The overall tenor delivered by yesterday’s (Jan. 25) year-end industry shipments report from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) offered confirmation of the sector’s continued resilience and its ability to keep pace with shifting demographics and emerging consumer trends.
Highlighting the glowing report card were some significant benchmarks as 2016 marked the highest shipment total in more than 40 years with 430,691 units landing on dealers’ lots. The December tally, by itself, rated as the best December on record, a reflection of September’s Elkhart County RV Open House that has produced heavy backlogs during what traditionally had been a retooling period.
“We are definitely seeing a flattening out with regard to the selling cycle in the industry,” offered RVIA Senior Director of Communications Bill Baker. “The manufacturers are showing strong performance every month. There are no longer the highs and lows that we saw years ago and it’s resulting in continued strong growth.”
“The 40-plus-year high in shipments also gives credence to the fact that there is a tremendous desire for RV travel and the RV lifestyle. A key is that the industry is appealing to a broad swath of consumers. Our core market of families with children and the retiring Baby Boomers is still the driving force, but we’re seeing that the industry is also drawing in the Millennials. We’re really in a sweet spot.”
Baker attributed 2016’s upbeat report to a concerted effort by the association, its members and the dealer sector to meet the varying demands and desires from that broad consumer base.
“There are several factors behind the industry’s ability to resonate with consumers,” he said. “Go RVing remains a central part of the industry’s efforts to attract new people, constantly researching the market for messages that are going to resonate with consumers. Promotional efforts are also in step with the times, particularly the focus on digital space. GO RVing is staying on the cutting edge in terms of delivering its message.”
He added, “Go RVing puts people in the funnel, but the OEMs and the dealers are the drivers in selling those units. I think our member companies and the dealer body are doing great jobs of reaching out to consumers and are becoming much more sophisticated in attracting and retaining consumers.”
While travel trailers continued to be the heavy hitter in the marketplace — boosted by a broader selection of lightweight offerings — all categories outside of the truck camper segment posted gains for 2016. Travel trailer shipments grew 18% to 282,250 units for the year while overall towable shipments increased 15% to 375,950 units.
“There’s no doubt that travel trailers continue to be the backbone for the industry,” Baker noted. “They are a very versatile product and offer a lot of options that fit consumers’ different budgets, tastes and user intentions.”
Reflecting a movement by the public toward smaller, more agile motorized products, Class C shipments posted a 26.8% gain with 27,981 coaches delivered while the lower-volume Class B category rose 24.1% to 4,087 units. Class A coaches were essentially flat, up 3.3% year-over-year, while the overall motorized segment climbed 15.7% to 54,741 units.
“It was another strong year for motorhomes which continue to be a very popular product segment with consumers,” offered Baker. “In the Class B and C segments we’ve seen a lot of new chassis offerings that give the manufacturers the ability to build products that give consumers what they are looking for in terms of handling and fuel consumption along with a variety of floorplans and amenities that meet their different lifestyles.”
The strong year-end numbers — December’s report reflected a 17.6% upswing in shipments compared to a year ago to 32,970 units — underscore initial prognostications for an even more vigorous 2017. During the recent National RV Trade Show, RVIA reported that analyst Richard Curtin’s latest forecast called for shipments to top 438,000 in 2017.
“Given the strength of the industry coming out of 2016 and the upbeat reports from the early retail shows, all indications are that the industry will stay on an upward arc this year,” Baker said. “The dealers made sure that they are stocking product during the early show season and on into the spring selling season and manufacturers have responded by upping production capacity and providing quick turn-around times on product. It looks like it’s going to be another big year for the industry.”