RV World 2016: The Latest Innovations & Expert Reviews

Motor Homes ◆ Fifth-Wheel Trailers ◆ Travel Trailers

Former high-end options, such as LED lighting and black-water-tank flushing, came down in price and now are widespread as standard features. Furthermore, the number of floor plans that are available expanded, and increased competition could spell good deals for consumers.

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A resurgence of the RV market means that prospective buyers in 2016 will find more models from which to choose. That competition, manufacturers and retailers say, gives you a chance to make a good deal.

According to Kevin Broom of Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which is an industry trade group, 2016 projections call for about 381,700 motor homes, travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers (fifth wheels) to be shipped to dealers. That’s an increase from 374,100 units for 2015.

The average price of RVs that we evaluated increased about 8 percent since 2013 compared with the national inflation rate of 5 percent. However, manufacturers and retailers say buying a new RV during a peak year—as 2016 is shaping up to be—still is advantageous. That’s because most manufacturers loaded their units with standard features that once were options for which you’d pay extra. Despite RVIA’s assurance that good deals exist, no dealer with whom we spoke identified a specific one. “Deals are available on a dealer-to-dealer basis and a model-by-model basis,” says LaDonna Meadows of retailer Tacoma RV.

Overall, the market is consolidating, which seems to indicate that prices will continue to increase. Gerrick Johnson, who is a BMO Capital Markets analyst for the RV industry, says consolidation benefits consumers if the manufacturer passes along the savings from increased efficiency of operations. However, he says, he hasn’t seen that happening. Thor Industries snapped up DRV Luxury Suites, K-Z RV and Livin’ Lite brands in the past 3 years and now oversees 11 brands. REV Group went to four brands from two with the 2013 purchase of Holiday Rambler and Monaco. (The third major company, Forest River, has six motor-home and trailer brands.)

Conversely, two manufacturers that were started by RV industry veterans emerged in the past 4 years. Grand Design, which began in 2013, makes travel trailers and fifth wheels. Lifestyle Luxury RV, which is an offshoot of Evergreen and makes fifth wheels, opened in 2012.

Regardless of the price, more floor plans, or model configurations, are available now in RVs, and interior decor has taken on a more residential vibe from the inclusion of stainless-steel kitchen appliances, fireplaces, faux-stone fireplace surrounds and large flat-screen TVs. Manufacturers say new RVs also are loaded with standard features
that a few years ago were upgraded options or expensive  after-market add-ons.

FLOOR PLANS. We counted eight brands that increased their number of floor plans since 2012. Although some of those increased minimally, three manufacturers went big: Coachmen has 126 floor plans for its travel trailers, compared with 47 in 2012, and Jayco went to 186 floor plans in 2016 from 141 in 2012. New kid on the block Grand Design had 10 fifth-wheel floor plans in 2014. In 2016, it has 31 fifth-wheel floor plans.

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More floor plans don’t translate necessarily into dramatic changes, because you essentially are dealing with a rectangular box that’s limited to less than 40 feet in length. For example, the galley and living area might be flipped or the bedroom is at the front instead of the back. However, we noticed larger bathrooms and closets and floor plans that convert unneeded sleeping space to an extra closet, craft room, laundry room or office. Furthermore, manufacturers now mount TVs to cabinet doors, so you still have room for storage behind. Others rise out of a cabinet at the push of a button or mount above fireplaces.

At least nine brands added floor plans that increase the sleeping capacity of their RVs to at least 10 people, starting at $16,275. In 2012, sleeping capacities typically tapped out at eight, and the rare model that slept 10 people cost $21,163. The bar was raised, too. In 2016, Venture RV introduced the Sport Trek 312VBH ($30,950), which can sleep up to 15—the largest capacity that we found.

To achieve the increased sleep capacity, manufacturers returned to so-called bunkhouse floor plans. Bunkhouse models, which add bunk beds, as well as separate TVs for each bunk, aren’t new. However, almost every manufacturer with which we spoke says it’s building more than it did before. “Four years ago, we had few bunkhouse models,” says Jon Krider of Thor Motorcoach. “Now, all of our floor plans have a bunkhouse model—some standard and others optional.”

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