With gas prices on the rise heading into the prime summer travel season, the recreational vehicle industry is anticipating a related strain on sales, particularly in the motorized sector. But, according to the latest RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll, opinions vary on the depth of that impact.
When asked about the industry’s vulnerability:
• 46% feel the industry is more vulnerable to fuel price hikes than ever before
• 20% say the market was less sensitive than previous years
• 34% see the level of vulnerability as about the same.
As for the impact of consistently rising gas prices:
• 43% predict the industry will be impacted “a great deal”
• 57% foresee pump prices having only a marginal effect
• 1% anticipate no impact
Not surprisingly there also was a wide variance on whether a sustained $3-per-gallon price point or higher would cause consumers to start “shutting their wallets.”
As a member of the RV supply and accessories sector noted: “If fuel prices reach $3 per gallon, it will have a very adverse affect on the U.S. economy. The $3 mark is a psychological boundary. If that boundary is breached, then fear of ever higher fuel prices will take hold.”
“Above $3-a-gallon prices will cause many of our target customer’s (first-timers, young families, etc.) to seriously consider cutting expenditures in order to meet raising basic living costs,” offered an RV dealer. “There is no way the economy can absorb the higher cost of fuels without disrupting a large portion of the population’s quality of life in a negative manner.”
On the other hand, a state RV association staffer comments: “In conversations with my members across the state, fuel costs are only marginally affecting the sales of motorhomes. They do not envision $3 as the kiss of death.
This country will adapt to the price of fuel, and RV vacations will continue, possibly shorter distances.”
Predictably, a majority of participants (88%) indicated that the motorized market would sustain the greatest hit. At the same time, most felt the towable sector would remain robust, as results revealed:
• 40% predicted stronger towable sales this year
• 33% expect a decline
• 27% were undecided
One dealer in his essay response raised the point that gas prices may also cut down on the purchase of tow vehicles. “My fear is that while folks may still have money to spend on RVs and other leisure pursuits, they’ll be less likely to buy the trucks and SUVs needed for towing.”
Most respondents, in turn, feel that higher gas prices will alter consumers’ travel habits, as fully 47% foresee growth in destination-type towables designed for long-term seasonal campers. “I believe that people will still buy
RVs but will travel shorter distances if gas remains around the $3-a-gallon level,” an aftermarket accessories distributor related. “Even if the economy is doing great, the middle class sector payroll (which really drives the economy) is not keeping up with the consumer cost index. So eventually travel will be limited to shorter destinations.”
Some respondents emphasized that the impact of fuel prices stretches well beyond the RV arena. “The effect is approaching the ‘snowball’ limit,” stated a supplier. “Sooner or later, all products & services are going to skyrocket, and buying will slow down. Americans cannot absorb the increases in everything without consequences. It has to have a negative effect in one, two, maybe three years.”