RV industry boasts best year ever, crediting pandemic for boosting demand

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 5:30 PM EST
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ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) -RV industry leaders got together for their 9th annual RV Industry Power Breakfast at the RV Hall of Fame in Elkhart on Thursday.

It’s no secret that RVs bring in a lot of money here in Michiana, with some of the biggest players making their vehicles in our area.

While many hospitality and leisure businesses are taking hits during the pandemic, RVs seem to be doing better than ever.

Even as supply chain shortages and disruptions continue to make RV manufacturing more difficult, dealers are in no short supply of people who want to use one.

“We’ve been the beneficiaries of priorities in people’s lives changing,” said Winnebago Ind. CEO Mike Happe.

A KOA study shared at the conference suggests a new generation of campers could be in the market for RV travel with 14-million households camping for the first time in the past two years--more than half of them are Millenials or Gen Z’ers.

An economist backed up those numbers by pointing out how lifestyle changes in the Covid era are making RVs a more popular travel option.

It’s a shift manufacturers should be mindful of when building for the future.

“Smart about amenities to permit people to work away from home--access to internet, internet infrastructure, your network, and things of that nature--You’ll be ok,” said University of Maryland International Business Professor Peter Morici.

This year the RV industry isn’t just ok, it’s the best we’ve ever seen.

Oct. 2021 set the record for most shipments to dealers in one month at 57,971 units, while also pushing the total number of shipments on the year to the highest annual total ever, with projections of over 600,000 shipments by the end of 2021.

Plus, an equally historic number of people say they plan on RV’ing next year--roughly 72-million.

Manufacturers here in Michiana have to get creative amid supply chain issues to keep lots from going empty at dealerships.

“Finding a new way to get staples when our staple supplier doesn’t deliver. So we go to the big box stores and raid them,” said Forest River Pres. & CEO Pete Liegl.

Liegl earned this year’s Titan Award for bringing RV travel to millions of Americans throughout his career. Now the industry has the opportunity to reach more people than ever before, by catering to the next generation of RV’ers.

“We watched Covid bring a new, young, ethnically diverse set of buyers to our industry that we’ve been trying to reel in for years. Most people once they start don’t just give it up. If we can continue to continue doing the things that we’ve done great and also look to the things of the future, we’ve got a bright future for many many years,” said THOR Ind. CEO Bob Martin.

With more people taking up RV’ing during the pandemic, new variants like omicron could further solidify some of these consumer trends for the long term.

Experts are interested to see what trends stick, and which ones fade, once we start to put Covid in the rearview mirror. However, they don’t expect that time will happen soon.

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