High Gas Prices Not Slowing RV Industry

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 22, 2007; 1:28 AM

PERRY, Ga. -- With gas prices climbing, the turnout at a motor-home convention in the heart of Georgia this week is much better than most outsiders would expect.

About 20,000 motor-home owners and industry representatives have gathered at the Family Motor Coach Association's 77th International Convention to kick the tires of more than 1,000 enticing new models _ some costing more than $1 million and getting only 6 miles per gallon.

The recreational vehicle industry has been reporting record sales for the past five years, despite rising costs at the pump. Insiders credit a growing number of baby boomers who want the gas-guzzling vehicles for retirement and younger families opting for vacations closer to home for offsetting any potential losses because of soaring fuel costs.

"There's no better way to do it," said Bob Dalton, 70, who has owned a motor home for 30 years. "I can sleep in my own bed and I can eat my own food. I travel at my own pace. I go where I want."

Since the association last met in Perry in March 2005, the average price of regular self-serve gasoline has increased 21 percent, from $2.10 to $2.55 per gallon, according to the Lundberg Survey of 7,000 gas stations across the country.

So far, the higher fuel prices seem to have had little, if any, impact on Americans who vacation with recreational vehicles, which include simple pop-up campers, travel trailers towed by pickup trucks or SUVs and motor homes.

"If you can afford $600,000 for a coach, what's the difference between $2.50 or $3 per gallon," said Dalton, a military retiree. "It does affect me. I drive less and stay longer."

Winnebago Industries Inc., one of the nation's leading motor-home manufacturers, reported a 2.2 percent decline in net income and a 3.6 percent drop in revenues in its most recent quarter, saying rising fuel prices for shaking consumer confidence. But Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, noted that Winnebago makes only motor homes and that its earnings report was not a reflection of the whole RV industry.

The RVIA, which represents 550 manufacturers and suppliers, expects sales to dip a little this year, but 2007 still looks to be the fourth best in the past 30 years, Broom said.

He cited favorable interest rates, the success of an industry program to attract younger buyers, and a switch from flying to other modes of vacation travel since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"RVs are the most cost effective way to vacation for a family, even when you factor in the cost of fuel," Broom said, noting that travel expenses such as hotels, restaurants and rental cars can be avoided or reduced when using an RV.

Mark Tuggle, sales manager for Douglasville-based John Bleakley Motor Homes, Georgia's largest motor-home dealership, said younger buyers are a new phenomenon in RV sales.

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