As might be expected, sales of recreational vehicles have plummeted in the past year as the recession deepened, credit dried up and consumers concentrated on saving money. 

But over the past couple of months, some RV dealers in California have begun to experience something unexpected – an uptick in the number of savvy buyers drawn to their sales lots by discounts. Like businesses looking to lure customers, dealers are cutting prices to move their products. Industry experts say that makes this the best time in 30 years to buy an RV, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel

“This is the time. It’s a golden opportunity,” said Jim Eberhardt, sales anager at McMahon’s RV Santa Cruz, located in Scotts Valley. “This is a buyers’ market, and the dealers realize we have to take less of a profit.” 

Eberhardt said foot traffic has increased in the past few months, and that sales have started to creep up, as well. Recently he’s sold RVs at 10% to 15% below the sticker price, although in-the-know consumers come in asking for much more of a discount. 

“People want to buy motorhomes for less than we pay for them,” he said, “but the dealer has to make a living.” 

Michael Jacque, president of Morgan Hill-based Alpine RV, has had similar experiences, with people coming in saying “make me a deal I can’t refuse,” he said. 

“If you have the means, without a doubt this is the best time to buy an RV,” Jacque said. 

Sales of RVs, from lower-priced towables to luxurious land yachts, dropped almost 41% in California between November 2008 and the previous year, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., which tracks RV retail sales. Nationally, sales were down 28% during that same time period. 

Slashed prices and fiscal incentives, including the recently signed $789 billion federal economic stimulus package that includes tax breaks for people buying RVs, are combining to create one of the best buyer’s markets in decades, RV dealers say. 

Jacque, who’s been in the business for 30 years, said this recession is the worst hit he’s seen the industry take. However, with sales and traffic on the rise, hope and optimism are starting to creep back in. He expects business to get better in the following months and possibly peak in May – something Mike Nohr, director of the 21st Annual Manufacturers’ RV and Boat Show, is banking on. 

Nohr originally had his Pleasanton-based show planned for early January but changed the dates to the last two weeks in May in the hopes of catching an upsurge in business. 

“It’s an oxymoron in a way,” Nohr said. “The industry is hurting, yet we’re hearing more and more of our vendors saying people are interested in getting into an RV because they realize this is the time to get a deal.”