Carrie Gray points to a stack of unwelcome mail on a conference table at the offices of Renegade RV, one of the leading U.S. manufacturers of high-end recreational vehicles. She’s buried in bad news from most of her about 350 suppliers.
“We got letters from 75% of them demanding tariff-related price increases,” explains Gray, Renegade’s materials manager.
Reuters reported that about 85% of the recreational vehicles sold in the United States are built in and around Indiana’s Elkhart County, making it a popular stop for politicians to tout their visions for U.S. manufacturing – including President Donald Trump, who staged a rally here last May.
And yet this uniquely American manufacturing sector has been caught in the crossfire of Trump’s trade war, according to interviews with industry insiders and economists, along with data showing a steep sales decline amid rising costs and consumer prices. The industry has taken hits from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum and other duties on scores of Chinese-made RV parts, from plumbing fixtures to electronic components to vinyl seat covers.
Shipments of RVs to dealers have fallen 22% percent in the first five months of this year, compared to the same period last year, after slipping 4% in 2018, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
The RV industry’s woes illustrate how even the most “American” of manufacturers, the kind of industries Trump has vowed to protect, can be heavily exposed to tariffs in a world of globalized supply chains.
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