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Area recreation vehicle firms say basic models selling well

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Sara Sendelbach and her fiance, Ron DeShetler, check out a camper at Coleman Sales & Service.

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Recreation vehicle enthusiasts haven't abandoned their hobby this year, despite high gas prices and a shaky economy, although their travel plans are vastly different from in years past.

Local camping, anyone?

A check with area sellers of RVs, both motor homes and those that are towed behind a car or truck, found steady sales and even some slight increases from last year. But buyers are leaning toward the more pragmatic than the luxurious.

"People are taking vacations still, but maybe they're not traveling as far," said Denny Oswalt, sales manager for All American Coach Co. in Sylvania.

That means sales of pop-up campers and travel trailers, known collectively as towables, are doing better than those of luxury motor homes, some of which cost $300,000.

"It's definitely a little tougher market, and gas prices have impacted it," Mr. Oswalt said. "This part of the country, the Rust Belt area, has been slow as compared to other parts of the country."

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Campers that can be towed behind cars or trucks are popular, and many are being taken to nearby destinations.

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Sales in the $14 billion industry were down slightly last year, but figures through May this year show a 15 percent increase in what manufacturers have shipped to dealers, said Rachel Parsons, spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Virginia.

"That's a good reflection of retail sales because dealers aren't going to purchase vehicles that are going to sit on their lots," she said.

Nearly 8 million households own RVs, a number expected to reach 8.5 million by 2010, the association said. The trade group members are relieved that fuel prices did not prove as large a detriment as many feared this year.

Jack Chalfin, sales manager for Coleman Sales & Service Inc. in Toledo, said customers are buying pop-up trailers that run from $4,000 to $14,000, as well as travel trailers that are 30 to 38 feet in length and range from $20,000 to $30,000.

"More people are buying these travel trailers and parking them at a campground all summer," Mr. Chalfin said. Sales are up an estimated 5 percent from last year.

More than in any other year, buyers are studying charts put out by manufacturers that show how much pulling each type of camper will decrease fuel efficiency of different types of vehicles, said Mr. Chalfin.

"They're still enjoying the RV industry for sure, but we are hearing a lot of 'How will it affect my gas mileage?'●" he said.

The answer? Perhaps a couple extra gallons per 100 miles for a driver of a sport-utility vehicle.

Jill Walters, of Walters Travel Trailers in Swanton, said her company is having a good year because many area residents, worried about gas prices and their jobs, are opting for towable vehicles that they are keeping close to home.

"The campgrounds are totally full around here, because a lot of families that tow their trailers have decided to camp them for the summer," she said.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.

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