RV sales skyrocketed during COVID. What are owners doing now that gas is over $5 a gallon?

Recreational vehicles had a stellar year in 2021 as incarcerated Americans looked to nature as an escape from the COVID cabin blues.

RVs fit the bill well, industry leaders said, and sales skyrocketed.

A year later, as life is returning to normal for most and gas prices have surpassed $5 a gallon, RVs are holding their own, with sales dropping only slightly and not all due to a decline in customer demand. .

Some RVs with tanks that hold 100 to 150 gallons of fuel cost between $500 and $750 to fill up and get between 7 and 9 mpg.

But after a record year in 2021, with more than 600,000 vehicles ordered, 2022 was relatively strong. Orders show U.S. dealers are on track to sell about 550,000 RVs, said Monika Geraci, spokesman for the RV Industry Association of Virginia.

Supply chain issues have contributed to the slowing down of the RV market. Some motorhomes ordered this year will not be delivered to customers until 2023.

The trend is surprising to some, but not to those following the industry.

Recreational vehicles have been gaining popularity for 40 years. The vast majority of vehicles sold are towable motorhomes. Depending on size, trailer hitches or trailers that hook onto most trucks and SUVs use less fuel than RVs and RVs.

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Also motor boats

Powerboats also became increasingly popular during the pandemic lockdowns. Sales soared as people crave getaways. However, with many getting worse gas mileage than RVs and relying on shore-based pumps that charge even more per gallon, motorboats are losing momentum.

Motorboat sales have slowed more than RVs, after their historic growth in 2020 and 2021, due to the return of sporting events and concerts coupled with inflationary pressures, according to data from the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association. Boat sales in the first quarter of 2022 were down 20% year on year.

Lake Hopatcong Marine at Lake Hopatcong's Great Cove will have docks full of boats on June 20, 2022.

Lake Hopatcong Marine at Lake Hopatcong’s Great Cove will have docks full of boats on June 20, 2022.

“Not surprisingly, we are seeing sales begin to stabilize after extraordinary growth in 2020 and 2021 as competition returns for consumer spending,” said Ellen Bradley, the association’s senior vice president.

Still, current demand remains strong, said Ron Sorensen, owner of Lake Hopatcong Marine. Sorensen’s showroom on the edge of the Great Cove of the lake has only one unsold boat.

“We have four different boat manufacturers and they have all literally cut our supply chain in half,” he said. “They can’t get us boats.”

At Lake Hopatcong Marine, a fresh crop of potential new owners continues to seek and eat inventory, Sorensen said. Still, demand for weekend rentals has fallen to pre-pandemic levels. In mid-June in 2020 and 2021, Sorensen said his rental boats were booked for every summer weekend.

“Rentals have softened,” he said. “We were already sold out due to the years of the pandemic. Those were unusual years. Those were not normal years.”

The former home of Lake Hopatcong Marine in the southern tip of Jefferson Township and its new showroom on the hillside have seen unprecedented business since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former home of Lake Hopatcong Marine in the southern tip of Jefferson Township and its new showroom on the hillside have seen unprecedented business since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

RV sales slow – a little bit

At Alpin Haus, a motorhome dealer in New York and West Milford, 2022 was more challenging than in years past.

Customers are expressing concerns about gas prices, Wall Street’s fall into a bear market and inflation at its 40-year high. These issues have slowed RV sales, said Andy Heck, owner of Alpin Haus.

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Many customers choose to sit on the sidelines, Heck said.

“Impulse buying has stopped,” he said, adding that customers are “paying more attention to it.”

RV and boat sales were easier to make in 2020 and 2021, when the threat of COVID-19 made the prospect of air travel daunting, industry leaders said. During COVID, many people were looking for a safe vacation and escaped their homes, Heck said that pushed sales to new heights.

“There was a nice increase,” Heck said.

RV publications like GoRVing.com reported survey results showing that the most considered air travel and cruises were too risky. According to the polls, it wasn’t just fear of contracting COVID-19, they were afraid of being stranded, quarantined and not being able to go home.

Many of those fears still persist.

Justin Christ, sales manager at the Alpin Haus site in West Milford, said his customers have said so far that they don’t mind buying a new unit, especially those pulling their motorhome.

Still cheaper for a motorhome?

The price of gas over $5 a gallon has led RV owners to take shorter trips and stay closer to home.

“I don’t hear people say they’re going to the Grand Canyon,” Heck said. “They stay local.”

Geraci said that in addition to staying closer to home, RV owners stay in one location for extended periods to cut down on gas usage.

“When it comes to RVs, people adapt,” she said.

Jean Huber van Pequannock traveled three of the four weekends in May in her motorhome. She went to Cape May, Pennsylvania once (twice) and a trip to Maine awaits.

“Gas is a concern, but it hasn’t stopped us from traveling,” she said.

Despite rising gas prices, motorhome travel is still a cheaper way to go on vacation. Studies show that a typical motorhome holiday is 30% cheaper than driving and staying in a hotel and about 60% cheaper than flying and staying in a hotel.

The consumer price index for airline tickets from May 2021 to May 2022 is up more than 38%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, a Bank of America Institute study in May 2022 found that spending at airlines and travel agencies increased by 60% year-over-year.

Recreational vehicle campsites are always cheaper than hotels, and those who boondock (ie remote camping) can save even more.

Many companies started targeting campers during the pandemic. More turned to Harvest Hosts, where campers can stay overnight, such as wineries, breweries, ranches, and other sites of interest. There are thousands of these sites across the country, which have resulted in secondary businesses. There are companies that are adding solar panels to power RVs and satellite dishes to connect them to entertainment and Wi-Fi.

Some have made motorhomes their home. According to the RV Industry Association, an estimated million Americans live full-time in their RVs to avoid rising rent and home purchase costs. The trend led to the movie “Nomadland” last year.

Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, subscribe today or activate your digital account.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @fagan_nj

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Campers for sale soar during COVID, despite rising gas prices

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