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Published: Friday, 12/5/2008

RV industry steers bumpy road

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A towable RV features thermal-plastic walls, floor, and roof. A towable RV features thermal-plastic walls, floor, and roof.
BRIAN BOHANNON / AP Enlarge

LOUISVILLE - Under the gloom of plunging motor home sales and with travel trailers stacking up on lots, recreational vehicle makers and dealers at their national trade show this week tried to lift their spirits by joining in song.

"You gotta have heart," they sang at the kickoff breakfast, trying to stay resilient in an industry that's hit a big speed bump. The swooning economy and a credit crisis that makes it tougher to finance a six-figure purchase are keeping potential RVs off the road.

"These are ugly times," said Richard Coon, president of the Virginia-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. "I've seen lots of downtrodden faces, and for good reason."

RV companies showcased their newest models at the industry event Tuesday through yesterday, including hybrids and slimmed-down models touted as more energy efficient.

Through October, shipments from RV companies to dealers for the year fell 27 percent from the comparable period in 2007, according to the industry association.

At the height of the industry's upturn this decade, shipments totaled 390,500 units in 2006.

Towable RVs run between $4,000 and $100,000, according to the association.

A bar sink is part of the luxury appointments in a buslike motor home at the annual show in Louisville. A bar sink is part of the luxury appointments in a buslike motor home at the annual show in Louisville.
BRIAN BOHANNON / AP Enlarge

Standalone motor homes can start at around $41,000 for van-like "Type B" RVs, and bus-like "Type A" vehicles run as much as $400,000 for top-of-the-line models.

The summer's run-up in fuel prices also dissuaded potential customers. The buslike vehicles typically get between 8 and 12 miles per gallon; the van-like models can average as high as 20 mpg.

At the trade show, Winnebago Industries Inc. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. unveiled diesel-electric hybrid concepts expected to improve fuel efficiency by more than 40 percent.

But in the past 12 months, 45 of about 2,850 RV dealerships around the country have closed, according to the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, and manufacturers are closing factories.



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