Lower Michigan recreational vehicle dealers are confident their industry’s multi-year swoon soon will shift into reverse.
But, according to a report in the Grand Rapids Press, there’s still uncertainty about whether business has bottomed out as retailers entered today’s (Jan. 15) opening of the third annual Grand Rapids Camper, Travel & RV Show
Even though last year’s in-state sales were 17% behind 2007 and wholesale shipments nationwide are in their biggest decline in three decades, one forecast sees numbers going much lower this year.
That could give consumers a welcome form of sticker shock this weekend.
“We’re going into this show with some prices that are lower than the 2007 show,” said Bruce TerVeen, sales manager of General RV Center in Wayland. He will have about 70 vehicles at the show.
“They’re going to be shocked at the prices they see. Manufacturers are sharpening their pencils because they need volume.”
A dozen dealers have filled 200,000 square feet of DeVos Place with about 300 motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth-wheels and folding camping trailers in the season’s first RV show.
Show operator Showspan expects attendance to be on par with last year, when about 15,000 people browsed through the RVs.
“If someone is in a position that they can buy right now, I’ve never seen the kind of deals available like they are right now,” said Adam Starr, show manager. “You’re able to go from dealer to dealer and back and forth.
“You’re not only shopping price, but you’re shopping the layout, the manufacturer incentives, the way the kitchen is set up.”
The show comes as a University of Michigan study projects manufacturer shipments nationwide this year to be at their lowest level since 1991, down more than 50% from 2006.
Tight consumer credit, rising unemployment and declines in household wealth are forcing dealers to keep inventories low, the study says.
Following a slight uptick in 2007, Michigan RV sales resumed a steady decline last year from earlier this decade.
“All segments are selling, but just not to the levels we’re accustomed to,” said Ron Neff, owner of American RV, which has 18 vehicles at the show. “A lot of people still don’t feel that it’s the bottom.
“We’re all working harder for less, and it is definitely a good time of the year to buy. The first six months of 2009 will be an especially good time for the buyers to take advantage of the market.”
Sales of bigger motorhomes and high-end fifth-wheels are slowest as owners downsize, Neff said. The show will feature lighter, fuel-efficient models that should keep RV trips cheaper than airfare or hotels – even if gas prices return to last year’s levels.
“The majority of customers are still employed,” TerVeen said. “They just want to (vacation) more cost-effectively. We’re going to be having more units this year under 5,000 pounds than ever before.
“We all look at it as we’re on the upswing.”