DENVER — RV dealers are hoping campers fitted with solar panels, USB ports and Wi-Fi signal boosters will entice younger buyers as the industry worries over slowing sales and higher prices from President Donald Trump’s so-called trade war with China and Canada.
“People nowadays want all the comforts of home,” said Jim Humble, president of Colorado-based Cousins RV dealership. “All your campgrounds have Wi-Fi now, but if you’re far away from the front, you want that signal booster.”
The RV industry has been aggressively targeting millennials for several years, hoping to tap into a group of buyers who’ve traditionally shied away from the lifestyle once associated primarily with retirees. New offerings are lighter and easier to use. Hundreds were on display this week at the Colorado RV Adventure & Travel Show, one of the nation’s largest.
Many of even the smallest RVs and trailers contain solar panels, entertainment systems and wiring to charge smartphones and tablets far from plug-in power.
“The extra amenities now, it’s like glamping,” said Ryan Daniels 38, as he browsed the show with his pregnant wife, Emily, 36. “We love every amenity. We don’t want to struggle too much.”
Daniels and his wife already have two young children, and with a third on the way they are looking to upgrade their current 28-foot RV trailer, possibly replacing it with Class C-style motorhome, which would allow them to drive and access the living spaces simultaneously.
Like many other parents with young kids, they said the safety and comfort of an RV compared to a tent is a primary motivator. “We’re not that rustic,” Emily Daniels said with a laugh.
RV dealers are hoping shoppers like the Daniels can help stave off what’s expected to be a down year for RV sales. Prices for raw materials, particularly metal, along with imported components, like microwaves, stoves and lighting, are rising due to the ongoing tariff battle with China and Canada. While most RVs are still built in the United States, their components often come from abroad.
Those higher prices may be offset, however, by large inventories of RVs built in the past year or so by manufacturers who’ve seen multiple boom years.
“The industry is kind of in a weird spot,” Humble said.
Overall, RV shipments are likely to drop about 5.4 percent this year, according to longtime RV industry analyst, Richard Curtin, who is a professor at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center. Curtin predicts about 453,200 RVs will ship from manufacturers to dealers this year, down from about 479,000 in 2018 and a high of 504,600 in 2017.
In a statement, RV Industry Association President Frank Hugelmeyer said slowing sales were inevitable due in part to the fact that so many Americans have bought RVs over the past decade. Other trends driving RV ownership have included lower gas prices and interest rates. Most RVs costing more than $25,000 qualify for longer-term loans because banks classify them as second homes rather than vehicles or trailers.
“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. “All relevant economic factors have been favorable for so long that slippage at some point was inevitable.”
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