Editor’s note: Bob Tiffin, president of Tiffin Motorhomes Inc., of Red Bay, Ala., wrote this column for Roughling It Smoothly, a magazine for Tiffin coach owners published quarterly by Georgia-based Book Production Resources on behalf of the venerable Alabama manufacturing firm.
In a few months we will begin our 44th year at Tiffin Motorhomes and I do not believe I have ever seen business as good as it is now for the large Class A motorhomes we are building.
As all of you are fully aware, we had a tremendous meltdown in the U.S. economy from early 2008, 2009, and a part of 2010. Many RV manufacturers went out of business. The recovery was slow initially. But the economic turnaround has come full circle and the survivors have had extraordinarily good business for the last 18 months.
We started this company in September 1972 and built our first motorhomes in December of that year. Then we experienced our first economic meltdown in September 1973, just nine months after we began manufacturing our brown and white, aluminum-sided Allegros. We hung on and weathered the storm that continued through the 4th quarter of 1974 when business began to get much better.
The second meltdown began in the 4th quarter of 1978 and lasted until the 2nd quarter of 1982. That one lasted for three-and-a-half years and really tested our staying power.
This final recession that began in the 1st quarter of 2008 was devastating to the RV industry, motorhomes and towables. Many large Class A manufacturers had to take bankruptcy and were unable to recover.
Looking back at the three meltdowns in the economy, our business expanded greatly after each for three reasons: Personal income went up; there were fewer manufacturers of Class A coaches; and each time we signed up the best dealers who had lost their manufacturers and needed to add a quality Class A product to their lineup.
In the first meltdown in 1973, the interest rate and oil prices went very high. We had an almost instant replay in 1978 when the interest rates went to an unprecedented 22%.
What is interesting about each recession is how long business remained strong after each one. Following the first meltdown, we had five years of tremendous expansion, and after the second one we enjoyed a much longer period of growth and strong economy from 1982 to 2008.
After this last recession, that some have called the “great recession,” I am looking for an extraordinarily long period of expansion and a strong economy. I believe the RV business should be good for both the manufacturers and the dealers. Owners are going to see more innovation in the coming years than ever before.
I am basing my expectation on the interest rates, domestic fuel supply, corporate cash supply for investment, and the disposable assets available in the economy to buyers and manufacturers alike. I don’t see how things could be any better for the RV industry.