Elliott Minor  /  AP file
RV operators like L.H. Boots, of Kilgore, Texas, say they're not going to let fuel prices of more than $2 per gallon force them to give up their traveling lifestyles.
updated 3/27/2005 2:56:35 PM ET 2005-03-27T19:56:35

L.H. Boots, a retired Oklahoma rancher and oil man, enjoys traveling to Wyoming rodeos and Arizona horse sales in his $350,000 motor coach and he isn't about to let fuel prices of more than $2 per gallon spoil his fun.

“At my age, I'm going to do what I'm going to do,” said the 90-year-old Boots, whose motor home was among about 6,000 parked at the Family Motor Coach Association's 73rd International Convention.

RV enthusiasts like Boots are one reason spiraling fuel prices have yet to put the brakes on the sales and use of gas-guzzling recreational vehicles.

RV shipments peaked at 370,200 units in 2004, the highest since 1978 and 15.4 percent higher than the 320,800 units sold the year before, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. Sales for January were 7.5 percent higher than the same month last year.

Winnebago stock doubles
“We're expecting another good year,” said Phil Ingrassia, spokesman for the 1,200-member National RV Dealers Association. “What people are telling us is that an extra $20 or $30 for a trip is not going to stop them from using their RVs. Some ... have compared it to the cost of a couple of cheese pizzas.”

Indeed, the stock of the nation's leading motor home manufacturer, Winnebago Industries Inc., has more than doubled to above $30 in the past two years.

A disappointing earnings report last week prompted some pullback in the stock, but the company told analysts that aggressive discounting by competitors and some overproduction — not rising fuel costs — were to blame.

Company chief Bruce Hertzke told analysts that vacationers may take shorter trips, but are unlikely to stop traveling.

“Nobody's willing to stay home,” Hertzke said.

The federal government announced last week that the average price for regular gas had risen to $2.11 per gallon, the highest since 1981. With the higher prices, some RVers will pay almost $500, or more, to fill up their 235-gallon tanks.

At the convention, which ended Thursday, some RV drivers expressed concern about the higher prices, while others said they might cut back slightly on travel. No one said the hike was enough to force them to abandon their vagabond lifestyles.

“When people are paying $1 million for a bus, they aren't asking about the price of gas,” said David Welp, 64, a retired Texas Instruments executive, while relaxing on a sofa in his luxurious, 45-foot, 8-miles-to-the-gallon motor coach.

‘Fuel efficiency ... is not an issue’
Doug Weatherly, sales manager for Detroit Diesel, a major engine supplier for motor homes, said most RVers who stopped by his convention booth wanted to discuss technical issues, not fuel economy.

“Fuel efficiency in this market is not an issue,” he said.

Greg Gerber, editor of RV Trade Digest in Fort Atkinson, Wis., said he didn't think the higher prices would have much impact on RV sales or travel, since the average RVer driving only 2,000 to 8,000 miles a year would pay only $400 to $800 more for fuel.

The 1970s fuel shortage devastated the RV industry, but 2004 was a banner year, Gerber said.

“The big thing is availability,” he said. “If there's a shortage, we're doomed.”

Motor homes, which have gasoline or diesel engines, range from expanded vans with 25-miles-per-gallon turbo-diesel engines to 45-foot, bus-like luxury coaches with leather recliners, plasma televisions, washers and dryers and granite floors. The high-end models get only 5 to 6 miles per gallon.

Towable option
Ingrassia, the National RV Dealers Association spokesman, said the motor homes in Perry represent the high end of the market, with price tags of up to $1.5 million. He said many families instead opt for towable RVs ranging from pop-up campers to lightweight trailers.

Video: SUVs' luster fading? “When gas prices started their upward trend last spring, we did not see a problem,” Ingrassia said in a phone interview from the group's headquarters in Fairfax, Va. “The industry is always changing the products to respond to what people want. And with the prevalence of sports utility vehicles and pickups, towables are a very good option for people as well.”

Eric Ramotowski, of Sterling Associates, a boat and RV finance company in Whitinsville, Mass., said higher fuel prices have had no impact on motor home sales. Many owners are retirees who spend weeks or months at their destinations so they don't fill up as often as commuters.

“Gas costs bother everybody, but they don't drive these things that much. A lot of them go to Florida for the winter and then go back home for the summer,” Ramotowski said.

The high fuel prices might cause some first-time RV buyers to hesitate, acknowledged Joe Wright, sales manager for John Bleakley Motor Homes in Douglasville, near Atlanta. But he believes that most will end up buying anyway.

“They're going to buy the motor home regardless,” he said. “They lead active lives.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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