Opportunities and Challenges

The RV market is seeing historic highs in sales, production and popularity, priming the industry for growth
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Craig Kirby

Craig Kirby

Coming out of the Great Recession, the RV industry embarked on an eight-year growth trend, hitting an all-time high in units shipped in 2017. The 505,000 units shipped that year were more than double the recession low of 2009.

Since the all-time high, the trend of historic levels of popularity, sales and ownership has continued. In 2019, the industry shipped 406,000 units — the fourth highest total in our history and well ahead of our 10-, 20- and 30-year trend lines.

We’re optimistic about the future because of the diverse group of buyers entering the RV market and the strong interest from the millennial generation. Through Go RVing’s research-driven market segmentation strat­egy, we’ve been able to attract and embrace younger buyers who reflect America’s diversity of identity, interests and activities.

The attitudes and values of these new customers are injecting energy into the RV industry and driving the integration of technology and innovative designs entering the marketplace. According to data from Statistical Surveys, the share of RV buyers ages 25 to 44 has risen from 23 percent to 30 percent since 2015. That influx of younger owners has helped drop the average age of an RV owner from 50 to 45.

The $114 billion-a-year RV industry is healthy, and recent investments in new production capacity has manufacturers well-positioned to keep pace with demand and continue growing into the future. However, there are challenges that we’re working on to ensure sustained growth.

The first challenge is a byproduct of our popularity: Customers need more places to use their RVs to pursue their outdoors adventures. Private campgrounds have been expanding their inventories of RV sites and upgrading their properties to include popular amenities and services, and we anticipate this will continue in 2020. That’s good news, but more private and public development is needed.

To address a shortage of qualified technicians, the RVIA invested $10 million in the creation of an RV Technical Institute.

To address a shortage of qualified technicians, the RVIA invested $10 million in the creation of an RV Technical Institute.

Campground modernization and expansion in federal and state parks are at the core of the RV Industry Asso­ciation’s work with government policymakers and with our outdoor recreation partners. In recent years, we’ve been able to get hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for infrastructure projects in state parks, including campgrounds.

We’re making progress on federal lands, as well. As a result of our 2019 efforts, the National Park Service is undertaking its largest campground modernization and rehabilitation project in decades. Working through the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the RVIA has helped secure federal grants for recreation development in rural and gateway communities. Completing these projects and resolving the decades of deferred maintenance and infrastructure needs on public lands and waters will increase opportunities for outdoor recreation and provide much-needed economic opportunities in these areas.

Another significant issue is one we share with many industries: the shortage of qualified service technicians to provide repairs and maintenance. With RV sales reaching all-time highs, there has been a growing need for proficient, well-trained RV technicians. To tackle this critical issue affecting RV owner satisfaction, the RVIA board of directors approved a comprehensive, strategic plan and invested $10 million in creating the RV Technical Institute. Its mission is to increase the number of high-quality, trained RV technicians.

With the continued popularity of RVs, the industry realizes there is a need for more places to use them.

With the continued popularity of RVs, the industry realizes there is a need for more places to use them.

The institute has created a world-class training curriculum that has been standardized nationally to develop technicians who can diagnose and repair RVs and improve the RV consumer experience. Training is underway at our flagship facility in Elkhart, Ind., and will also be delivered nationally through authorized licensed partners.

RVs provide a unique platform for adventures that offer the freedom, flexibility and affordability for today’s buyer, adaptability for the future, and proven popularity across generations. We’re excited about the prospect of sustained growth into the future. 

Craig Kirby is president of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue.

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