RV sales growth could be good sign for marine industry

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Recreational vehicle sales and shipments are picking up as credit criteria continue to loosen, something that could bode well for boating because the RV industry is often viewed as an indicator of what’s to come in marine trends.

The industry says its focus on the 30-to-49 age group also has paid dividends, with younger families entering the market for towable RVs attached to pickups or hitched to other vehicles.

Led by sales growth for towable RVs and pricier standalone motor homes, RV makers expect to ship more than 300,000 units to dealers' lots this year for the first time since the Great Recession battered the industry in 2008 and 2009, according to an Associated Press report.

It's a big turnaround from 2009, when shipments sank to 165,700 units amid weak demand and dried-up credit that left dealers' lots filled with the hulking vehicles. Some manufacturers closed. Those that survived cut their workforce.

Employment across the industry has rebounded, and consumers who once picked small, no-frills travel trailers, dubbed "recession trailers," are trading up or buying larger, pricier RVs.

"We're back to a more normal market, where people are stepping up and buying nicer-equipped travel trailers," said RV dealer Debbie Brunoforte, who has logged her best post-recession sales year at her lots in Phoenix and Mesa, Ariz.

Shipments from RV manufacturers to dealers — a key measure of consumer demand — are expected to reach 316,300 units in 2013, up nearly 11 percent from last year's total of 285,749, the AP reported the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association saying Tuesday on the first day of the industry's trade show in Louisville, Ky.

Easier credit is helping to fuel the comeback as dealers obtain financing to fill lots and consumers get loans to drive away with RVs bound for campgrounds or tailgates.

"It's back at a point where it's not too easy, it's not too tight, it's about just right," Doug Gaeddert, a general manager at Indiana-based RV maker Forest River Inc., told the news service.

Standalone motor homes, which took the biggest hit from the recession, also are showing signs of a comeback. Through October, motor home shipments for the year were up 36 percent from the same 10-month period last year, the RVIA said. Shipments for towables were up 10 percent, compared with a year earlier.

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