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Richard Curtin

The watershed gains achieved in 2016 by the RV industry will serve as a launching point for another potential record run this year as overall shipments are in line for a 3.5% bump to 445,700 units, according to the latest forecast by industry analyst Richard Curtin.

“RV shipments ended 2016 at higher levels than any other time in the past four decades,” stated Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, in the Spring 2017 issue of Roadsigns, a quarterly publication distributed by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “December set its highest delivery rate and during the fourth quarter, as a whole, more RVs were shipped than in any other closing quarter.

“Such strong and consistent gains indicate an impressive momentum that will benefit shipments in 2017.”

Also fueling optimism for a robust 2017 is the longevity of the current growth cycle, which stretches back to 2010. “This (2017) would extend the consecutive yearly gains to eight years, well beyond the longest previous RV expansion of five years,” he noted. “No RV expansion ever died from old age; they typically end due to negative shocks and policies that substantially increase inflation, unemployment, and interest rates on RV loans.

“There are substantial uncertainties, economic and political, that could disrupt this outlook for positive growth in RV shipments, but current conditions remain positive.”

Conventional travel trailers again claimed the lion’s share of the market as Curtin reported the segment captured an all-time peak share of 66% in 2016, up from 52% 10 years ago and 30% 20 years ago.

Curtin sees that trend continuing this year with trailers projected to hit 292,500 units. The overall towable count is expected to rise 3% to 388,000 units while Curtin sees motorhome shipments seeing 5% growth to 57,700 units.

Curtin pointed to potential growth in the industry’s two key demographic sectors — retiring Baby Boomers and the emerging Millenials – as strong drivers for sales in 2017.

“The positive impact of growing income and household wealth are likely to more than offset the negative impact of increases in interest rates and inflation,” Curtin noted. “Prospective changes in economic policies and regulations under the Trump administration are likely to have both positive and negative influences on the RV industry, although it is too early to make a definitive assessment.

“These concerns should not deter forward-looking RV companies from planning new attractive products that fit the lifestyles and budgets of retiring Baby Boomers as well as first-time Millennial buyers. Future prospects remain as bright as ever, and will continue to reward innovative RVs that offer enhanced value to consumers.”