD television.

“They also want Bluetooth so they can control their lights or even their awnings with their phones.”

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com

Detroit Camper & RV Show

What: Annual expo will feature more than 280 RVs ranging in price from $6,995 to more than $400,000. Related vendors will exhibit and seminars are planned.

When: Feb. 8-12. Open weekdays 2-9 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River, Novi

Admission: $10; $9 for ages 55 and over; free for ages 12 and under

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