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Towable sales, driven by unceasing demand for conventional travel trailers, have helped add some buoyancy to the recreational vehicle industry as gas prices and interest rates continue to drag down the motorhome market.
The question, however, remains as to whether this is a blip on the radar or signs of a shifting marketplace that prelude a long-term trend. That uncertainty was reflected in the responses in the latest RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll, as participants were evenly split on where the industry is headed in terms of towable versus motorhome sales. Results showed:
• 36% of poll participants foresee motorhomes inevitably bouncing back as gas prices ease and/or OEMs adjust the price and designs of their products
• 32% felt that towables will continue to outsell motorhomes at a mounting rate
• 32% are looking for the towable market share, in relation to the overall market, holding steady in coming years
Many participants noted the cyclical nature that is inevitable in an industry catering to consumers’ discretionary dollars, and anticipate a balancing in sales between motorized and towable.
“This (towable) trend looks to be a normal adjustment for the industry – short-term,” observed a retailer. “Overall, it’s a good sign that the market demand in general is still strong. As we all know too well, the consumer will change and adapt constantly to market conditions and pricing pressure.”
With regard to possible design and pricing changes by OEMs, a supplier offered: “I believe the motorized market is stale, while the towable market has seen a lot of innovative new designs and concepts in the last few years. Motorized builders that are actually innovating are doing rather well – perhaps the rest of the builders will notice that.”
Others, particularly at the retail level, were more adamant that towables will continue to gain market share.
“Energy prices will continue to suppress the motorized markets,” noted a dealer. “An affordable travel trailer is more appealing, even to the more affluent buyer. Who wants to take the depreciation hit on a $100,000 motorized unit when that money in property or other investments grows in value? I think it’s a long-term trend and I am going to change the way I do business – get out of motorized.”
“I don’t think this will be a temporary blip as I feel the honeymoon is over and we’re moving into another chapter in American RV use,” said another retailer. “Most people cannot justify spending $150,000-plus for a motorhome and stomach putting $250-plus in it every time they fill up.”
Accordingly, responses were across the board when asked what factors could contribute to a slowing in towable growth, including:
• 32% pointed to slipping tow vehicle sales
• 22% cited continued high gas prices
• 8% noted a rebound in motorhome sales
• 31% answered “all of the above” and 7% said “other”
“As in past energy-related slowdowns, it will disappear once we adjust to the pricing or the pricing of fuel drops,” related a manufacturer. “We have shifted to lower-priced product where customers tend to be less conservative. We expect that the energy pricing issue will subside by late summer and business will return to normal.”
When asked what factors were boosting the conventional travel trailer market, the majority (53%) of poll participants responded “all of the above,” when offered a choice of affordability (6%), gas prices (5%), practicality due to ownership of a tow vehicle (23%), younger demographics (8%) and other (4%).
Some saw the advent of a younger buying audience as the opportunity to draw another generation into the lifestyle.
“I do think that the increase in travel trailers is driven in a large part by a younger demographic getting into RVing,” said a member of the parts and service sector. “As such, I believe as they age (and the kids move out), they will likely move in to the motorized segment, which can only be a good thing.”
A member of the manufacturing arena also saw the shift toward travel trailers as a positive trend for the industry. “The market shift is a natural progression considering the cost/benefit and versatility of a travel trailer,” the respondent said. “Using your existing vehicle for towing is a real plus. Also, investment in the home is rising significantly and funding for a second home lifestyle is being limited. Therefore, a travel trailer is a viable alternative. I believe this is good for the industry since the motorized buyers generally will have the income to continue that lifestyle. Therefore the travel trailer segment will grow with both new and existing buyers.”