Amid the talk of the RV industry’s potential, manufacturers, suppliers and dealers heard some sobering news during the opening breakfast to the 45th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
The industry has seen its fortunes decline in 2007 with shipment totals expected to sink to 351,200 units by year’s end, almost 40,000 less than the record-setting 390,500 RVs shipped in 2006. And the slowdown is expected to continue into 2008 with shipments settling at 334,200 units, according to the Elkhart, Ind., Truth.
“Our primary concerns are lessened support from home equity cash-outs and lower discretionary income due to higher food and fuel costs,” said Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
The Outlook 2008 breakfast kicked off the national show, sponsored by the RVIA. Over scrambled eggs and bacon, the record 1,200 attendees heard speeches by U.S. Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Olympian Rulon Gardner and Barbara Hillary, the first black woman to reach the North Pole.
Also rock-and-roll icon Chubby Checker got the crowd singing and dancing to a couple of his popular hits.
However the fun did little to soften Coon’s forecast for 2008.
Citing industry researcher Richard Curtin, Coon laid out the anticipated shipment totals for each product in the upcoming year:

  • 173,300 travel trailers, roughly even with 2007 totals
  • 77,500 fifth wheels, down slightly
  • 24,300 folding camping trailers, a decrease
  • 6,900 truck campers, a decline
  • 31,100 Class A motorhomes, steady with 2007 results
  • 2,600 Class B, a decrease
  • 18,500 Class C, about the same
    “Now let’s keep these and the total 2008 forecast in perspective,” Coon told the audience. The “334,200 units shipped would still be comfortably above the 10-year average.”
    In addition to another down year, the RV industry is also facing larger concerns that could land a staggering blow.
    Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer, outlined some cautionary signs ahead for the industry. Specifically, rising fuel prices could bar many possible first-time buyers from entering the RV market while any government action to raise the fuel economy standards on the pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles used to haul towables could cripple the industry.
    Also while the number of Baby Boomers buying RVs is expected to continue to grow, their grandchildren are spending too much time indoors with video games and computers and not gaining an appreciation of nature, LaBella warned.
    Thus by the time the newest generation enters the market, they could have no interest in exploring the national parks or seeing the United States in an RV.
    To keep the industry strong, Coon suggested going global by looking to open new markets in India, South Africa and China.
    “Offshore outsourcing is nothing new,” Coon said, “but tapping foreign markets for new consumers may be something American RV manufacturers should explore.”
    RVs are already popular in Europe and Australia. Moreover, China presents a large potential market.
    Chinese business professionals are attending the national RV show, Coon said, to build partnerships with U.S. companies to advance the industry in China. Also, in the spring RV industry representatives will visit the country as part of a trade mission in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
    “The emergence of the Chinese consumer market means a whole new world of possibility for RVs,” Coon told the crowd, “and a whole nation of people ready to fall in love with the RV lifestyle.”