Cruise down long desert highways or up mountain passes this summer and you’ll see RVs of all shapes and sizes, everything from teardrop trailers to Class A homes. But understanding the economic impact of the RV Industry can be harder to grasp. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.
A study recently released by the RV Industry Association quantifies that contribution, reporting that in 2018, the RV industry overall contributed $114 billion to the U.S. economy. That includes money generated by RV manufacturers and supplies, campgrounds, and RV sales and service. But one of the key metrics of the report—new RVs manufactured in 2018—shows that the industry is slowing.
To help understand what all the figures mean, we break down five key takeaways.
The RV Industry has slowed slightly
Despite being down 4 percent from record-breaking numbers in 2017, the number of manufactured RVs show that the industry has tripled in size since the Great Recession of the late 2000s. In 2009, RV companies only shipped out 165,700 new units compared to 2018’s total of over 482,000 units.
Still, the 4.1 percent drop in shipments from 2017 to 2018 shows that the industry has slowed off of its record-breaking years, and this could show that the overall economy is slowing. RV sales can be an excellent indicator of economic health in the U.S. When RV sales do well, the economy follows; when RV sales fall, the economy could be in trouble, too.
Shipments from throughout the first few months of 2019 have also been lower than 2018, demonstrating what some are calling a “growth hangover” from the boom years post-recession. Will the numbers bounce back? We’ll have to see how the last two quarters of 2019 shake out.
RV industry jobs, by the numbers
About 600,000 people work in the RV industry, totaling $32 billion in wages and over $12 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. Many of those jobs are concentrated in the state of Indiana—the headquarters of many RV companies—which has 126,140 people working for 644 RV businesses. Other key states with RV jobs—mostly in manufacturing facilities and RV sales—include California, Texas, Oregon, and Ohio.
Towables are still king
Despite the craze over van life, towable RVs still made up the vast majority of RVs this past year. A total of 482,389 RVs were manufactured in the U.S. in 2018, and towable vehicles (think Airstreams, fifth wheels, and teardrops) accounted for 88 percent of shipments to dealers. Class B vans may be hot, but they have a long way to go before they make up even half of all manufactured campers.
RVs are tied to the larger outdoor industry
About 25 million Americans go RVing each year, and this contributes a hefty amount towards the outdoor recreation economy. For many RV owners, their camper vans or trailers are a means to an adventure, allowing them to hike, boat, mountain bike, and travel.
RV owners are also part of the more than 78.8 million households that camped at least once in 2018, and those numbers continue to grow. According to the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the total outdoor recreation economy represents 2.2 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product.
An American-made industry
Unlike other industries, 98 percent of the RVs sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S. While that may cause some buyers to covet European campers they can’t get, it does facilitate a strong American-made industry.