I CROSSED THE pond this week, with our Nigel Donnelly, to take a look at the American recreational vehicle (RV) industry – the equivalent to our caravan and motorhome market.
I wanted to see how it’s faring, if it has bounced back from the financial troubles of 2008, and if there are any lessons we could learn from the products it produces and the way its customers use them to live their dreams. And with a newborn daughter, maybe catch up on some sleep.
We joined Milenco’s Nigel Milbank and David Johnston to make the trip. Milenco – which is a big name in the UK for manufacturing towing mirrors, ramps, steps and security products – is branching out into the US market, and is the only UK exhibitor exhibiting at the annual US National RV Trade Show from 27-29 November. It’s being held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville this year, and celebrates its 50th anniversary.
We arrived a couple of days early for the show, to give ourselves the chance to spend a night in an RV. Nigel and I drove a couple of hours from Louisville up to Cincinatti, where we picked up a 25ft C-Class RV from Cruise America from a 16-strong fleet. I’d driven one before, 30ft giant along a stretch of Route 66 over a 10 day stretch a little over 10 years ago. It was great to be doing it all over again.
“You’re in the heartland now,” said the charming proprietor of the franchise, George Armour, who’d just received the rigs back after a weekend of Thanksgiving getaways.
Nigel and I piloted the throaty, 5.4 litre Ford-based rig an hour further north to Buck Creek State Park. The noise from the windows, and negotiating single lane roads with the wider-bodied living quarters, take more getting used to than the simple switch to LHD, but within half an hour on the road we were both full of confidence and marvelling at the 80s tunes played on every station we tuned in to.
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We were the only ones on the campsite that night, which cost us $24, and we chose a prime pitch next to the beautiful lake, which is the park’s centrepiece for wildlife. The van was a five berth, which included a large overcab double bed and a rear double bed with a washroom alongside it. And a big fridge for our beer.
The van also housed a generator and a large propane bottle, and we made good use of the latter, leaving the ‘furnace’ ticking over through the night. Outside, temperatures dropped well below zero, and although the ’van’s single-glazed windows were covered in condensation by morning, we were pretty toasty inside. At least I was – Nigel took the overcab, which didn’t have a vent for the ducted heat, and grumbled about the cold, but I couldn’t hear him above the roar of hot air from the duct.
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Sadly, it was just a snapshot of the RV lifestyle, and we were both sad and left wanting to head further, but we had to return the ’van and dash back to Louisville for the RVIA show.
We only had a couple of hours to acclimatise on the first day, and pick up the bare essentials. Here are a few of the vital stats I learned:
- The show featured 63 manufacturers, and 222 suppliers
- The RV industry shifted a projected 277,300 units in 2012, and expects to grow 4.5% in 2013
- This figure includes some 180,200 travel trailers – or caravans in our language
- Fifth-wheel trailers count 68,800
- Type A motorhomes (the giant coaches) count for 15,400
- Type C motorhomes (overcabs) count for 10,700
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When you bear in mind that the UK market for new caravans is currently around 20,000 a year, and its motorhome market around 7,000, you get a sense of the scale of the hobby here.
Over the coming days I’ll be touring the show to discover exciting new kit and maybe one or two trends and differences.
Watch this space!
Rob Ganley, editor in chief, Practical Motorhome magazine