More than two out of every three participants in the latest RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll predicted 2005 would be a growth year for RV sales. And going into midfall, three-quarters also anticipated a strong finish for 2004.
The industry appears split, however, on whether the election of President Bush or John Kerry to the highest office in the nation was better for the industry.
Although no specific questions about Tuesday’s (Nov. 2) election were asked on the survey, the dust-up between the Republican and Democratic candidates was cited frequently by those responding to a question asking what positive and negative signs they saw on the horizon for the RV industry.
“Next year will be determined by the election,” offered an RV manufacturer. “If Kerry wins, there is a good chance we will see a decline due to taxes added to gas and RVs.”
Another survey respondent was just as adamant that the industry would be harmed if President Bush won a second term. “If Bush is re-elected, we are DOOMED!” he suggested with emphasis.
Another manufacturer thought the uncertainly caused by the election was responsible for business leveling off in some sectors. “The election is having a greater effect on our customer base than what we expected,” he said. “When the election is over and Bush has won, the business will be back to normal. If for some unforeseen chance that Kerry is elected, then it’s time to worry.”
The highly optimistic outlook about continued sales growth shown by the e-mail poll conducted in mid-October differs markedly from the projections of Recreation Vehicle Industry Association'(RVIA) economic consultant Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan, who in September forecast a 9% decline in overall RV shipments for 2005.
In fact, fully 60% of manufacturers, suppliers, dealers and others responding to the poll expected moderate or appreciable growth of 5% to 9% next year.
Another more optimistic 4.1% of respondents expected next year’s growth to exceed 9%.
Clearly, high fuel prices and the pending presidential election worried people connected to the RV industry, although the continued influx of Baby Boomers into the RV lifestyle and the ongoing status quo of relatively low interest rates continues to be seen as positive signs.
The optimism of a vast majority who thought 2004 would finish strong is borne out by the RVIA wholesale shipment report for September, which showed year-to-date shipments up 17.5% compared to last year.
A closer look at the RVBUSINESS.com poll:
* 49% said year-end sales would be up by more than 5% compared to 2003, with 15.9% – up from 11.5% in June’s RVBUSINESS.com survey – predicting the year would end with double-digit growth compared to last year.
* As a group, respondents in RV manufacturing were the most confident 2005 would be a growth year, with 72.6% predicting continued gains, followed by 62.8% in the retail sector.
* Those manufacturing RV supplies and accessories were the most pessimistic about the prospects for 2005, with 28.9% predicting there would be a decline in sales next year compared to 2004.
* One out of five respondents overall predicted a decline in sales in 2005.
* Most dealers responding – 34.6% – said 2005 sales would produce moderate growth of less than 5%.
The influx of Baby Boomer buyers also continued as a strong undercurrent in comments from representatives of all segments.
“RVs are becoming more mainstream with the effort of the Go RVing campaign,” said an RV dealer, who added that he also saw a downside to the increased popularity. “Campgrounds continue to disappoint customers’ expectations.”
Both fuel-cost increases and the general instability of the petroleum market were pointed to repeatedly as detriments to the RV industry.
“Climbing fuel prices and interest rates may have a dampening effect on consumer confidence and thus indirectly impact RV sales,” suggested one manufacturer.
“Gas-price swings, not necessarily just high prices,” was cited as a negative factor by one RV retailer, while a distributor noted: “Daily reports in the papers on the price of a gallon of gasoline will cause people to think twice about purchasing a vehicle.”