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RV sales in Tri-Cities on rebound from recession

Sharon Hayes • Sep 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The recession put the brakes on the sale of recreational vehicles in the past couple of years. But RV dealers say folks looking to move beyond bad times are starting to boost the business once again.

“I follow trends quite closely, and for most parts of the country — this one included — there is a slow but steady rise coming back,” said Jeff Crowder, with Crowder RV Center in Johnson City.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association reports that wholesale shipments of RVs increased 16 percent from July to August. The RVIA expects a total of 146,200 RV units to be shipped by the end of this year and 185,800 units to be shipped in 2010, a 27 percent increase.

The RV industry credits the upswing to improved consumer credit and stable gas prices.

RV sales began falling in early 2007, before the official start of the recession in December that year.

In the past few months, dealers have seen business trending upward — but not for all recreational vehicles.

“We’re seeing an increase in sales of travel trailers and fifth wheels and pop-ups, but not in motorized homes. That’s still slow,” said Larry Stover, owner of A&L RV Sales in Johnson City.

RVs can range in price from $6,000 for a basic pop-up camper to $300,000 or more for a luxury motor home.

While sales of the expensive motorized versions have been depressed for some time, sales of travel trailers and pop-up campers have increased 10 percent to 15 percent at A&L RV Sales since last winter, Stover said.

He’s still waiting on an uptick in the motor home business. In that arena, he said, “it’s a buyer’s market needless to say.”

“Everybody in our industry says if we can hang in there until springtime, why, it should bust open in the RV industry. So that’s our goal right now,” Stover said.

At Crowder RV Center, Jeff Crowder said his company exited the motorized RV business two years ago and has sold only travel trailers and fifth wheel versions since then.

“We saw that (decline in business) two years ago, and after 35 years with Winnebago we called it quits with them. Thank God we are not a part of that business,” Crowder said.

He said 80 percent of people now registering new campers are buying either travel trailers or fifth wheels — both RVs are towed by a truck and are typically less expensive than motorized homes.

“Many people already have a truck sitting in their driveway. So for them to be camping just means purchasing the camper part,” Crowder said.

And for people who love to travel, investing in a camper can pay off in the long run by allowing them to take their accommodations with them, he said.

“For people who camp, it’s a lifestyle choice. Ultimately, depending on how much a person travels, it can become very cost effective,” Crowder said.

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