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International influence growing slowly in RV industry, but local companies aren’t feeling the impact yet

Posted on Dec. 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 5, 2013 at 4:52 p.m.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Industry leaders have touted the international expansion of the RV market as one of the indicators of the industry’s recovery.

But local manufacturers and suppliers are mainly still in the “getting-to-know-you” stage with many foreign companies and haven’t seen a real influx of international products into the domestic market.

That’s not to say that local companies aren’t paying attention.

At Tuesday’s opening breakfast of the Recreational Vehicle Association’s National RV Trade Show, Richard Coon presented statistics that showed growth in several international markets including Australia, New Zealand and China.

The biggest overseas market, Europe, was actually slightly behind where it was a few years ago, but the strides made in other markets has the industry hopeful.

Coon, president of the RVIA, said more than 700 individuals from overseas had registered for the week’s show.

That total included personnel from the 13 international exhibitors, as well as many others attending the show simply to check out what U.S. manufacturers and suppliers had to offer.

Foreign suppliers littered the show floor, including furniture suppliers Tecnoform of Italy, Crespo of Spain, Fiamma of Italy and Truma, a German company that recently opened an Elkhart location.

Lipper Components’ director of marketing Jarod Lippert said the national show in Louisville has become the most significant time for Lippert to connect with potential international partners.

“The international guys, this is their one time of the year to come here and get ideas and see things and talk to us,” Lippert said.

Lippert said they’ve recently hired people specifically to handle international sales. “That’s something that we’re really pushing forward in the next year and beyond.”

With the international expansion of the RV industry, one possibility is that foreign companies open offices or plants in the United States.

It remains to be seen if many foreign companies will make that move, but if they do, it’s very possible they’ll follow in the footsteps of Truma.

Truma, a German company that supplies air conditioning, heating, gas and power components to the RV industry, recently expanded into Elkhart.

The company has been serving the European market since 1949, but this is its first foray into the United States market.

Melanie Gibson, a Truma representative, said the company is just getting started, opening its Elkhart office Nov. 1 and conducting business since August.

She said Truma, participating in its first Louisville show, was trying to get a read on the industry and trying to make some connections with manufacturers and dealers.

Truma chose Elkhart for its U.S. location due to its proximity to industry leaders.

“They just want to be in the heart of the action,” Gibson said. “It’s kind of the place to be if you want to reach a lot of the market.”

The continued expansion throughout overseas markets can be expected to continue, Doug Gaeddert said.

Gaeddert, general manager at Forest River as well as RVIA chairman, said he expects foreign influence to only increase as the industry continues to grow and change.

“You’ve got a popular lifestyle expanding its footprint across the globe, and I think you’ll see more relationships emerge,” Gaeddert said.

Despite the growth of the RV industry in international markets, though, the impact hasn’t really been felt by local companies yet.

“I haven’t seen any big surge there,” Gaeddert said. “Not huge numbers, but growing numbers.”

Jarod Lippert said most manufacturers at the show use domestic suppliers to furnish their vehicles.

“We don’t see a whole lot of that,” Lippert said. “There are some products over there that have niches in the U.S. market, but it’s such a different market,” he said of international components, specifically European supplies.

“You walk around that show, you’re not going to see a whole lot of foreign components on those RVs,” Lippert said.

Thor Industries CEO Bob Martin echoed Lippert’s statement.

“Most of the products that you see on these units are made in the Elkhart area,” Martin said. “I don’t know that that’ll be something you’ll see a big trend towards.”

While Gaeddert admitted that the foreign influence isn’t great at this point, he won’t count it out as the industry grows and expands.

“Right now it’s not a big thing, but looking ahead I think it’s going to continue,” Gaeddert concluded.

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