According to the 2018 RV Industry Profile research by the RVIA (RV Industry Association), the RV market has historically been cyclical in nature, but with a sizeable, potent mix of consumers spanning several generations who have an intense interest and preference for RV travel and camping, the industry is poised to rise to even higher levels in the very near term.
In 2018, RV wholesale shipments in the USA went from a record-year of 504,600 units in 2017 to 483,700 units, which is still the second-highest on comparable record. It marked the first time since 2009 that the RV market declined year-over-year. In that period, the RV industry saw its longest period of sustained growth, climbing from 165,700 units in 2009 to 504,600 nine years later, an incredible increase of 204.5 percent.
In examining the record of RV wholesale shipments back to the 1980, the annual totals rose to peaks for several years, then fall briefly to valleys before beginning the next climb. But over this 38-year historical record the trend line is persistently ascending. In the midst of the shorter cycles between highs and lows, RV consumers and their purchasing decisions are being impacted by many dynamics – the stage of their life, personal financial situations and outside economic factors, such as wages, interest rates, employment, and a host of other influences.
When viewed in total, the continuous climb to higher wholesale shipment totals over the long term is evidence of the deeply held, aspirational preference consumers have for RV travel and camping.
RV ownership provides consumers with the ability to travel when and where they want, to spend time outdoors pursuing their favorite activities and most importantly, to connect with family and friends. It is this strong preference consumers have for RV travel and camping that bodes well for the industry in the future.
The RV industry will also be boosted by a diverse market of consumers that includes Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials reaching ages that traditionally have the highest rates of RV ownership.
Baby Boomers have driven the RV industry expansion since the 1990s. Over the coming years, RV sales will continue to benefit from this generation as well as Millennials. And those two groups represent a substantial amount of potential customers. The number of consumers between the ages of 55 and 74 will total 79 million by 2025, 15 percent higher than in 2015, and the number between age 30 and 45 will total 72 million by 2025, 13 percent higher than in 2015.
The impact of younger buyers on the RV market is already being seen as they helped drive the most recent expansion of the RV market. Data from Statistical Surveys, Inc. collected on RV retail registrations found that from 2015-2018, the share of RV ownership by age range increased in the younger age brackets while rates remained level or decreased somewhat in older age ranges. The share of RV ownership for those aged 35-44 increased from 18.42 percent in 2015 to 20.75 percent in 2018. For those aged 25-34, it rose from 5.03 percent to 8.10 percent. Even the youngest age range of 18-24 saw a gain of 0.15 percent to 0.37 percent. For those in the 45-54 and 55-64 age ranges, the ownership level held steady: while it dropped slightly for those age 65-74.
Data from Statistical Surveys, Inc. collected on RV retail registrations found that from 2015 – 2018, the share of RV ownership by age range increased in the younger age brackets. RV ownership for those aged 35-44 increased from 18.42 percent in 2015 to 20.75 percent in 2018. For those aged 25-34, it rose from 5.03 percent to 8.10 percent. Even the youngest age range of 18-24 saw a gain of 0.15 percent to 0.37 percent.
This strong interest in RV travel and camping among younger consumers is confirmed in Go RVing’s Future-Ready Research of Millennials, rolled out in summer 2018, showing that RV ownership has tremendous appeal among this cohort. The research reports found that among Millennials:
- 53 percent are interested in buying an RV
- 26 percent call themselves highly-likely RV buyers
- More than half (55 percent) wish they had an RV
These strong purchase intentions correspond with a study Go RVing conducted with Nielsen in 2016 focusing on the demographics and psychographics of prospective RVers across age ranges and ethnicity. Among prospects surveyed, more than half have considered renting an RV. Further, 35 percent have actually looked into purchasing an RV; 38 percent have visited an RV dealer; and 15 percent have previously rented an RV.
Additionally, the Nielsen study grouped these prospects into three distinct groups of consumers most likely to buy an RV – Active Family Adventurers, Nature Lovers, and Kid-Free Adult Adventurers. Combined, this group of potential RVers represents 40 percent of U.S. households.
In general, the consumers in all three primary opportunity segments have favorable views towards RVs and the RV lifestyle. Just like RV owners, they like to take road trips and see RVing as a convenient way to explore the country, participate in outdoor activities and spend time with family and friends.
Active Family Adventurers have children who significantly influence leisure trip decisions. They’re the most likely to have rented or owned an RV, to have visited an RV dealership, and to peruse RV and travel publications and websites. This group showed the highest likelihood of purchasing an RV with 29 percent saying it was very likely and 55 percent saying it was somewhat likely. Of the three segments, this one contains the highest percentage of Generation X and African Americans.
Nature Lovers are likely to have tent camped or rented a cabin in the past two years. They enjoy visiting locations with natural beauty, seeking out lesser known destinations, and finding opportunities for outdoor sports and recreation. This group is younger and uses travel-related apps on their smart phones or computers. This group also expressed promising purchase intentions with 20 percent indicating they were very likely to buy an RV and 63 percent saying somewhat likely.
Kid-Free Adult Adventurers relish trips that offer learning opportunities, romantic getaways, exploring lesser known destinations, visiting family, spending time in nature and attending sporting events. This segment has the second highest percentage of African Americans. For this group, the freedom and convenience of RVing, including the ability to travel with pets, and the variety of entry level RV options with lower costs and features are key benefits. Just over one-in-ten respondents (12 percent) in this group said it was very likely they would purchase, and RV and 63 percent indicated somewhat likely.