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The number of families owing RVs in the U.S. increased by 500,000 between 1997 and 2001 to a total of 6.9 million, according to the preliminary findings of a demographic study being conducted by Dr. Richard Curtin, Ph.D., senior associate research scientist at the University of Michigan Survey Research Center.

“The data on RV ownership was rather good,” Curtin said during the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) recent Committee Week gathering in suburban Washington, D.C. “I am almost positive this is the highest number we have ever recorded.”

The study, being conducted under contract with the RVIA, is based on interviews with more than 3,000 people nationwide.

The study includes current owner demographics detailed by major product type, new vs. used-vehicle purchase intentions, former owner demographics and the purchase intentions of current and former owners and non-owners.

The 2001 ownership totals don’t include conversion vans, which were included in Curtin’s last study in 1997, so the 2001 totals are smaller.

Surveying began in January and was to be completed this month. Final findings are to be presented to RVIA during the Louisville Show Nov. 27-29.

After reviewing 60% of the data, Curtin said the four-year-old Go RVing market expansion campaign, aimed primarily at Baby Boomers – ages 35 to 54 – attracted another sector to the RV lifestyle as well. He said a Go RVing campaign “brought in a lot of Baby Boomers, but a lot of older (families) came in too.”

Among the study’s other preliminary findings:

The largest gains in ownership between 1997 and 2001, in absolute numbers, were in travel trailers, although the percentage of households owning motorhomes increased by a larger percentage.

The rate of seniors 55 and older who bought RVs increased. Baby Boomers accounted for about half the growth.

Buying plans remain strong among owners and non-owners. Curtin added that there is no evidence the current weaknesses in U.S. economy has had any effect on consumers’ long-term intentions to buy an RV. The difference from the 1997 study in the percentage of families who said they intended to buy an RV was negligible.