Bob Martin

Bob Martin is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the RV industry, according to a report in the Goshen News.

Martin, the recently named RV Group president for Thor Industries Inc., said as much during the monthly “Wake-Up, Goshen” Chamber of Commerce breakfast held Thursday (Feb. 9) morning at the Old Bag Factory. Martin was invited to speak at the event on his predictions for the future of the RV industry.

In beginning his talk, Martin first provided attendees with a quick timeline showing when the RV industry first hit a wall, and when it slowly began to climb upward once again.

“Back in 2003, 2004, 2005, the industry combined was in the mid-300,000 units, and these are retail sales,” Martin said. “So the industry was very high.”

Martin then showed how the industry began to drop precipitously beginning in late 2007 and continued its descent through 2008 and into 2009 before slowly beginning to inch its way back up in 2010.

“My employees at Keystone, they didn’t totally feel it, because our employment numbers went down from 3,000 to 2,000, and now they’re back up to 3,000. So for us, they haven’t been able to see this incredible downturn, because we picked back up within a year,” Martin said. “But it came at the expense of many other manufacturers. There are about 15 other manufacturers that went out of business during that period. People couldn’t get wholesale financing. They couldn’t get retail financing.”

According to the Goshen News, Martin said it is his opinion that the industry has now made it through the worst of the slump, and is slowly making its way back up, though at an admittedly modest pace.

“I feel it will be modest growth,” Martin said. “It won’t be these huge spikes, because in the years of the 300,000 units, it was the years of the housing bubble. And those days are gone. I think the industry will come back slowly and steadily, but it will be a more healthy industry.”

While shipments in the fall looked good due to the uptake in RV open houses throughout the industry, Martin warned that there are some factors that need to be watched that could affect future sales in the coming year.

Included among those factors to look out for is gasoline, he said, noting that current predictions indicate there will be a greater than 50-50 chance that we’ll see gas prices of $4 or more this year. Increased gas prices can increase cost of delivery of RVs to dealers, he said, and can impact the purchase and use of RVs by a public concerned with the cost of fuel.

Martin also noted that 2012 is a presidential election year, which can also have an impact on the industry.

“That can affect the business,” Martin said. “We’ll just have to see how that goes.”

On a brighter note, Martin pointed to increasingly positive signs in the credit, wholesale and retail arenas, as well as growing attendance numbers at recent RV retail shows.

“Overall, my outlook for the year is cautiously optimistic,” Martin said. “I don’t think it will ever boom back to where it was, but it could. But right now I feel great to be in the RV industry.”