The recreational vehicle industry exceeded projections for 2004, establishing a 26-year benchmark for shipments with 370,100 units delivered – including an 11.6% increase in Class A motorhomes – and outdistancing last year’s total of 320,800 units by a robust 15.4%.
Mac Bryan, vice president of administration for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), feels the strong numbers posted in 2004 have, in effect, “raised the bar” with regard to future expectations for the industry.
“The industry has found a new pace of growth,” he said, noting RVIA consultant Dr. Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan had projected year-end totals of 364,900 units. “We are now being reprogrammed as to what our level of expectation should be. We’re no longer going to be satisfied with saying ‘this was the best year since 1978.’ Now we are setting our sights on topping 1978.
He added, “Whatever way you look at it, 2004 was a great year.”
Of particular significance were the strong runs logged by the Class A motorhome and fifth-wheel sectors, which Bryan said will be key indicators behind a likely 20% increase in retail values over last year.
“I think 2004 will stand as a champion in terms of dollar value,” Bryan said. “The strong performances by Type A motorhomes will push the total value on the motorized side while fifth-wheels will have the same effect on the towable side. Fifth-wheels recorded their largest year ever – better than 1978. That sector has seen the best 10-year growth of any product.”
He added, “It’s likely that instead of a $12 billion industry, we will become a $14 billion dollar industry in 2004.”
Bryan noted there were several emerging product trends that “bode well for the motorhome sector,” including growth in diesel coaches, which accounted for 48% of Class A shipments for the year, along with a 25.7% increase in Class C deliveries.
“Type C’s had a great year,” he said. “I think the product saw some significant changes last year with the introduction of heavier-duty chassis for the longer C models. I think the new chassis attracted a different type of consumer to Type C’s.”
The over 5,000-unit variance between Curtin’s projections and final tabulations points directly to a fourth-quarter surge in conventional travel trailer shipments. Bryan said RVIA will be investigating further, but he suspects the boom represents an “anomaly,” triggered indirectly by overwhelming demand from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide units for victims of the hurricanes in the Southeast.
“We were pretty much on the money in our projections in all categories except conventional travel trailers,” Bryan said. “For the year, and for the fourth quarter, we were off by around 8,000 units.
“My feeling is that wholesale units for travel trailers during the fourth quarter were affected by FEMA. Our shipment numbers do not reflect FEMA units, but I heard that when FEMA’s demand outstripped the availability of the specially designed 8 by 32 (foot) trailers, they started buying units right off dealer lots. It’s probable that shipments rose because dealers were replenishing their inventories.”
Some of the other highlights from the report include:
* Motorized shipments grew 16% to 71,800 units vs. 61,900 in 2003,
* Class A’s were up 11.6% to 46,300 units from 41,500 in 2003.
* Class C’s posted gains of 25.7% on shipments of 23,000 units versus 18,300 the previous year.
* Towables were up 15.2% to 298,300 units from 258,900 in 2003.
* Travel trailer shipments grew 17% to 163,600 from 139,800 in the previous year.
* Fifth-wheels posted overall gains of 22% to 91,000 units from 74,600 in 2003.
* Folding camping trailers continued to decline, down 4.5% for the year to 34,100 units from 35,700 the year prior.
* Truck camper shipments gained 9.1% to 9,600 units from 8,800 in 2003.