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More American households – an estimated 7.9 million – own RVs today than at any time previously, according to the latest RV consumer demographic profile compiled by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center.
“It clearly confirms the growth of the marketplace that we have been witnessing for the last three or four years,” said Robert M. “Mac” Bryan, vice president of administration for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
The 2005 study – the seventh commissioned by RVIA about every four years since 1980 – showed that 8% of U.S. households owned a traditional RV last year. That’s up from 7.6% in the last survey conducted in 2001 and it’s 58% higher than when the first survey was taken in 1980.
“Growth rates like this show that the trends are very positive,” Bryan said.
The scientific study, which included many of the same questions from past surveys to provide consistent comparisons, was culled from 3,000 telephone interviews nationwide between January and June 2005.
“The study indicates the future is pretty good for the RV industry,” said Carl Pletcher of Elkhart, Ind., a member of RVIA’s Market Information Committee and manager of business development for supplier Thetford/Norcold, Ann Arbor, Mich. “That’s pretty encouraging. I’ve been through some of the craziest things in this industry – the gas crunches in the ’70s and the high interest rates in the ’80s. I’m as optimistic about the RV industry as I’ve been in 30 years.”
According to the study, Baby Boom generation buyers are the primary reason for the increase in ownership, although the highest rate of ownership – albeit a declining one – remains the 55-64-year-old category.
Overall, the median age of RV owners remained 49, the same as found in the 2001 survey. Fully two-thirds of current RV owners said they intend to purchase another RV, and among non-owners more than 15% expressed an interest in buying one.
“The strong appeal of the RV lifestyle is reflected in the widespread intentions of current and former owners to purchase another RV as well as by the purchase intentions of first-time buyers,” according to the study’s executive summary.
Although two-thirds of current owners purchased a used RV, traditional dealerships’ share of the used market increased to 21% from 14% in 2001.
The study found that while nearly 25% of RV-owning households have had their RVs for 10 years or more, the average length of current ownership dropped to 6.6 years from 7.4 years in the 2001 study.
The declining length of ownership is a positive, maintains economist Richard T. Curtin, director of the University of Michigan’s research center, because it’s likely due to the ever-increasing variety of choices that RV buyers have.
“In the past several years we’ve brought a lot of new people into the market,” Curtin said. “They end up experimenting. When you first purchase an RV, you are not going to be quite sure what features you are likely to find most important. It results in a kind of churning, although there are many very satisfied RVers who keep them for longer periods of time.”
Bryan feels this trend is a positive indicator for future sales. “They are finding new features attractive enough to want to buy another,” Bryan said.
Curtin told RV Business that nothing in the survey contradicts his expectation that the RV industry will ship 500,000 units in the near future. In 2004, about 370,000 RVs were shipped by manufacturers to dealers.
Consistent ownership rates among age groups bode well for reaching the 500,000 mark, Bryan said.
“As the larger age group – the Baby Boomers – enters the period of the highest rate of ownership, the sheer numbers demographically are what encourage Dr. Curtin to say that we could easily see 500,000 shipments in the near future,” Bryan noted.
Among the survey’s other findings:
• Ownership of conventional travel trailers and fifth-wheels posted the largest gains over 2001 – up 4.2% and 3.7%, respectively.
• The same percentage of households owned motorhomes in 2005 vs. 2001 – 1.9%.
• Ownership of folding camping trailers fell 1.8% from survey to survey.
• The average income of all RV owners was $68,000 in 2005, reflecting an increase of 13% over 2001.
• A total of 41% of RV-owning households had children under 18 living at home.
• The largest increase in ownership was posted by those under 35, rising to 5% from 3.2% in 2001. Among those 55 and older, the ownership rate declined to 8.5% from 9.8% four years ago.
• RV owners use their vehicles an average of 26.3 days a year.
• The more frequently an owner uses an RV, the more likely he is to buy another one, especially a new RV.
• Former owners were much older than current owners, indicating they had given up their RV because of their advancing age.
• The primary reason former owners cited for selling their units was that they didn’t use them enough to justify the cost.
• Two-thirds of current RV owners plan to purchase another RV, with one-third expecting to buy a new RV.
• Combining current and former owners and new market entrants, some 23% of households intended to purchase an RV in 2005.