RV sales starting to accelerate

By Dan Nakaso

San Jose Mercury News

The number of recreational vehicles delivered to dealers’ lots is expected to reach a six-year high in 2013 as fledgling RV buyers shake off the economic slumber of the past few years and prepare to hit the road this summer.

The new buyers represent new hope for a U.S. RV industry that sustained a series of blows beginning with the 2008 recession but now appears to be rebounding.

“We have seen an increase over the past couple of years,” said Eddie Unger III, corporate sales manager for Tom Raper RV’s, which has sales lots in Richmond, Ind., and Fairfield. “We are actually seeing a lot of customers coming out and buying RVs these days,” he said.

The industry has not seen more than 300,000 RVs shipped to dealers around the country since 2007, the year before the recession took hold. But deliveries this year were up 11 percent in the first quarter, and the RV industry now expects to see a total of 307,300 deliveries of motor homes and tow-able RVs. Tow-ables make up the overwhelming majority of RV sales in the U.S.

“Our industry is an economic indicator,” said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Virginia-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. “When shipments go down, they usually go down ahead of a recession. When shipments come back, they usually come back ahead of the recovery. ”

Some 8.9 million U.S. households — or 8.5 percent of all American households — now own RVs, representing a 7.9 percent increase from 2005, according to the RV association.

The renewed interest in RV sales and travel is attributed to several factors: pent-up demand after nearly five years of sluggish sales; relatively high airline ticket prices; and lingering low interest rates to finance an RV purchase.

With average gas prices hovering around $3.62 a gallon, according to AAA, RV dealers are quick to point out two factors to prospective buyers: Better technology gives even the bigger RVs improved gas mileage, sometimes 12 to 15 mpg, and the majority of RV owners take trips within 100 miles of their homes.

The bulk of RV purchases are made by customers who prefer lower-price units that have to be towed, Broom said. Prices go up as the amenities and body sizes increase from trailers to Class C “cab-over-camper”-style RVs built on a truck chassis; to more traditional-looking Class B motor homes; to high-end, rock-star Class A buses, which average $175,000.

Staff Writer Dave Larsen contributed to this report.

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