Ken Eckstein

While this year is projected to be one of the strongest ever for sales of new RVs, sales of used towable and motorized units also appear to be at their highest levels in decades and are bringing scores of new buyers into the RV market, according to dealers and auction houses.

“We’re seeing first-time buyers like we haven’t seen since the ’70s,” said Ken Eckstein, owner of Mount Comfort RV in Greenfield, Ind., just outside of Indianapolis. “The not-so-nice stuff is flying off the shelves.”

Eckstein added that that the first-time buyers are of all ages, which means the customer base of the RV market is growing.

“It’s not just one group,” Eckstein told RVBusiness. “It’s 25 year olds and 65 year olds. We had a guy in today who was 25. He bought a unit using his $2,500 tax refund check. He was looking at an early ’90s travel trailer.”

The surging demand for used RVs is also taking place in Canada.

“I don’t ever recall used RVs being as hot,” said James Epp, CEO of Fraserway RV, an Abbotsford, British Columbia, company with dealerships across Canada. Epp noted that younger buyers are coming into the marketplace in growing numbers.

“Our sales are up substantially in new and used units, even with an unfavorable exchange rate,” he said, adding, “In the ’80s, you had to be 50-plus to be in the marketplace. Now, quite regularly, you see families.”

Wholesale auction houses are also seeing rising demand for used RVs.

BSC-America, a wholesale auction company based in Bel Air, Md., saw a 32% jump in sales from 2015 to 2016 and the growth of sales is continuing this year, said Chuck Wenzel, director of specialty sales for the company that oversees auctions of RVs, boats, motorcycles and ATVs.

“January, February and March are our weakest three months of the year,” he said, “but we’re already tracking ahead of where we were at the same time last year. That kind of gives you an idea of what’s happening in the wholesale market.”

Chuck Wenzel

Wenzel added that the growth in new RV sales is putting more used units in the sales pipeline, but demand is so strong that sales are growing for both new and used units.

“The RV industry anticipates this could be the best new RV year, ever. There are more buyers entering the retail market, and more current owners trading up and moving up,” he said.

But while demand for used units is surging, Wenzel said not every dealer has the ability to sell used units at the same pace. That’s where auction companies can help, since they have a much larger customer base than individual dealers.

“Cash in the bank is better than wholesale inventory sitting on the ground aging,” Wenzel said, adding that his company sold used units in 21 states last year.

The strength of the RV business is also reflected in the latest repossession statistics.

America’s Auto Auction in Greenville, S.C., used to have about 300 to 350 repossessions a month during the peak of the Great Recession in 2008. This year, the repossessions are down by half, said Alan Lawson, a specialty manager for the company.

“We figure we’ll be doing 160 to 180 plus all throughout the year,” he said, adding that the company handles repossessions in the Southeast U.S.

“The banks auction off the units to the highest bidder, and those RVs will in turn go back to somebody’s lot and they will sell it. That’s how lot of the smaller mom-and-pop RV dealers buy their inventory,” he said.