Perhaps feeling the effects of a fickle year pressured by volatile fuel prices, most respondents to the latest RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll anticipate lower sales than last year at the 44th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
When directly questioned to gauge business during the upcoming Nov. 28-30 trade-only event at the Kentucky Exhibition Center (KEC), results showed:
• 50% foresee lower sales than 2005 during the Louisville show
• 37% are expecting flat business activity relative to last year
• 14% anticipate greater sales
Respondents were also asked to assess buying trends, pinpointing hot market segments that would be prominently displayed on the KEC floor. Not surprisingly, most felt the huge swings in pump prices during the past year, coupled with moderately higher interest rates, were pushing buyers toward lower-priced, fuel-efficient vehicles – a trend that mirrors the auto industry.
“I don’t know if the manufacturers are responding to this changing market or not but they will have to at some point,” observed a retailer. “All industries need to find ways to make RV ownership more affordable not just in what the RVs cost but what it costs to operate them.”
A member of the RV rental sector noted: “I believe the industry is behind the trends by several quarters and in some cases, years – manufacturers should observe the pitfalls of the auto industry.”
Those opinions were echoed by a wide majority of poll participants as 71% felt that affordability and fuel efficiency would be priorities for OEMs in future motorized and towable product offerings.
Additionally, most felt those features would be reflected in both product design and consumers’ buying habits in a wide variety of categories, including:
• 25% see a push in the ultra-lightweight market
• 16% see a shift toward Class B’s
• 16% anticipate a trend toward downsized Class A’s
• 11% foresee overall cost and fuel savings dictating more Class C’s
• 39% said all of the above
• 7% said none of the above
Regarding overall trends in the marketplace, 71% of participants are looking for the sport utility recreational vehicle (SURV) market to continue to grow with 46% foreseeing more towable toy hauler offerings, 11% more motorized products, and 43% more of both types of vehicles.
“The economy is going to continue to play a major role in the future, but I believe the industry will remain strong, and I also believe the SURV market will continue to explode,” said a member of the aftermarket supplier sector.
In addition, the poll indicated that the travel trailer market would continue to trip the hot button with consumers. Results showed:
• 58% said the travel trailer market would remain as strong as it has been
• 22% saw a decline from current robust numbers
• 20% were unsure where the market was headed
“Because travel trailer sales are so strong, it would be foolish to make any drastic changes to what is being done,” a manufacturer noted. “It is (our company’s) plan to wait for falling sales before trying to reconfigure the product offering.”
“Our customers tell us the only thing they are selling are towables,” an accessory supplier said. “The C’s are weak and the A’s are just dust collectors.”
Price and fuel efficiency were also considered keys in the overall towable market as the poll showed:
• 41% expect sales increases in super-affordable towable units
• 28% see movement toward lighter towables
• 12% anticipate more volume in mid-profile fifth-wheels
• 9% see hybrids gaining ground
• 3% answered “other”
However, an RV retailer observed that despite efforts by the RV industry to build lighter, more fuel-efficient towable units, tow vehicles still played a large part in bringing down gas costs. “Unfortunately, the RV business is dependent on Detroit to develop more fuel-efficient tow vehicles,” the respondent said.
In general, respondents felt that, as in past slow periods, the industry was working hard to keep abreast of consumer trends and was taking the steps to be properly positioned when the market rebounded.
“The industry as a whole will continue as it always has – in cycles,” said a member of the RV repair and restoration arena. “I think innovation will remain the key factor for successful vendors. This industry is responding to the current market quite effectively – using a time of lower sales to drive innovation and quality initiatives.”