RV sales have skyrocketed during COVID. What are owners doing now that gas is over $5 a gallon?

2021 has been a big year for recreational vehicles, as locked-in Americans have looked to nature as an escape from the COVID cabin blues.

According to industry leaders, SUVs fit the bill perfectly and sales have skyrocketed.

A year later, as life begins to return to normal for most and gas prices top $5 a gallon, vans are holding their own and sales are down only marginally, and not just because of declining consumer demand.

Some RVs with tanks holding 100 to 150 gallons of fuel cost $500 to $750 to fill up and get 7 to 9 mpg.

However, after a record-breaking 2021 with over 600,000 vehicles on order, 2022 has been a relatively successful year. Orders show US dealers are willing to sell about 550,000 RVs, said Monica Geraci, spokesperson for the Virginia RV Manufacturers Association.

Supply chain issues have contributed to the slowdown in the RV market. Some wheeled vehicles ordered this year will not be delivered to customers until 2023.

This trend is surprising to some, but not to those who follow the industry.

The popularity of recreational vehicles has been on the rise for 40 years. The vast majority of vehicles sold are towed SUVs. Depending on size, towed or trailer motorhomes that attach to most trucks and SUVs use less fuel than motorhomes and campers.

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Motorboats too

The popularity of powerboats has also grown during the lockdown due to the pandemic. Sales skyrocketed as people yearned for an escape. However, because many of them have worse gas mileage than residential homes and rely on dockside pumps that charge even more per gallon, powerboats lose momentum.

Powerboat sales slowed more than motorhome sales after their historic rise in 2020 and 2021 due to the return of sporting events and concerts combined with inflationary pressures, according to reports from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Boat sales in the first quarter of 2022 are down 20% year-over-year.

The Hopatcong Lake Pier in the Great Bay of Hopatcong Lake is filled with boats on June 20, 2022.

“It’s no wonder we’re seeing sales begin to stabilize after extraordinary growth in 2020 and 2021 as competition for consumer spending returns,” said Ellen Bradley, the association’s senior vice president.

However, current demand remains strong, said Ron Sorensen, owner of Lake Hopatcong Marine. There is only one boat in Sorensen’s showroom on the edge of the Great Bay of the lake that has not yet been sold.

“We have four different boat builders and all of them literally cut our supply chain in half,” he said. “They can’t get us boats.”

At Lake Hopatcong Marine, a new group of potential new owners continue to seek and absorb reserves, Sorensen said. However, demand for weekend rentals has fallen to pre-pandemic levels. By mid-June 2020 and 2021, Sorensen said his rental boats were booked for every summer weekend.

“The lease has softened,” he said. “During the pandemic years, we were already sold out. These were unusual years. Those were crazy years.”

The Former Home Of The Lake Hopatcong Marine At The South End Of Jefferson Township And Its New Showroom On The Hill Have Seen Unprecedented Business Since The Start Of The Covid-19 Pandemic.The Former Home Of The Lake Hopatcong Marine At The South End Of Jefferson Township And Its New Showroom On The Hill Have Seen Unprecedented Business Since The Start Of The Covid-19 Pandemic.

The former home of the Lake Hopatcong Marine at the south end of Jefferson Township and its new showroom on the hill have seen unprecedented business since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Campervan sales are slowing – just a little

For Alpin Haus, a residential home dealer in New York and West Milford, 2022 has been a tougher year than in years past.

Customers are expressing concern about gas prices, Wall Street’s bear market plunge, and inflation at a 40-year high. Those issues have slowed RV sales, said Andy Heck, owner of Alpin Haus.

The story continues below the gallery.

According to Heck, many customers prefer to sit on the sidelines.

“The impulse buying has stopped,” he said, adding that customers “are giving it more attention.”

Sales of motorhomes and boats were easier to make in 2020 and 2021 when the threat of COVID-19 made the prospect of air travel daunting, industry leaders said. Heck said that during COVID, many people sought to safely rest and escape from home, as a result, sales have skyrocketed to new heights.

“There was a good surge,” Heck said.

Camper van publications such as GoRVing.com reported survey results that showed most people find air travel and cruises too risky. According to polls, it was not just the fear of contracting COVID-19, they were afraid of being stranded, being quarantined and not being able to return home.

Many of these fears still persist today.

Justin Krist, sales manager for Alpin Haus in West Milford, said his customers so far have indicated they don’t stop buying a new unit, especially those who tow their motorhome.

Still cheaper than an RV?

Gas prices over $5 a gallon have forced van owners to make shorter trips and stay closer to home.

“I don’t hear people say they’re going to the Grand Canyon,” Heck said. “They stay local.”

Geraci said that in addition to staying closer to home, motorhome owners are staying in one place for a longer period of time to cut down on gas consumption.

“When it comes to RVs, people adapt,” she said.

Pequannock’s Jean Huber traveled in her van three out of four weekends in May. She’s been to Cape May, Pennsylvania once (twice) and has a trip to Maine ahead of her.

“Gas is a concern, but that doesn’t stop us from traveling,” she said.

Despite rising gas prices, camper travel is still a cheaper way to get away. Research shows that a typical RV vacation is 30% cheaper than driving a car and staying in a hotel, and about 60% cheaper than flying and staying in a hotel.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index for air tickets from May 2021 to May 2022 rose by more than 38%. As a result, a Bank of America Institute survey conducted in May 2022 found that airline and travel agency spending rose by 60% year-over-year.

Recreational vehicle camping is always cheaper than hotels, and those who live in the backcountry (i.e. camp remotely) can save even more.

Many businesses have started serving vacationers during the pandemic. Many have turned to Harvest Hosts, which allow vacationers to spend the night, for example, at wineries, breweries, farms and other interesting places. There are thousands of such sites all over the country, resulting in secondary businesses. There are businesses adding solar panels to power RVs and satellite dishes to connect them to entertainment and Wi-Fi.

Some have made the RV their home. The Caravan Manufacturers Association estimates that about a million Americans live permanently in their RVs to avoid rising rental and home ownership costs. The trend was spurred on by the film Nomad Land last year.

Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news in your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: fagan@northjersey.com

Twitter: @fagan_nj

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Campervan sales rise during COVID despite rising gas prices

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