Increase in RV Sales Signals Economic Improvement

RV sales have been coming back after a disastrous recession for the industry, and this may be a good sign of a strengthening economy.

Elkhart, Ind., is the heart of the business, with about 83% of all North American RVs manufactured in the region. Unemployment in Elkhart rose to more than 20% in 2009 as the economy continued to fall, RV sales plunged and several manufacturers closed or disappeared via consolidation.

“When the stock market went to hell in a handbasket, when the ability to get credit went to hell in a handbasket, when your home (value) all of a sudden . . . went down so drastically, your wealth factor is pretty low. That stops motor home buying,” Richard Coon, the president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, said recently at an industry breakfast.

But according to the RVIA, a stronger economy has pulled the industry out of its decline. The trade group predicts more than 307,000 recreational vehicles will be manufactured and shipped this year. That number is still below the pre-recession high of 353,400 attained in 2007, but it’s nearly twice as high as the low point of just under 166,000 in 2009.

Richard Curtin, the director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan, says a combination of factors is behind the recent growth in recreational vehicle sales, including an easing of credit terms and better availability of consumer loans, as well as modest gains in household income.

The RVIA says the nation’s demographics are also in the industry’s favor. The U.S. currently has a record 9 million RV-owning households, and that number is expected to keep growing as baby boomers retire and take to the road.

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