Video: RV motor mania

By Mike Hegedus Special Features Correspondent
CNBC
updated 12/1/2005 3:14:53 PM ET 2005-12-01T20:14:53

From two-bedroom models to trailer tent hybrids, if it's new in RVs, it can be found in Louisville this week at the 43rd annual RVIA Trade Show.

“Mom and Dad can be up front with their friends playing cards, the kids will be back here, and everybody is happy,” says Bill Fenech, president of Damon, from the back of one recreational vehicle.

It is the largest RV show in the country — more than 14,000 dealers and factory representatives all in Louisville at the Kentucky Exposition Center. It's three days to look at new product — and write orders.

“It's a gigantic show. This year they've added 170,000 new square feet. So we're up over 900,000 square feet,” says RVIA CEO Dave Humphries.

And every inch of it covered with something for one of the 8 million U.S. households that now owns an RV ... a 15 percent increase in just 4 years.

With projected shipments for 2005 at nearly 377,000 thousand units, including those contracted by FEMA for hurricane relief, the $14 billion industry is on track for it's second best retail year in the last 26. But sales of the high-priced motor coaches — the ones with all those sliding walls and marble counter tops — have fallen off. But the market for towables is hot.

“Motor homes have been a little bit flatter, and the towable market has just been a resurgent upward moving market ... nonstop,” says Doug Gaeddart, general manager of Forest River.

However, concerns over rising interest rates, soft consumer confidence and gas prices hang over the business and the convention floor, enough so that some manufacturers now tout gas mileage as a sales tool.

Winnebago CEO Bruce Hertzke detailed one model that gets 17 to 19 miles per gallon. “It has a Mercedes-Benz diesel engine ... This unit performs extremely well in the market place.”

And it's a market place that continues to grow. the prime buyers now 35 to 55 — baby boomers — 11,000 a day turn 50. But the fastest growing segment is actually buyers under 35 — prime targets of the brand new Airstream Base Camp trailer/tent hybrid.

“It's designed to be light weight, lower cost, entry level product for Airstreamers of a newer generation,” says Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler.

The minority market is also a target of the RV industry's new $66 million, three-year ad campaign unveiled here — a campaign that will include a first-ever buy in the Winter Olympics. Research shows African American and Hispanic buyers fast becoming a staple.

“And it also shows that they're likely to be a bigger chunk on an accelerated rate,” Go RV Co-Chairman Tom Stinnett says. “And that's what's intriguing about that market.”

They think of everything at the RV Show where there is something for everybody, including a towable trailer that looks like a log cabin, and comes stocked with a fireplace, bar, flat screen television, a full-service bathroom and kitchen.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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