While RV ownership has been steadily growing for decades with 62% more RV owners in 2021 than in 2001, the dramatic rise in popularity since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 has signaled a fundamental change in the way Americans travel, vacation, and live. That rise has reached new heights in 2021, with record-breaking RV production and a strong consumer intent to buy, both stirred by one of the longest-standing American traditions – a yearning to visit the great outdoors.
Demand for RV units has grown month-over-month in 2021, breaking all previous wholesale shipment records. The latest projection shows the most likely year-end total for RV units built in 2021 to be 602,200 units, representing a 40% increase over the 2020 year-end total of 430,412 units. It will also be a 19% gain over the current comparable record high of 504,600 units set in 2017.
Across the board, RV owners are reporting higher levels of customer satisfaction and an intent to purchase another unit. “Today, one-in-five leisure travelers are considering purchasing an RV and four-in-ten leisure travelers would consider an RV trip,” said RV Industry Association President & CEO Craig Kirby. “This bodes very well for the future growth of the industry and is a strong indicator of the lasting popularity of RVing.”
According to Kirby, while the freedom and control of RVing fueled the initial surge in RV ownership and usage in 2020, the leading motivation in 2021 is a hunger to explore the great outdoors.
“Over the past two year, many Americans have rediscovered the great outdoors and all the health benefits that come with living an active outdoor lifestyle. This seems to have ignited a nationwide quest to discover all the natural beauty and adventure our country has to offer,” said Kirby. “Travelers are finding that an RV enables them to see and experience these while enjoying the comfort and convenience of a ‘home away from home.’ “
Nowhere has this outdoor mania been more evident than at RV campgrounds in and around America’s national parks. According to a survey by the RV Industry Association, 72 million Americans plan to go RVing in an RV they own, rent, or borrow over the next year, up from 61 million in a survey done last fall. Many of these travelers are bound for these campgrounds with their children and families, which is another high driver of RV usage.
“Our main motivation is to have a relaxing adventure together as a family,” says father of two and first-time RV owner Lance Jeffery. “We are inspired to visit areas that have fun activities like river rafting or tubing and national parks that are amazing to see.”
The appeal of RV ownership has also grown in diversity. Says former NFL offensive guard Keith Sims, who encourages other minority families to try RVing through his website, the Soulful RV Family, “I’m seeing far more people of color at RV parks today than when we started RVing seven years ago. My mother-in-law rents out her RV and half of the renters are minorities.”
As millions of Americans continue to actively seek the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle, the demographics of the typical RV owner are changing. While 85% of current RV owners identify themselves as white, according to the recent Go RVing RV Consumer Demographic Profile, that number drops to 76% when looking at RVers who bought their first RV in 2020.
The greatest increase in the diversity of RV owners is in those who identify themselves as Black. When looking at first-time owners who bought their RV in 2020, 13% identify as Black, an increase from 6% of owners who purchased their first RV 1-5 years ago and from only 2% who purchased their first RV 6 or more years ago. Similarly, Asian and Hispanic or Latino RV owners have increased to 5% and 6%, respectively, for RVers who bought their first RV in 2020.
The ways in which RVers in 2021 use their vehicles are changing, as well. For instance, Millennial and Gen Z RV owners are more likely than their older counterparts to travel to music festivals and to pack technology, like video game consoles and streaming devices, and outdoor sports gear in their units. Campgrounds have begun to cater to these new Rvers, offering access onsite or nearby to activities like horseback riding, boating, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, golfing, go-cart, and ATV driving, racquet sports, and more.
Record industry growth is expected to continue through 2022 with shipment projections ranging between 599,760 and 627,700 units with a most likely total of 613,700 units, an increase of 2% over 2021.
The forecast, according to ITR Economics, implies that continued robust demand for RVs, the need for RV dealers to restock historically low inventories, the strong financial standing of consumers, and sustained interest in the outdoors will work to keep RV shipments elevated.