It’s been a great year for the RV industry. Through the midway point of 2013, RV wholesale shipments tracked by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) climbed to 174,871 units—a 12.8 percent increase from the same point in 2012.
Shipments in motorhomes jumped from 14,576 units in June 2012 to 19,425 units in June 2013. Even towable trailers grew from 140,412 units to 155,446 units, a 10.7 percent bump.
“We approach every year cautiously optimistic,” said vice president of sales for Keystone RV, Jeff Runels, “This year has been a really pleasant surprise, we thought coming out of last year—which was, again, a pleasant surprise—we might level off.”
Beyond the numbers themselves is an economic impact that runs deep in Michiana.
Elkhart County, produces about 80 percent of all RVs made in the United States. President of the Economic Development Council of Elkhart County, Dorinda Heiden-Guss, explained that some 30 RV manufacturers have their corporate headquarters based out of Elkhart County, as do more than 100 industry suppliers.
June was the 18th consecutive month of increased RV shipment compared to the same month the year before. Runels said that as Keystone sees prolonged increases in sales it starts to increase numbers of employees and subsequently its manufacturing output.
Keystone, like most other RV manufacturers, saw across the board increases in product demand; from smaller, entry level units, to the larger and more upscale units.
“When you get a year like this, when you do have that uptick in sales it allows you to really analyze where that uptick is and try to take advantage of those new spots, those new buyers.” According to Runels, they actively watch and see what new buyers are interested in so they can accommodate those interests. That’s why in 2012 and the beginning of 2013 Keystone was able to add several new models.
Runels added that the company almost restored its employment to pre-recession levels by the end of 2012, but thanks to the added boom, they’ve reached almost record levels this year.
RVs can be spotted more frequently this year on roads and in parks, making RV manufacturers more confident about the recovering industry.
“The more RVs you see, the more confidence you get,” Runels explained. RV makers try to look two to three months ahead and expect sales and shipments to level off in the fall. The last two years Keystone RV in particular saw some carry over from peak summertime buying season into the fall months because of their local shows and open houses.
Heiden-Guss described the current fiscal environment as very “favorable.” She added that the RVIA expects the industry as a whole to gain momentum for the next nine or ten years. She hopes projected period of growth will allow Elkhart County to diversify beyond manufacturing and light manufacturing.
RV sales also tend to reflect the levels of disposable income throughout the country. Americans tend to buy non-essential and big-ticket items when they aren’t afraid of their financial futures. So as demand increases for RVs elsewhere in the country, Elkhart County reaps the benefits.
“When we can export product to California, Rhode Island, wherever, we receive those dollars into our existing market,” Heiden-Guss explained that the taxes on exported RVs are reinvested into improving the local community.
The continual growth and demand bodes well for the economic future of Elkhart County and the RV industry as a whole. In addition to the climbing sales numbers, businesses that supply the appliances, accessories and features of RVs are seeing demand for their products go up as well. The industry is a prime example of how a rising tide lifts all shifts.
Heiden-Guss noted how RVs are, and will continue to be so popular because they are iconic American items.
“Just to be able to have the freedom to go when you want, and stop and have the breaks when you want it's a whole different lifestyle, it's the freedom America is built on,” Heiden-Guss said. It’s also the type of sentiment Michiana is built on, “we're the heart of America, we're the mid-west and we make things, and we make things well and it's kind of neat to see the benefactors as you drive down the road, and it’s made here.