Even with 2018 recreational vehicle shipments down 4 percent from the previous year, the mood among dealers at the 59th annual Fort Wayne RV and Camping Show was upbeat because the industry is expecting another year of strong sales.
The RV Industry Association’s survey of manufacturers for December found the industry ended last year with 483,672 wholesale shipments, down from 504,599 units shipped the previous year.
Though not record-setting, last year’s shipments were still strong in comparison with the 430,700 units shipped in 2016.
And the data should be considered in the context of the industry seeing “an all-time record for growth in 2017,” said Matt Rose, director of recreation vehicles for the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association and Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council.
With 10 RV dealers and 40 booth exhibitors, the show was expecting to attract about 12,000, which Rose said was unchanged from last year.
“Business is strong, and we anticipate it staying strong and we’re very optimistic heading into 2019,” he said.
Breaking the 500,000 shipments mark in 2017 with a 17 percent sales surge was a “tribute to all involved in our industry — from those who serve key roles on the manufacturing floors to the customers who visit dealer lots,” Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the association, said at the time.
Sales representatives at the show with Sullivan RV Sales and Service, which operates locations in Decatur and Fort Wayne, praised the industry’s manufacturers for continually upgrading their products but attributed the surge to high employment.
“It’s the economy. People are able to afford them, and they’re coming in and saying that,” Shari Grier said.
A decade ago the Great Recession forced many more area families to make do with a single income. It ended in the summer of 2009, and that year the RV industry shipped only 165,700 units.
Today, “because both the husband and wife work, they’ve got a lot of money, mostly, and they’re going to get into something like this,” said Henry Carder, motioning to an Aerolite travel trailer. “A lot of them have got a pickup truck.”
“The RV industry, if you look at what is going on up in Goshen and over in Nappanee and all these other places, they’re trying to hire more people to build more stuff, so they are selling,” he said.
“It seems like it’s supposed to be a good year for it,” Carder said. “They’re holding down the prime (interest rate) again. And with something like this with a good credit rating and 10 percent down, you can borrow the money and buy one of these and get a 20-year loan.”
Richard Curtin, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, who also is a longtime RV industry analyst, has projected its 2019 shipments will once again exceed the 2016 level.
In November he forecast 2019 shipments to fall within a range of 466,000 and 439,800 units, most likely coming close to 453,200 units, which would be 6 percent less than the number shipped last year, but still the third best year for sales.
“Income, employment, and household wealth will continue to exert a positive force on RV sales, though these factors are expected to be slightly less favorable in the year ahead,” Curtin said in a statement on the forecast.
“The mild downturn in shipments reflects the impact of higher manufacturing costs for RV producers, and RV dealers adjusting their inventories due to changes in inventory carrying costs,” Hugelmeyer said in the statement.
“All relevant economic factors have been favorable for so long that slippage at some point was inevitable,” he said.
“The good news is that RV manufacturers are already responding in ways that will set them up for future success, meeting a new generation of RVers’ demand for distinctive features and options.”
Facing worker shortages, Hugelmeyer said manufacturers have been innovating to increase productivity. And favorable population trends as well as increasing interest in outdoor recreation can be expected to help RV sales for several years, he said.