The final numbers are in. And officially, as expected, it was a good year in the RV business in 2012.
A strong December fortified earlier monthly totals, all of which were higher than the corresponding month in 2011. December was no exception.
Shipments for December were up 11.6 percent over December of 2011. But more importantly, the strong finish resulted in the year's total reaching 285,749, a 13.2 percent increase over 2011.
It is the third straight year annual numbers have been up over the previous year.
The strong showing is an indication that the American economy is stabilizing, said Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council.
"That's a positive sign. The RV business is by and large a consumer confidence business," Bowersox said. "When you see continual stabilization and even slight
growth in the market, that's a real good thing for our business.
"The other piece of it, is the continued stabilization is bringing back that pent-up demand."
Bowersox believes the drastic drop in RV demand from 2006 to 2009 had nothing to do with whether people wanted RVs or not.
"It was because they were uncomfortable with their personal economic situation," he said.
RV shipment numbers essentially represent sales figures since they are the number of RVs shipped to dealers.
And those numbers are very important to the local economy.
The RVIA estimates that 82 percent of all recreational vehicles built in the United States are made in northern Indiana, with more than 24,000 people employed in either the RV manufacturing or supply sector.
The numbers show "they're popular, they're in demand, people want them," said Kevin Broom, a spokesman with the RVIA that recently released the final figures.
He still characterized the industry as "recovering, not recovered," though.
"In the early part of the 2000s, we were shipping 300,000 units a year," Broom noted. "So we still have a little bit of a ways to go to get back to that level. We believe there is still growth to be done."
The latest projections call for the industry to increase its shipment numbers in 2013 by 4 to 5 percent, Broom said.
But Bowersox, who's been at a number of RV shows this month including the RV Valley & Camping Show in South Bend at the Century Center, believes the increase could be greater in 2013.
"The potential is there to see a solid increase on (the nearly 286,000 RVs shipped in 2012)," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me to see another 10 percent on top of that. But if we saw that, it would be an indicator that the American economy is pretty strong.
"The reality is the RV business rides along with the economy in general and consumer confidence more specifically," Bowersox said.
The early returns on RV shows in 2013 are one of the reasons for his optimism. Not just longtime RV people are showing up to check out the latest products, he said, but people new to RV'ing.
"There is more activity, and it's a lot of some of the new people coming into the market," he said.
Broom said the RVIA has heard that attendance and sales are strong at the shows.
Another thing both Bowersox and Broom agree on is that it's a bit easier to get loans now than it was during the recession.
"The two biggest factors in the downturn of RV shipments (during the recession) were consumer confidence and the availability of credit," Broom said.
Credit is no longer a major problem.
"Lending requirements are tighter than they were in 2005 and 2006, but that makes sense," he said. "They are sensible requirements now.
"They are asking consumers to have a down payment, income and a good credit score. Those are things that make sense for providing a loan."
But during the downturn in 2008 and 2009, many consumers who now qualify under those guidelines could not get loans, he said.
"Financing has gotten a little bit easier," Bowersox said. "It's probably where it should be."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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