It’s still early to know for sure, but it looks as if there won’t be a repeat of last year’s RV shipment bottleneck – at least not to the same extent. However, rumblings that manufacturers could eliminate a wage hike enacted last year to alleviate transport delays has created some concerns.
In 2014, a lack of transport drivers and a huge backlog on RVs awaiting shipment combined to create a bottleneck as units sat in transport yards for weeks at a time awaiting delivery. Then, a barrage of severe winter weather throughout northern Indiana – home to more than 80% of the nation’s RV manufacturing sector – made things even more difficult with delays extending up to two months or more.
How do things look today, just six weeks into 2015?
On one hand, the weather has been more favorable, certainly not as bad as last year, and there are more drivers than last year, although likely still not enough to keep pace. On the other hand, the nation’s recreational vehicle industry has been cranking out product at a rate that at least equals that of 2014. Every week, in fact, dealers and manufacturers’ reps attending consumer RV shows are reporting record crowds and robust sales.
So, ultimately, time will tell how things go.
“There will be delays, but it won’t be like last year,” said Dan Groulx, president of Elkhart, Ind.-based Classic Transport Inc., with transport locations in Elkhart as well as the nearby Hoosier communities of Goshen and Middlebury. “There’s still a driver shortage. There still will be a backlog. But we do have more drivers than we did last year, so it won’t be as bad.”
Carriers will be at their busiest at the end of February and the first part of March, and lasting at least through the July 4 manufacturer shutdown.
“It’s been a good start to the year. It’s already busier and we’re moving more pieces. We exceeded our January shipments by 16% over a year ago. We’ll also beat our February numbers, probably by 19%, and our driver count is up 30%,” Groulx said, pointing out that the increase in drivers at Classic did not come at the expense of other carriers. On the contrary, he added, as retiring Baby Boomers already enjoying the RV lifestyle are picking up part-time driving jobs after seeing notices posted by the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) and other RV organizations.
That said, Groulx, a member of the RV Transportation Coalition chaired by B.J. Thompson of Elkhart, Ind.-based BJ Thompson Associates set up last year by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) in response to the shipment bottleneck, voiced two concerns that could negatively impact carriers and transport drivers – one being rumors that manufacturers in some cases are eliminating the pay hike introduced in 2014.
The incentive, enacted to alleviate last year’s shortage of drivers and ease the bottleneck, was an immediate success, said Groulx, who doesn’t think it should be thought of as a temporary fix. If manufacturers repeal it, he said the industry would likely lose a good portion of its transport drivers.
“That’s a scary proposition,” he said. “We’ve built all this momentum and we’ve built up all this enthusiasm. It’s delicate, though. I hope we all learned our lesson. None of us want it to get that bad. We don’t want the dealers getting upset and we don’t want the customers getting upset.”
His other concern has to do with the anticipated growth in demand for motorhomes. “Some people are saying there’s going to be a 20% increase in motorhome sales,” he said, “but there’s only about 2% to 3% more drive-away drivers. So you can see the problem that’s coming at us.”
Carriers need to attract more drive-away drivers, said Groulx, and the solution is to make their mileage-based pay commensurate with tow-away drivers, who are paid more to compensate for the wear and tear on their vehicles. But the increase is needed, he insisted, if they are to attract more drivers to transport motorhomes.
Motorhomes needing to be transported to dealers are known in the industry as drive-aways, while towable units are referred to as tow-aways.