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Sixty-one percent of those responding to the latest monthly RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll predict that escalating gas prices will have a “moderate” impact – versus a “marginal” or “severe” impact – on the RV industry this year, while 67% claim the industry is already feeling the pinch in soft motorized sales.
Other results:
* 59% feel that the availability of gas – more than its pricing – is the key variable in how the RV industry fares in the months ahead.
* 88% maintain that the fuel price situation will impact the rest of the U.S. economy as well as the RV sector.
* 71% agree that the industry, as opposed to earlier years, isn’t quite as vulnerable to either short-term spikes or long-term price trends as it used to be.
* About 40% feel that any product with a larger engine might be affected, while 35% foresee Class A’s bearing the brunt.
Faced with record high prices this spring, however, many of the dealer, supplier and manufacturing respondents reacting to the RVBUSINESS.com poll’s essay question projected a realistic – if not altogether positive – view for the remainder of 2005.
“We are only in the highest end of the luxury coach business,” wrote one dealer, “and we don’t see any foreseeable impact that fuel prices will have, only if they affect the stock markets broadly. That’s our base of customers.”
“Customer visits and resulting sales have been – relative to prior years – very low since Feb. 15,” another dealer observed. “There is not much use urgency during this period. So I believe we’ll see a buying rebound in April and May. The $2.50 a gallon idea will be accepted by then and the season will be at hand.”
One of the more thought-provoking responses came from an unnamed individual in manufacturing, who was among a number of the 309 respondents to address the need for shrewd and innovative marketing to counter alarming media coverage.
“It’s been generally accepted that travel trailer sales have been assisted by the popularity of SUVs as family vehicles,” he writes. “The huge growth in such large vehicles coincided with a robust economy and cheap gas. The average worker isn’t feeling as confident about their finances in the current economy, and gas is no longer cheap. And, that SUV is now nearing trade-in time and is no longer so socially desirable… As customers downsize their vehicles, they will not necessarily want to give up their lifestyle interests. To fulfill customers’ desires to travel and camp, I believe park models, time share campsites and folding trailers will see increasing popularity.”
Another manufacturer suggests selling the following themes: “Travel close to home. Visit your state parks or national forest. Sell what’s near to home, not far away. People who want to travel will.”
“Gas price increases are a real inflationary cost, both in business and in personal finances,” adds one anonymous supplier. “However, the real impact of fuel price to a family vacation traveling 1000 miles in an RV still remains less of an inflationary percentage increase than other means of travel or other travel expenses. The industry should remain on track with the message that RVs still provide an excellent value for travel and vacationing, even with increases in fuel prices.”
Says another forward thinking retailer: “Many buyers will be waiting to see if fuel costs will level off and or decrease before buying a new unit. Fuel rebate offers would probably help sell units the rest of this quarter and the next. I think RVing will never sink to below 9/11 sales due to families not having to fly. Trips may be shorter, but Americans will continue to RV.”