ELKHART — Gov. Mitch Daniels is scheduled to visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum this week to meet with recreational vehicle company executives and tout the industry’s economic recovery.
Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council, confirmed the governor would be in Elkhart from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday. He is expected to first meet privately with company presidents then hold a press conference.
Daniels will be speaking against the backdrop of an RV industry that is rebounding after being ravaged by the Great Recession.
“I think it’s fair to say the industry continues to rebound,” Bowersox said, noting the market has a lot of pent-up demand. “I think there’s more interest than the numbers are showing but interest doesn’t make the factories turn out RVs.”
Wholesale shipments of towables and motorhomes have bounced in January and February, outpacing last year’s January and February results by 15.2 percent. In addition, February retail sales of towables rose 7.7 percent over February 2011 and motorhome sales surged 21.4 percent.
The market upswing prompted Richard Curtin, research associate professor at the University of Michigan Consumer Survey Research Center, to revise his forecast for 2012. He had predicted the industry would record a 2.6 percent decline in wholesale shipments this year compared to 2011 but now he sees a 5.1 percent increase with year-end totals reaching 265,200 RVs.
Sales of RVs have been helped by the mild winter and unseasonably warm March. Now the question is whether the strong market will continue or if retail activity will wane earlier this year than it typically has in past years.
Jeff Rank, president and general manager of Prime Time RV in Wakarusa, is confident the industry can sustain the bump in sales.
“I don’t necessarily want to believe that the warm weather has moved the (sales) cycle forward,” he said. “I prefer to be optimistic and see the glass as half full in that better weather gives us more opportunity with more customers.”
The governor’s visit will coincide with the opening of the Elkhart Dealers on the Road retail RV show at the Hall of Fame. Organized by about five area RV dealers, the three-day event will feature a couple hundred new units displayed outside and could draw as many as 3,000 people from the region.
Dave Titus, owner of International RV on Nappanee Street, believes the show will capitalize on the increase in sales dealers have been experiencing. Consumers are buying, banks are lending and his dealership just recorded its best March ever.
“All signs are that it’s going to continue,” he said. “There’s nothing on the horizon that’s going to choke the money off.”
Although the market and the economy are improving, the RV industry is not driving on Easy Street. Bowersox described the recovery as fragile and noted concerns ranging from the presidential election distracting consumers to the stock market falling and fuel prices rising could disrupt the upturn.
The industry does not like to talk about these issues, he said, for fear of stirring public apprehension. However, the worries and habits induced by the economic downturn have actually given consumers a case of so-called “frugal fatigue” and that may benefit the RV manufacturers and dealers. Families are tired of skimping and believe their jobs, their homes and their 401(k)s are secure enough that they can make a big purchase, liking buying an RV.
And, Bowersox believes, a visit by Daniels could bolster that growing optimism.
“Is anybody going to buy a new camper because the governor’s in town?,” Bowersox asked. “I doubt it but it’s a feel good story.”