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Million-dollar-plus recreational vehicles have moved from being a novelty to a very defined niche market in the industry, according to Buffalo (N.Y.) Business First.
A growing number of executives, doctors, and other professionals prefer to spend their leisure time in coaches that sell for $1 million to $2 million and have interior appointments reminiscent of old-style Pullman cars. Many owners also tow “toy haulers” behind their RVs – trailers that carry cars, his-and-her motorcycles, golf carts, or motorized Segways.
These RVers may spend nights in campgrounds or Wal-Mart parking lots along with the rest of the camper crowd. But their final destination is often a gated
RV resort – complete with spa, tennis courts, and pools – in popular vacation spots such as Palm Springs, Calif., Hilton Head, S.C., and Naples, Fla., where per-night rates range from $30 to $80.
But many RV owners buy lots in these resorts so they can park their rigs for extended stays. At a typical size of 40 feet by 100 feet, this is pricey real estate. Jim Howell, 75, a retired car dealer from Carlisle, Pa., paid $84,000 for his lot at a park near Naples a few years ago and says it’s now worth more than $200,000.
This is an elite group. Only about 325 RVs with million-dollar-plus price tags are bought annually by private individuals, figures Karl Blade, owner of Newell Coach, a Miami (Okla.) maker of luxury RVs.
A smaller number are leased or purchased by touring entertainers, NASCAR drivers, and others. The biggest makers, such as Marathon Coach in Coburg, Ore., Chicago’s Liberty Coach, and Newell say sales are holding up this year despite increased gas costs, resulting in $600 dollar fill-ups at the pump for coach owners.
Longer term, the industry is riding powerful trends. Soon well-heeled Baby Boomers will be retiring in droves, while fears about terrorism have made flying and overseas vacationing less attractive. “Unless fuel is rationed, I don’t think it will have much of an effect,” says Frank X. Konigseder, a vice-president at Liberty Coach.
Sure, luxury RVs get only six to eight miles per gallon, but most owners put fewer than 10,000 miles on them annually. In any case, says Jim Neely, who owns Memphis’ Interstate Bar-B-Que Restaurants and drives a Newell RV: “If you can’t afford to spend a couple thousand dollars on fuel during a trip, you shouldn’t own one.”
The million-dollar-plus market is dominated by Newell, which makes 44 custom-built RVs annually, and Prevost conversions, made by 20 or so companies using the shells of European-style tour buses from Quebec’s Prevost Car, a Volvo unit.