RV sales decline amid high gas prices, rising interest rates and fading COVID fears

As with so many industries in a bifurcating economy, the RV market is diverging into a high-end segment largely unaffected by economic pressures and a lower end that’s bearing the brunt of rising prices.

“If you have $200,000 to put into a vehicle, the cost of fuel isn’t affecting you,” says Greg Drozd of EpicVans in Addison, which specializes in turning Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo vans into custom RVs.

But the bulk of the industry’s sales are tow-along campers purchased for $25,000 to $40,000 by middle- and working-class wage earners and retirees who are struggling with inflation.

“People buy more on monthly payments than on sticker price,” says John Healy, an analyst at Northcoast Research. “The market is still quite elevated. But compared to the last 18 months, we’re seeing sales cooling.”

Camping World said Aug. 3 that it sold 15% fewer new RVs on a same-store basis in the second quarter. CEO Marcus Lemonis told analysts the decline was even higher for other dealers. Camping World’s used-RV unit sales were up 4%.

“We’re having to work harder for that transaction,” he said. “We’re having to move people around. And in some cases, they’re having to move people to a lower-priced unit to ensure that affordability is right for them.”

The company wants to lower the average price of an RV on its lot by $1,000 next year.

The company warned in its annual report earlier this year that “the industry has seen an influx of new first-time participants because RVs allow people to travel in a safe and socially distant manner during the COVID crisis. These trends may not continue in the future.”

BUYING, NOW SELLING

Some owners, having scratched their RV itch, are selling.

Christopher Kennedy of Oswego bought a drivable midsize RV two years ago. He criss-crossed the country with his wife and four children, putting on 18,500 miles as they traveled between far-flung sites ranging from a prairie homestead in South Dakota to Disney World. The RV became a hub for family bonding and a mobile remote schoolroom for the kids, while Kennedy took Zoom calls from the road in his role as CEO of a small biotech company.

Now the kids are back in school in person, and the RV is gone.

“The kids are about to start hockey. We aren’t going to put the miles on it,” says Kennedy, who recently sold the Coachmen RV on Craigslist for $79,000, about $10,000 less than he paid for it.

Deryle Jensen, who runs a for-sale-by-owner website called RVWheelator.com, says he’s already seeing signs of a slowdown. “I watch the number of units that get advertised on RV Trader, Craigslist and others. The numbers are going up.”