RV shipments show improvement

Truth file photo For the first time in more than a year, total RV shipments in September beat the same month of a year before. Pictured, employees at Keystone RV in Goshen push a Cougar unit down the line.

ELKHART — RV shipment numbers in September were higher than the same month a year before, breaking a 13-month streak of negative reports.

Total shipments for September 2019 reached 31,639, beating September 2018 by 670 units, according to numbers released by the RV Industry Association.

Shipments for the year remain lower than in 2018 by 18.2 percent.

The positive September results come after some industry leaders and experts have projected improvements in the fall.

Keystone RV president and CEO Jeff Runels at an event August predicted “a better fall than we’ve actually seen over the last couple of years.”

That same month, RV industry analyst Richard Curtin, who is the director of surveys of consumers at the University of Michigan, projected shipments for the remainder of 2019 would be closer to those of the year before. After looking at the September results, he was optimistic, but perhaps not as much as Runels. 

“If you’re thinking it means that we’re now going to have cumulative gains in RV shipments throughout the balance of this year and next year, I don’t think that’s probably true,” Curtin said on Monday.

The reason for the apparent uptick is a good economy, he said.

“Interest rates got pushed even lower, wage gains are even higher and the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low,” he said. “This is the longest (economic) expansion we’ve ever recorded, and that dates back to the mid-1800s.”

Curtin projects that the most likely total result for 2019 to be 401,200 shipped units, down 17.1 percent from 2018. Next year should be slightly down as well, but the dropoff will be lower than this year.

“At 390,000, about, is still quite a good number,” he said.

Motorhome shipments have been most affected by this year’s decline from 2018, which were down 4.1 percent from the record highs in 2017.

Van camper, or type B, shipments are down by 29.4 percent so far this year, while conventional motorhomes, type A, are down 25.5 percent and mini motorhomes, type C, are down 14.6 percent. The much larger towable market is down as well, with travel trailer shipments, including fifth wheels, down 18 percent.

It can be difficult to keep a positive narrative in the years past a peak like that of 2017 – even when 2018, 2019 and 2020 all look to be some of the best years ever – because people tend to see the percentage drop compared to the year before rather than taking a longer perspective, according to Curtin. By his projections, 2019 and 2020 will be the fourth- and sixth-best years in RV shipment history.

“Everyone wants to compare it to the 500,000-plus year we had a few years ago,” he said.

But Curtin said he does believe the industry can break records again.

“Those peaks will be surmounted in the years ahead, but certainly not this year or next year,” he said.

The industry shouldn’t expect to repeat the September mark of outperforming 2018 for the remainder of the year. Curtin still expects the fourth quarter of 2019 to be lower than the same time last year, though it should be close.

“The September was a good report, and it does indicate that the fall-off in sales have narrowed significantly,” he said.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus

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