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Most people involved with the RV industry believe it is performing quite well because the economy is soft and it is doing much better than virtually all other travel and tourism industry sectors.
However, Indiana University economist and long-time RV industry observer Morton Marcus believes RV sales should be 30% to 40% higher than current levels.
Marcus, 65, who will retire from the university in November, made the comments Thursday night (Oct. 2) in his keynote speech during the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA-RVIC) annual meeting in Mishawaka, Ind.
Marcus, who recently retired as director of the Indiana Business Research Center, said his opinion was not based on an in-depth study of the RV industry. Instead, he said the RV industry could do much better because he believes the U.S. economy actually is quite strong and the RV industry follows outdated marketing approaches.
Marcus said the U.S. economy is strong because the housing industry is robust, fueled by Baby Boomers building bigger new homes, expanding or improving existing homes and because younger Americans are buying their first homes at earlier ages.
The materials and furnishings used by the home-building and home-improvement industries are, in the vast majority of cases, American-made, which is why Marcus disputes claims that the economy is weak.
Additionally, he said, “My own judgment is you probably could have production that is 30% to 40% higher if you change some of your marketing approach.
“How many times have you seen a woman in an ad for an RV driving the RV? The RV, according to studies we did in the mid-1980s, is very unattractive to women and the sales of RVs is primarily made to men.
“I believe that many RV manufacturers are still making RVs for the same people for whom they made RVs 30 years ago. The RV on the inside has changed but the RV on the outside has hardly changed in the last 30 years.
“Take an RV from 30 years ago and put it next to an RV from today and ask yourself, ‘Can the average consumer – not you, the experts – but can the average consumer see the difference?
“There’s certainly differences in automobiles and yet their technology hasn’t changed that much in 30 years. If you know something about automobiles, there’s been significant changes, but they still have front headlights and still have front windows, but they look different. The Hummer looks different.
“So, my view is that this is a very buoyant economy and that you have every reason to expect a larger share of it than you currently receive, and I wish you luck in getting that.”
A 30% to 40% increase in RV shipments would mean the industry would need to build 400,000 to 435,000 units per year, which would break the all-time record of 389,900 units shipped in 1978.
In 2002, the industry shipped 311,000 motorhomes and towable RVs and in the first eight months of this year, shipments were 1.9% ahead of the pace set in the first eight months of last year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).