Early spring is the main selling season for recreational vehicles and the phone on Tom Troiano’s desk has been ringing incessantly.
As reported by The Economist, the owner of Continental RV, a dealership in Farmingdale, N.Y., is on track to sell more RVs this year than in any other since the early 2000s. Buoyed by cheap financing, rising wages and inexpensive gas, travelers are once again splurging on big-ticket purchases.
RVs are a quintessentially American invention: more than two-thirds are made in the United States. Nationally, sales surged to 430,000 units last year, a 40-year high. The share prices of Thor Industries, the biggest RV-manufacturer in America, and Winnebago, the third-largest, have risen by 43% and 17%, respectively, in the past year.
That is a big change. During the 2008-09 recession, notes Troiano, RV dealerships everywhere closed down, leaving his shop among the very few left serving the New York metropolitan area. The current rebound is mostly owing to the economy’s recovery, but it also springs from the fact that new types of customer are embracing the lifestyle.
A decade ago the average age of an RV owner was 49, and over 90% were white, says Kevin Broom of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). That didn’t bode well for the future. But stereotypes are being dented. Anecdotal reports suggest that ethnic minorities now make up around a sixth of all new customers, says Broom. The fastest-growing customer demographic is 35- to 44-year-olds.
Another boost comes from affluent immigrants, who are keen to experience long, self-planned road trips in America. Troiano’s most recent big sale was to a rich Asian family.
The industry hopes that its poor record with foreign sales—last year less than 1% of RVs produced domestically were shipped to foreign markets (excluding Canada)—may improve, too. China’s government, for example, has pledged to build 2,000 campgrounds by 2020, up from an estimated 300 today, in a bid to promote domestic tourism, particularly to remote rural regions. Chinese firms such as Yutong Bus make RVs, but not of the quality that many Chinese want. The country imported 1,000 vehicles last year, over half of them American.