My Top 5 Predictions for the Future of the RV Industry

author image

February 3, 2009

If the past is any indication about what happens during a major recession one of the first things to go among consumers is discretionary spending. The Saturday night restaurant ritual, the new RV or boat, the vacation home or the 7-day cruise all get placed on the back burner. This is extremely apparent in the RV Industry right now. RV manufacturers are going out of business, RV dealers are closing their doors, and as the news media continues to point out one of the highest unemployment rates for a county is Elkhart County in northern Indiana, the hub of RV manufacturing.

The housing industry meltdown, subprime lending, collapse of the auto industry and corporate greed all contributed to the current state of our economy resulting in lower consumer confidence and spending.

So where does that leave the future of the RV industry? This industry has endured many hardships in the past; recessions, high interest rates for consumer lending and dealer floor plan payments, the high cost of fuel and it has always came back stronger than it was before. To come back stronger than it was before this time will require innovation, change and forward thinking on the part of its leaders in all sectors of the industry.

Here are my top 5 predictions for the future of the RV industry:

5) The weak will not survive. Whether it is a manufacturer, dealer, campground or aftermarket supplier only the strong who are committed, determined and willing to change with the times will survive this current downturn. It will require downsizing operations, inventory, and making good solid business decisions. Back to the basics! In the long run this will make the remaining companies better, stronger and more adaptable to change.

4) RV manufacturers will need to improve on the quality of RV’s. As a society Americans are more and more demanding that the products they purchase are of the highest quality. This is especially true of major purchases. Modern technology focuses on better quality products, from cell phones and computers to automobiles and RV’s. Some RV manufacturers, not all, need to address the issue of higher quality in its product offering to remain competitive in the future RV market. The current economic crisis will help weed some of the poor quality products out. This would bring a question to mind, if it ever happened should we as consumers allow, or should I say accept, RV’s made in China into the US marketplace?

3) Along with better quality built in the product comes better warranty and better customer service. I have experienced RV manufacturers with outstanding warranty programs and others who barely stand behind the product it builds. The same holds true with customer service, but a large part of customer service is dependent upon the RV dealer selling the manufacturers product. The days of only servicing a customer’s unit if they bought it from me mentality are over. If RV dealers want to stay in the future RV marketplace they better show it in how they treat and service the customers who walk through the door. Think about it, if you had a bad customer service experience in the past do you return to that company to do business in the future?

2) Borrowing money as we know it will probably never be the same again, and that is a good thing. Banks that loan money need to be more responsible. I won’t get into my take on us, the taxpayers, bailing some of these institutions and people out. Loaning more than a property is worth, loaning to consumers you know cannot afford to repay the loan, overextending borrowers and allowing consumers to be so upside down in an auto or RV loan are all poor business practices. You can see where it got us now. A reputable RV dealer builds its business on repeat business. You sell a customer their first RV, say a pop up, treat them fairly, provide good customer service and they will return to that dealership when it is time to upgrade. The average RVer will own four or more RV’s in their lifetime. A dealership cannot stay in business or remain competitive if the consumer finances way more than the RV is worth and cannot sell or trade it in the future. Criteria for lending money has already tightened and will stay that way in the foreseeable future. RV dealers who want to get their fair share of the market will need to be more responsible when it comes to making sure consumers will in fact be future repeat customers.

1) Whether you like it or not everything is going green. I don’t know how anybody cannot realize this, but RV manufacturers especially need to take heed. I grew up during an era of muscle cars; where horse power and speed were the only things that were important. I still have that old school point of view, but when it comes to the RV industry of the future, bigger is not going to be better. RV manufacturers need to downsize! Smaller, lighter and more aerodynamic travel trailers and 5th wheels will be in demand. Not only for better fuel efficiency but quite possibly because there won’t be any vehicles manufactured that are capable of towing heavier models in the future. Motorized RV’s will be smaller in size with more fuel efficient power plants capable of burning alternative fuels or running off renewable energy. The focus will shift from models with 5 slide outs to streamlined models capable of 15 mpg or more. My question to you is, after owning a larger RV with a slide out or multiple slides, whether a trailer or a motorhome, could you see yourself downsizing RV’s in the future?

The 2008 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. rolled out some promising RV products for the future. This lets you know that there are innovative forward thinkers in this industry, poised to come back strong when the economy rebounds. The RV industry may be down but never count it out. As difficult as the current conditions are it is quite possible that that will be a main factor in this industry being stronger in the future.

So it is my thought that with strong companies, improved quality, better customer service, reputable lending and downsized RV’s the future outlook for the RV industry will be successful and strong.

What are your thoughts?

Happy Camping,

Mark Polk

RV Education 101

RV University

Leave a Reply


  1. Barb O'Neil

    I could not see purchasing an RV made in China anytime in the near future. Most products made in China (which seems to be almost everything these days) falls apart in the blink of an eye. If you want quality BUY AMERICAN!



  3. Stanely Nelson

    I have been looking at 2009 prices at some RV parks. These people are driving people away and hurting the industry

  4. Barry Zander

    We invested in a 28-ft Bigfoot trailer two years ago for our full-timing adventure.. Aluminum frame, solid wood cabinets, insulation and enclosed tanks. List price: $64,000. Bigfoot Industries shut down a couple of months ago, probably because not enough RVers are willing and/or able to pay the price of quality. I don’t know how Airstream is doing, but it can’t be easy.

  5. Pingback: Nick’s Blog » Blog Archive » The RV Industry And Big Box Stores

  6. Joe Whitfield

    The only problem I have with the makers of RV’s is that they may lean too much towards the “fit as many as we can into the trailer” mode. We have a ’94 Dutchman, we have been looking for the last couple of years for a new trailer.

    Problem is that those we seem to like always have those bunk beds! There’s just 3 of us, wife, me and the Lab. Plus they don’t seem to be as well laid out as the one we have. I guess the problem is finding one that’s big enough for us but too small for someone in the family to borrow.

    Those dealers who have poor repair shops or those with an attitude will not last. The one near the campground we go to most often (here’s a plug, Lee’s RV) have been staffed with some of the better people I’ve ever delt with, and we didn’t buy the trailer from them.

  7. Vulpine, we’ll have to agree to disagree about Fleetwood. Our experience with the 1998 Pace Arrow Vision we bought when we began fulltiming was horrible, and Fleetwood’s lack of service after the sale was worse.

    But I never mentioned Monitor, I mentioned Monaco, just for the record.

  8. I think improved quality and service are the biggest issures. There will still be a need for the smallest to largest units.

  9. TXBrad

    Agree w/ Dwight, America needs to scale back & demand will drive big/vrs small RV’s
    Everyone who wants to campRV , needs to buy what meets their needsbudgets use. Just like the new Plastic 2 seater lawn motor cars will sell to a few ( for what ever reason). How many Caddy Hummers are on the road ?
    Are NASCAR drivers ( Say Jimmy Johnson) going to drive a “class B Sprinter ?
    I know a guy who makes 3 million $ / month from gas & Oil ( w/ prices low). Does he worry about 5$ fuel, 4-5 mpg on big Class A ???? I doubt. Sure some will scale down, some not continue RVing. etc. Just like carspickups.
    Service will shake out. If, a shop dealer is good, they will make it. W clubs, blogs, magazines, word gets around. Also, Camping World is getting into sevvice.
    Our small town has more banks now than schools & super markets all have banks. Wonder why banks are in trouble ? How many bank w/ computer?
    TX Brad

  10. riggarob

    As long as I have the money, and wherewithall, we’ll drive a 42′ class A. Now, don’t forget, that most Euro diesels don’t meet USA enviro standards. To each his own. Robbie

  11. Drew Mueller


    Thanks for your valuable remarks and opinions about the industry….I share your optimism. I could concievably see myself in a smaller, more efficient model- but that’s what I gave up to get our new class A (so we could spend more time with grandkids and kids-and so everyone would have a proper place to sleep without converting everything in sight). As the late Gaylord Maxwell expressed- you’ll eventually run full circle.


  12. When your referring to Green, 15 mpg is not even a beginning for me.
    We get between 20 and 25 mpg on diesel with our Freedom II Leisure Travel Van, which is the Dodge Sprinter/Mercedes based unit. It is a streamlined unit and good for travelling about. I am sure many more innovations can greatly improve this as well.

    How about improvements to what is being towed and how it is being towed incorportated into the overall unit.

    Let’s also look to New Zealand, Australia and Europe for RV improvements – they have been dealing with quailty and the green issue for some time – hey how about a Toyota based diesel/electric unit.

  13. Thomas Becher

    I for one would like another slide in the bedroom (we have one about 12 ft) when snowbirding a little more room is nice. We came to YUMA from WI and did not extend the slide and that extra approx 36 sq ft is wonderful. I don’t want to have to move cushions and stuff to make a bed, then a couch etc. I now have a 27 ft fiver up from a 24 ft C. We spent one winter in Florida in the C and the moving around room just wasn’t there. To go GREEN get a diesel I get 50% more mpg with my duramax then I did with 1 2004 Ford F250 gas and double the mpg of my Ford E350 gas C. Same liquid gal much more mpg.

  14. Diane

    My husband (Steve) and I have discussed whether we will ever purchase another rv and when we do it will be smaller than our 34′ Adventurer that we have now. Our rig now is nice and we love it but when we consider another one it will be smaller, somewhere around 30′ or smaller. Lots of room is nice but not really needed with our lifestyle, which has been fulltime in an rv for 12 years now. We travel for Steve’s work and have found that a smaller one would be more economical and easier to get around in not to mention sometimes easier to find a site for. As far as slideouts, we have discovered that one in the Living Room area would be enough. We look forward to many more years of traveling and enjoying this lifestye with a great quality coach that is everything we need and not one inch more than necessary.

  15. Dwight

    Yep, recessions are Mother Nature’s way of eliminating the inefficient from the marketplace and that is just what is happening. Whether you are providing a product or service or even the government, if you don’t get lean and mean and provide what the market wants at a price they are willing to pay, then BYE!

    For the past several decades we have tolerated the ineffecient, the greedy and just plain stupidity in the marketplace. A severe recession is long overdue!

  16. Continuation on my response to Nick Russel:

    I also have to argue on your negative comment about Monitor. Prior to buying the Pace Arrow, my parents and I owned a 19′ Monitor, and loved it. Again, due to operator error more than any inherent flaws, the few problems they had (primarily tires blowing out) were relatively minor. My father never did get the idea that you needed more than 35psi in the trailer tires on his specific model, despite the owner’s manual recommending 60psi.

    Then again, he had to replace the air shocks in the back of his Cadillac tow vehicle about every two years because he couldn’t hook up the load-levelling hitch correctly. The only time the shocks didn’t have to carry the load was when I hitched it up for him.

    I’d say any RV that could hold up for years of abuse by him can’t have been all bad.

  17. Pat De Esposito

    Smaller will be better folks. Get ready for it, when gas goes to five dollars and up a gallon. It will happen! My little four-banger Ford pickup gets over 19 mpg pulling my little Scamp trailer. We can all get by with a lot less than we think we need. Let’s leave some of our non-renewable fuel resources for the next generation.

  18. Mike Hammer

    I also in the last two years retired and upgraded to a 30 ft travel trailer. Some of the points were what determined who we bought it from. The one we decided against is now out of business. We picked the one that over the years we always were able to get help and parts from even though the previous trailers and motor homes were bought from private parties. The only way I would down size would be if I ended up by myself and then not so sure.

  19. In response to Nick Russel:

    I have to admit I have no experience with any of the four brands he mentioned as “highest quality.” However, I have to argue that in my own experience, the 1985 32′ Pace Arrow by Fleetwood my parents had was a fairly reliable rig on the road; doing a 3-month all-western-states tour with no significant breakdowns and living on for 15 years taking twice-yearly camping trips around the southeast. The biggest issue seemed to be more the fault of the owners (never fully understanding the chassis and suspension) rather than poor quality as Nick clearly implies. In all honesty, the more a rig is used (properly) the longer it’s likely to last.

    If you want my opinion, Fleetwood shouldn’t have nearly the junk reputation some other brands have earned. The problem today is: How can a manufacturer build a quality product today without pricing it out of the target market?

  20. Steve Bernard

    I am a member of Bounders United and can tell you, having owned 17, class A’s,
    that the Fleetwood products and service are excellent and I finally decided to only purchase Fleetwood after owning Swingers, Holiday Ramblers, Explorer, Winnie Brave, Winnie Chieftan, Winnie Elandan, 3 Fleetwood Pace Arrows,
    3 Fleetwood Southwinds, Etc, Etc. I recently purchased a 2008 Bounder 35E/ Ford chasis that is my first new RV and the quality, price and service has been simply excellent. You can be sure that Fleetwood will continue to give it’s best effort to improve it’s products and stand behind them, as they have done for so many others and for me. It comes down to what you perceive to be the best product, so do your homework and drive your dream come true.

  21. Vegasdan

    My wife an I are heading out to full time by this time next year. We’ll pay cash and get what we want (class A), but as far as making do with something small- forget about it.

  22. We are full-time RVers, but it’s due to work. Hubby is catastrophe insurance adjuster, and when we get to a storm, we’re there to work. We have to have the space. We have a Carriage Carri-Lite with 5 slides. Hopefully this will last until retirement within the next few years. The dealer has so much turnover, that the last person to make you a promise won’t be there next time you call.

    Actually do love the Carr-Lite, but like anything, we do need some warranty work. It’s difficult when you are fulltime.

  23. Michael Brown

    Like John I’m retired and we just upgraded in June of last year from our pop-up to a Coachman Captiva T/T with slide. We decided to pay cash and actually saved about 1/3 on the price of the coach, with the dealer having to order it for us. We would like to have a 5th wheel, and have noticed some manufactures are reducing their weights by a substantial amount. It appears that the road ahead will be a long and hard one for the RV Industry, but the strong will definately survive. We may not get to go out as often as we would like but we will go out when we can.

  24. Big Bubba

    I wish there were more folks like John around refuing to face up to the fact there will be changes in our lifestyle. Then there would be a market for my Safari Sahara, and I could downsize to something on a Sprinter chassis.

    All of your points are good, Mark. I would like to add, we need to see a change in attitude of many park owners. I hope we will see attrition there too, and the good owners and managers will do well.

  25. John

    I am older, retired and have no intention of buying another RV. I will keep my 30 foot 5th wheel ’till he++ freezes over! And as long as it holds up my 2000 F-250 diesel will keep right on towing it! I haven’t hit 100,000 miles yet and have been told I should get 250-300,000 miles out it. The point is: I am NOT going to let the government force me to make a change I don’t want. This “green” crap and “global warming is just so much crap! Tell me about global warming as I sit here in KY freezing my buns off!

  26. Richard

    I believe there are really 2 parts to this industry. 1-The campers &2-the RV’ers. The campers will survive but the rvers might not. Campers have always been frugal while you can’t say the same for the rver’s. The big rigs are bueatiful but they are not economical and that will do them in.

  27. Johnnie Noles

    “The days of only servicing a customer’s unit if they bought it from me mentality are over.”

    I always thought the most important question should be “Where will you buy your NEXT RV?” Instead of “Where did you buy this RV?

    A few years ago, I needed a propane refill and the service desk sent me out back. There a group of technicians were playing cards. When I asked for a refill, one of them replied “Fill it yourself!” They all thought that was really funny and continued playing cards until finally, one of them left the game and seemed to be doing me a huge favor by refilling my propane tank. If the service desk had told me that the guys were at lunch or on break, I would have come back later but every thing that dealer did for the customer seemed to be a huge effort and I dreaded even visiting the dealership. They also kept a unit I had bought from them for six weeks of the peak camping season while “ordering parts” to repair a warranty problem related to leaks. The service advisor would not return my calls and (I swear!) hid from me when I went to the dealership looking for him.

    That RV dealership is now out of business and good riddance!

  28. Chuck

    I recently went back to a large RV dealership that I used to work at. It was dead. Out of about 50 techs, service writers, ect. that worked in the shop it’s down to 8 now! I couldn’t believe it. It’s always been a booming business.

  29. Gary Hollmer

    Good posting and responses. Having had a couple of Winnebago Class “A”‘s and having driven many brands as a transport driver, I would agree with Nick Russell except that I think Fleetwood products quality has increased in recent years. We currently have a Dodge diesel pu with an Arctic Fox 5er. Very comfortable and easy to drive. We miss our diesel pusher except for the mtce Coach had to go to dealer, chassis had to go to Freightliner, Cat engine to Cat dealer, and transmission to Allison dealer. We finally found a Detroit Diesel/Allison shop that would do most of the mtce.

    To Nancy, I think you will see Winnebago coming out with some interesting fuel efficient and smaller RV’s more in line with Europe’s offerings.

  30. Nancy,

    I really think this is what you will be seeing in the near future. RV manufactureres are aware that today’s RV market is leaning more towards the family unit and the need to improve fuel efficiency is evident across the board. Manufacturers were introducing models in Loisville that advertise 14 & 15 MPG with sleeping arrangements for up to six people.

  31. How about a few small gas-efficient RVs on the market that will actually comfortably accommodate a family of 5 or 6? There are tons of models with big walk-around double beds and private suites for elderly couples purchasing a rig, but when you look for a family-oriented model that uses space efficiently and includes twin beds or twin bunks, the pickings become pretty slim – unless you’re willing to haul a super-huge gas-guzzler model.

  32. When I do a seminar on fulltiming at an RV rally or the now defunct Life on Wheels, I am often asked for suggestions on RVs to buy.

    I have always recommended four brands, based upon the quality of their rigs and their history of customer service. Those companies are Tiffin, Heartland, Newmar, and Winnebago. When asked which companies I would not buy from, Fleetwood has always topped my list. Having been Fleetwood owners, we know just how poor their quality and customer service is. Monaco was another company I could not recommend.

    As I look at the companies who are hanging in there in these tough times, and which ones seem to be going by the wayside, I see that the same ones I have always been comfortable with are still cranking out units, and the ones who I have felt were problematic, are now going or gone.

  33. just around my way ,there was a pc on the news that a family lost there home. so they scraped up enough money top get into a rv till they figure out what will the future bring them. maybe more folks in need can do sumthing like that. just a thought. like mark said about the rv industry, only the strong will pull thru.