Recreational vehicles have evolved to offer more luxuries of home — from second bedrooms with bunks to full-scale, outdoor kitchens built into the side of the trailer.
As the RV industry continues its rebound from its recession drop, amenities such as these are becoming major drivers in the market, local dealers said. Outdoor kitchens can include two-burner stoves, refrigerators, television sets, hot-and-cold running-water sinks and grills — all concealed until an outside compartment is flipped open.
“The latest big thing for the towable is an outside kitchen,” said Rick Whitney, the sales manager at White Horse RV Center, with locations in Galloway and Williamstown. “It wasn’t available three years ago at the most. Now they have full outside kitchens and entertainment centers.”
Nationally, the number of RV units shipped from manufacturers to dealers has grown steadily since 2009, when it fell to 165,700 — the lowest it had been since 1991, according to the Virginia-based Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
Last year, RV shipments hit 285,900, a 13 percent increase from the year before.
Their overall retail value in 2012 has not yet been determined, but in 2011 it accounted for more than $9 billion, according to industry data.
Camping and campgrounds are prevalent in the region — Cape May County has nearly 15,000 campsites; Atlantic County approximately 3,000.
More of today’s RVs include features and options unconsidered decades ago — porcelain toilets instead of plastic, sleek frameless windows, solid wood cabinets and second bedrooms, lending them a more residential feel.
“Kids aren’t sleeping on the couch anymore,” Whitney said.
RVs with such amenities are becoming a large segment of the market — a shift from previous generations that started with entry-level units and gradually upgraded over the years, said John Worthington, marketing director for Driftwood RV Center in Dennis and Egg Harbor townships.
“It’s coming to be the biggest section. There are a lot of younger families getting into RVs. And it used to be you’d start, get a pop-up, then a bigger trailer. Now more families want the four bunks, the outdoor kitchen, they want everything in it,” he said. “It’s growing and it’s now pretty much the majority.”
Other shifts in the industry are changing the makeup of RVs.
Aluminum frames and innovative materials are making them lighter and more fuel-efficient.
Whitney said a 30-foot trailer that would have weighted 7,000 pounds a few years ago now can weigh about 5,000 pounds.
RVs are typically divided into two categories: motor homes and towables that are hitched to vehicles.
Prices for new RVs can typically start at $5,000 to $8,000 for folding camping trailers truck campers and conventional travel trailers and can range significantly higher, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
Type A motor homes — generally the largest ones — can range from $60,000 to $500,000, the association says.
Worthington said Driftwood RV has been expecting an increase in the big park-model trailers popular at campgrounds, a segment that had dropped when the economy soured.
“Now we’re getting tons of inquiries and people coming in to see the sample models,” Worthington said. “We had anticipated that and last year we put nine full-built samples with decks and Florida rooms in our campgrounds so people could buy them and move in right away. … We figured as the economy came back, the park model people would come back.”
Based on signs of an improving economy — including the stock market and national home price increases — an analyst for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association projects RV shipments will reach 307,300 units this year, which would be an increase of about 7 percent from 2012.
“I think the industry has been stronger than ever,” Whitney said, “mainly because people who want to go camping and enjoy the RV lifestyle are still going to do it.”
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