The timing of new model year release dates has been a longstanding source of debate among the manufacturers and dealers of the U.S. RV industry.
And that’s still the case, judging by the latest RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll, which asked website visitors to generally assess the issue as a whole while specifically rating this year’s new model introductions.
Overall, there seemed to be a call for more uniformity in the industry among poll respondents, with some of them referencing the evolution toward a more orchestrated new model release format in the automobile industry. However, several participants argued that throwing down a blanket policy is just not feasible considering the number and general independent nature of American manufacturers.
The bottom line, amid the downstroke of the 2006 new model rollout, is that little has changed. In fact, fully 67% of the participants said the process remained unchanged while 20% felt it had vastly improved and 13% deemed the situation worse than ever.
Asked to pinpoint an appropriate release date:
• 43% don’t want new models out before September preceding the model year.
• 24% say new models shouldn’t be introduced before July.
• 11% would decline to debut new lines prior to May.
16% felt that no restrictions should be applied.
• 6% offered no opinion.
Curiously, many see the annual Louisville Show in late November after Thanksgiving as a logical time to release new product. One manufacturer said it would help ensure that “production would be strong in November, December and January instead of cutting back.”
One retailer agreed on the Louisville approach, but for another reason: “Release at Louisville and have a whole summer selling season before changing over to new models,” he posited. “Quit having the models changed in June and May. Be more like the automotive industry. The RVIA needs to implement this rule and quit letting the manufacturers dictate and play games.”
Many respondents, again, view September as a logical rollout time. “September is the natural month for summer’s end and the beginning of RV movement throughout the country regardless of seasonality,” said a participant from the retail ranks. “RVs are either readied for fall/winter storage or prepared for ‘snowbird’ use. Owners are more focused on the RV than planning trips, selecting destinations, etc.”
One supplier argued that the status quo – with manufacturers treading all over the calendar on new model year approaches – is confusing, and could eventually be viewed as a negative to consumers: “It’s time for a rule or law to level the playing field,” he noted. “An early release only helps that manufacturer if they beat everybody else to market. It is vicious cycle. Therefore, the next model year units are coming out earlier and earlier. The manufacturers know that the customers are sheep, and they will buy (or covet) the latest model. When they buy that new unit, the perceived value of the ‘old’ unit is now diminished. Then we have to discount the ‘old’ units to get them out of the dealer’s showroom. An ’07 model showing at ’05 Louisville is industry suicide. If you want to introduce new models at Louisville, then the model year needs to run December to November, or January to December. No more May models. The next model year should only beat the actual year by a couple of months. If we don’t learn to police ourselves soon, model years will mean very little to our precious sheep and the banks that finance them.”
That response also alludes to one of the more contentious areas of debate – the possibility of third-party regulation. As one dealer pointed out, “You would have to legislate model year introduction across the board for it to work, because every manufacturer will take care of their own needs and not look at the greater good of the industry. Also, every dealership has their own agenda on model year release based on their seasonal trends, show season, and inventory loads. The entire process from the manufacturer to the dealer to the consumer is very fractionalized, and to develop a consensus would take an ‘act of God’ to come to fruition.”
Another dealer struck a chord that is often heard in conversations such as these: “The industry must respect the freedom for manufacturers to release new models,” he maintained. “I don’t believe it is the responsibility of trade associations to regulate model releases. Dealers must determine what is best for their business and let their wallets follow their words.”
One respondent in the publishing arena pointed out that one of the major obstacles toward working out a compromise was the overriding desire to gain an edge over the competition. “…This game of one-upmanship is now common,” he wrote, “and all it does is dilute the perceived value of new models. When the manufacturers release ‘new models’ throughout the year, the changes/upgrades/improvements effected to these models over earlier editions have minimal impact to the consumer. And when consumers stop shopping for the ‘latest and greatest’ – and are prevented from comparison-shopping among different manufacturers because of staggered introduction dates – they begin to base their purchase decision primarily on cost.”
All in all, as one respondent put it, the likelihood of all this changing in the near future is not good. “It would be great to have a more coordinated new model release format,” he stated. “But this being America and the free enterprise system, that day will never come.”