It’s a mad, mad, out-of-control RV world

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    It's a mad, mad, out-of-control RV worldBy Chuck Woodbury
    I received this news release today from Thor. In this one release is proof positive that recreation vehicles have branched off from “camping vehicles” as surely as humans one day branched off from other primates.

    Whatever these wheeled things are that Thor boasts about below, they are not “recreation” vehicles. What they are describing here are all things you would normally want in a home — that is if you were a rich, techie-type person who wanted the latest and greatest of everything even if you didn’t need them.


    The creations they’re building that they call “recreation vehicles” are simply homes built on foundations of steel and wheels instead of concrete or wood like non-movable homes. The RV makers will sell these to as many people who will buy them, fully aware that the more complicated they make them, the harder it will be for buyers to get them fixed when they break down, as they surely will.

    In this release, Thor proclaims that this is the year of “innovative technology.” You can read below what that means. But to me, what it means is the company’s sales and design people have sat around a few big tables the past year and asked each other, “How can we trick out our RVs to make them cooler than other guys’, so people who love gadgets will want to buy them because they are so wonderful?”

    Here’s the first paragraph of the release (I will be back after that): 

    ELKHART, IND. – Thor Motor Coach® (TMC) is calling 2018 the year of innovative technology. Many of the new motorhomes being unveiled at Thor Industries Ninth Annual Dealer Open House feature Wi-Fi hot spots, solar charging, and app-enabled multiplex wiring systems. These high-tech features will be showcased to more than 500 dealers from around the world, September 24, 2018 through September 27, 2018.

    I just love the new “app-enabled multiplex wiring systems.” That will be just perfect for when I’m out by the campfire, cooking up s’mores, telling ghost stories and singing campfire songs.

    And it gets better:

    The all-new Tuscany® 45JA features a walk-in closet, dual fireplaces, a double sink vanity bathroom, and a large, elegant living space in TMC’s most luxurious diesel pusher. Technology keeps the Tuscany ahead of the curve with its Winegard® ConnecT 4G/Wi-Fi System, 200-watt solar charging, Firefly® multiplex, and Surgeguard® power protection systems.

    It's a mad, mad, out-of-control RV world
    The Tuscany Touch Screen Panel

    Damn, how did I ever camp without all these things? I mean, dual fireplaces? Please, somebody, tell me why I need two fake fireplaces! But, oh, I am so thrilled that I can own an RV with a double sink vanity bathroom. I will be so happy there putting on my makeup (oh, wait, I don’t wear makeup).

    There’s more . . .

    A new Windsport® and Hurricane® 33X are sure to stand out in the gas Class A motorhome market. The 33X is one of many 2019 lines featuring the multiplex wiring system. Simply put, a full-color touchscreen or mobile device can control the generator start, slide rooms, air conditioning and more. All Hurricane and Windsport models now include a large 10” dash radio screen.

    Yeah, and when you are in rural Kansas or west Texas or someplace 200 miles from the nearest RV tech — likely a guy making $12 an hour because it pays better than a busboy job at Betty’s Cafe, it will be lots of fun watching him figure out how to repair your stuck slideout room that’s controlled by a mobile device. “Can I just turn a wrench?” I simply love the idea that with this new RV I will have a “full-color touchscreen or mobile device” that can start my generator. Golly, that’s a huge improvement over my current antiquated, labor-intensive system where I’m forced to push a button.

    And more. . .

    Customers will also love the new Sprinter line-up, namely the Siesta®, Citation® and Synergy®. For the first time, TMC will offer the 24MB floor plan with an electronic controlled Murphy bed and increased living area to encourage longer getaways with the family.

    An electronic controlled Murphy bed? Why can’t you just walk up to it, release a hinge and pull it down? Is that such a big deal? Really? And Thor, I assume you’ll charge me an extra thousand bucks so I can push a button rather than simply pull a lever! Am I right? That’s crazy!

    But wait! There’s more. Here is why all of this is important:

    Jon Krider, Vice President of Product Development, at Thor Motor Coach says, “We’re always striving to mirror trends in the marketplace. People want the same technology they have at home on the road and they want tech that makes their lives easier.

    So it’s all about replicating the comforts of a regular home into one that moves, so our lives can be easier. Camping? That’s not a word that has any relationship to what this rolling home is. And do you know where 95 percent of the people who buy all these RVs with electric-powered gizmos and gadgets will stay? That’s right — in already crowded RV parks, where they can enjoy spectacular views of their next door neighbor smoking a cigar in his lawn chair watching Ice Road Truckers on his fifty-inch, high definition, 4k-enabled outdoor TV with its “vibrate your internal organs” Dolby speaker system.

    Every year, RVs get more complicated. Every year it’s harder to find a qualified technician to fix them. Read our Facebook group RV Horror Stories to see why all these extras have little to do with recreation, and everything to do with RV makers having no clue anymore what they are building except instinctively knowing they have to come up with some new gadget, gizmo or other cool thing that they can then boast makes RVing better, more wonderful, so more people will buy them.

    I say that these vehicles are no more “recreation” vehicles than you and I are Chimps.

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    Scott

    Chuck I think u r spot on! I, for one, don’t understand why some folks want to duplicate “home “on the road. Granted, it is certainly their right, but why not just stay home and do a staycation?
    I recently completed a delightful two week trek around southern Wyoming and did not plug in once. I stayed at some amazing places like in Medicine Bow National Forest, Split Rock (BLM), South Pass City Historical Site and Sinks Canyon State Park. (My apologies to Wyoming folks for highlighting some of their undiscovered gems.) Now I don’t need Wi-Fi everyday, so I have flexibility, but for me that is the advantage of having an RV as I can go and more fully experience places in ways that otherwise I could not. My 19 ft Escape Fiberglass trailer has all the amenities I need to be very comfortable, safe and secure. I understand this is not for everyone and I did enjoy my “urban”experience’s” in Laramie and Lander-two delightful places, but I like being able to stretch and experience something out of the ordinary, off the grid and the beaten path. I would encourage those of u who might be interested in doing so to try it. Nature is the best “TV”u will ever watch!

    Kathy Schein

    Although it’s not my cup of tea, and apparently not yours, I think you’re being a little hard on the Thor news release article. If I were a full timer and had sold my brick and mortar home, I wouldn’t be “camping” anymore. I would be “living” in a motor home, maybe moving around a lot…and maybe not. And if that were the case, I probably wouldn’t have a campfire anymore than I do now in my backyard. And I’d probably like some of those goodies. I guess it just depends on your place in life.

    Gregory Illes

    Chuck, great job on the article and (from the widely varied comments) well-read and thought about. That’s a good thing.

    1. As for electronics, yes, a lot of techie folks like new gadgets in their cars, in their homes, and …. in their RV’s. But here is the HUGE difference:

    Electronics in homes and cars are, generally speaking, created and marketed by very large organizations (think Lutron, Ford, Westinghouse, Toyota). These businesses engineer in the best quality they can, and they prepare their service depots with qualified technicians for support of their products. WITH ALL THAT — people don’t have a lot of good things to say about when their hi-tech stuff goes bzzzzt.

    So now, picture an organization like Thor or Winnebago, with 1% of the resources of Ford or Lutron — do you think their support configuration might be a little more scant? Yup.

    2. The RV market clearly has an up-side, and that upside is twofold. First, the “allure” will fade. People will begin to “get it” that simply buying an RV will not provide them some mythical kind of freedom. The fad will wane.

    Second, it’s only the growing economy that fosters a feeling of enough wealth to invest in high-priced “camping” vehicles. WHEN the economy sags (not if), the over-inflated RV market will nearly disappear. My personal hunch is that sales will drop at least 50% in the first 6 months of a recession. Perhaps more, what with used RV’s flooding the market to try to pay off long-term loans. What a body-blow to the industry — and THEN where is the tech support going to come from when all the providers are trying to figure out how to survive the downturn?

    As you can see, I tend to share your bleak outlook on where the industry is going.

    Tony from Palm Springs, CA

    In my teens I carried a backpack into wilderness areas. In my 20s I camped in a tent. Fast forward to my late 50s and I’m now most comfortable in a 43’ motorhome with all the comforts of home and living half the year in it. Roughing it is having only 30amp service! My life style and tastes have changed with age, and I have no guilt about enjoying the outdoors on my terms. I admire younger guys and their cute tear-drop trailers and ultra-lite 17’ towable rigs, but I’ll sleep like a baby in my king size bed and stay warm with my aqua hot heated floors.

    Terry

    The ultimate gadget ridden RVs are Prevost units. I once saw one broke down in a Ocean Lakes Campground , Myrtle Beach SC for a week trying to diagnose the electrical problems. The service manager of my former dealer told me his techs dread seeing a Prevost or others like it pull in for repairs. The wiring diagrams often do not match the actual units. A friend of mine $495,000) bought a new Winnebago 44 ft cummins diesel pusher. It broke down on the maiden voyage and most other trips. After a year he had the dealer, Campng World sell it. for $335,000. The unit had 11,000 miles on it. My friend stated he could have chartered private jets, used limos and 5 star hotels for their travel and it would have been cheaper. After camping since 1971 and having owned 8 different campers, my wife and I have sold our last 5th wheel .
    We also own a park model in Sun N Fun RV Resort in Sarasota, FL. We now stay in motels and these are often bad places. However, it is now cheaper to stay in motels. We tend to eat our meals out of our cooler, except for dinners. I have personally witnessed what Chuck writes about in the campgrounds plus other horror stories about theft in campgrounds. We toured a factory in Middleton IN where Forest River made 5th wheels and travel trailers. The workers move almost as fast as the NASCAR pit crews. There is so much hand labor in assembling an RV. The QC people try to identify problems and flaws on the assembly line with masking tape. However, the emphasis is to push the unit out the doors and to the dealers. We miss camping but I do not miss all the problems which we experienced with our high tech travel trailers and 5th wheels. We now often rent park model RV’s already set up in parks when we desire to camp. Our granddaughters call this “glamping”

    John Rakoci

    FOX News article yesterday stated after the most recent 13% stock price drop Thor is down 39% for the year. They have been cutting back production and offering dealers big incentives. The numbers did not come out very good on the last conference call.

    Kenneth Pratt

    My past experience in the automotive industry tells me not to purchase the “bells and whistles”. Two things come to mind. The difficulty of finding a qualified technician to perform the diagnosis and make the repairs and then there is the cost of the replacement part that usually doesn’t come as a subcomponent nor is it generally repairable but there is more money to be made on the “backend”.

    Booneyrat

    Two of the last great RV manufacturers ceased manufacturing RV’s some 5-6 years ago when Nu-Wa and Excel went out.Since then there have been very few decent coach builders who put out anything but high priced JUNK. One day this sham will bite the RV’s manufacturers in the derriere,and rightly so.What will the young folks do then? Because most sure won’t know how to “fix” anything.Maybe they can “reboot”: their RV so it “fixes” itself. In the meantime the rest of us “normal” folks can “fix” our own rigs.

    Patricia Moore

    I am another person who enjoys RVing, not camping. I own an RV to travel to the RV park where my group of friends is meeting that month. I want the bells and whistles, I want comfort. I seldom boondock and that is usually only at rallies. I want the RV parks with pools, community centers for us to enjoy meeting for our coffee in the morning and happy hours in the afternoon after we return from touring the local area. I did the crouch over a campfire bit when I was young, fun then, not now. I want the ac, microwave and the rest. The idea of a 10 inch screen on the radio is great, easier to see the backup screen and navigation system on a bigger screen. I use my RV like a moveable apartment and want it to be that way. They still make primitive units for you so you can go burn your marshmallows but most places I “camp” you cannot have an outdoor fire. As far as the all electric units, they have generators so you can have your electric going anywhere. I do agree with you about the RV parks being more and more difficult to find spaces in. Our group of about 20 rigs used to have no problem finding spaces – together and the parks were glad for the extra money. Now with most of the parks converting to residence parks it is hard to find a place for the group, especially in season here in Florida. I understand, and if I were an owner of a park having someone booked in for six months or a full year vs a week would be an easy choice but it does make it harder for those of us who want to move around.

    Rob

    1993 Gulfstream Innsbruck 5th Wheel 26′ and we love it, no slid outs to worry about leaking, no power jacks to fail, all arm strong. Never leaked and in better condition than most units 5 years old. IMHO you would have to be a brick short of a load to get a 7 % loan on a rolling depreciating asset that will fail apart long before you can say bankrupt again. The big market crash is coming again and this industry is going to be hit like a ton of bricks.

    Willie

    My RV is 100% solar and one fuel, diesel. Webasto diesel cooktop and Webasto diesel air and water heater and a 12 volt Artic Air AC, 12 volt refrigerator. No generator!! I couldn’t be happier.

    The Thor Class A with a 200 watt solar system, what a sham. That’s going to charge the start batteries and barely tickle the house batteries. If a Class A doesn’t have enough solar to boondock for a few days, why even offer solar?

    Bob Godfrey

    Love it! Keep up the good work Chuck! BTW, I’ll keep my 19 year old Newmar Mountain Aire with those old fashioned push buttons (so labor intensive!) until it falls apart, which will be quite awhile if you ask me. And we purchased it at 10 years old without those wonderful 20 year loans too! Also, is there an app for common sense? I wish someone would develop one.

    MR ED LAUX

    Great article on the insane new “important” gadgets coming out on those expensive Class A’s. I laughed so much on your candor !! I feel exactly the same. I’m going read it again !!

    Eric

    Chuck-
    Your points are, as always, well taken, especially if you ignore young buyer’s needs and manufacturer’s desire to fill those needs. Your constant lament about a bygone era suggests that YOU are the one that’s out of touch. Millennials love electronics, and RV makers will give them what they want in spite of your old-fashioned notions about the “camping” experience. Give it a rest before you lose many of your subscribers.

    Rick

    All I can say is I’m still driving and camping in my 1997 Newmar. That’s 21 yrs. Wonder how many of these new RVs will still be on the road in 21 yrs. I venture to say not many if any.

    Troy

    I for one happen to love my 2017 Thor Challenger 37LX that I’ve been living in for over a year now! I wish that It had an induction stove and the tilt a bed that they put in the 2018’s. I actually heat my RV with my fake fireplace using the electricity that comes with the site that I’m staying in rather than pay for propane. Yes I do have a 20 year loan at 4.99%(which isn’t really a new thing…they’ve been around for at least the last 25 years) and the interest is tax deductible like a home loan. I also have two houses with 30 year loans, but I don’t hear anyone complaining about that type of a loan. I happen to love my residential fridge too. I spent more than my fair share of time “roughing it a.k.a boondocking” during my 20 years in the Marine Corps, so I prefer to have full hookups. If I do have to stay a night somewhere without full hookups I do have a very quiet generator that will keep all my electrical devices going. I do like your newsletter, and your war on the RV industry to produce more quality over quantity, but reading this article just tells me I need to learn more about electronics so I can fix them. Keep up the good work Chuck!

    STEPHEN P MALOCHLEB

    Chuck,you couldn’t be more right. I work in the auto industry, all this high tech gadgetry. When it’s new and works it’s great. But when it breaks down, it can be a nightmare to repair. Not to mention the cost. If your gonna rely on technology, I sure hope they’ll put in some manual overrides. Otherwise your just gonna be parked, lost, and confused. And at the speed there building these rigs, you can be sure there will be failures. The KISS factor is still the best. Keep It Simple Stupid!!!!!!!

    John Snell

    Chuck,
    All they are doing is incorporating this app driven world into the RV industry. Why? Because people want it. Of course you don’t need it . Who feels the need to adjust the temperature of your refrigerator in your home if your a thousand miles away ?. I certainly dont, my world isn’t driven by apps. Bezos of Amazon isn’t worth 134B because people don’t like push button shopping. By pushing Amazon on this site your silently complicit. I’m not saying it’s bad ,it’s the times we live in. Agreed, the quality of rvs and financing terms are rediculous.

    John Maddox

    The RV mentioned here might appeal to the new RV buyers as they are not the same generation. At the same time they are probably producing other not as tech equipped RVs for other buyers. Thor is a company who wants to appeal to a broad base of people and not just be a niche maker who only appeals to people who want to get off the grid. And Thor has many brands in its umbrella. This may have already been one of the higher end brands anyway

    robert austin

    What would happen if a new builder came in to the market place and built a honest to goodness RV. Would it sell and appeal to the real people that want a RV or are they so blind that all they want is bling. Now a days we look to find RVs built before the crash because the are built better and have better layouts. In 10 years these new units will be toast and people will still owe 10 years on them.