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Opinions wanted: What do record manufacturing results really mean for RVing future?

The news out of the RV industry continues to be a bit, well, confusing.

The RV Industry Association announced last week that 2021 would be the year RV manufacturers set an all-time record for factory shipments to dealers and RVers around the country.

RV makers managed to crank out another 57,971 units in October, an increase of 22.5 percent compared to October 2020. This October also set an all-time one-month record for shipments by more than 18 percent.

October’s performance already makes 2021 the best year ever for factory shipments, and there are still two months to go.

So, all is right again in the world of RVing, right? Hardly. While the RV Industry Association touts the numbers – and they are quite impressive – they don’t mention in their press releases that all of those RVs going out the factory doors are already spoken for and aren’t available to anyone who hasn’t already plunked down their deposit money.

A welder works on a new RV at Winnebago’s manufacturing plant. (Winnebago photo)

Both Winnebago Industries and mega-manufacturer Thor announced months ago that they were facing order backlogs that totaled into the billions of dollars. Both companies said it would likely be at least the latter part of 2022 before backlogs began to clear. No word on backlogs from the other big player, Forest River, but it’s probably safe to assume they are in the same boat when it comes to keeping up with pre-sold orders.

That means that despite the record production, buyers waiting with purchase orders in hand will likely continue to wait, albeit maybe not quite as long.

You can still find RV dealers who seem to have very few lot inventory problems, but there are many more who say their inventories are well below normal. If you’re one of those millions of wannabe RVers who are still waiting for RV dealership lots to refill to shop for the model you want, you’re just going to have to wait for those order backlogs to clear.

What about quality?

Some experienced RVers are making noise about avoiding RV units produced during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.

Unemployment around the RV manufacturing mecca of Elkhart, Indiana, continues to hover around 2.4 percent. It’s hard for any employer there to find qualified workers. It’s also hard to imagine that inexperienced assembly line workers cranking out record amounts of RVs can simultaneously have their eyes fully trained on quality. Even RV transporters – those independent contractors who haul new RVs from factories to dealers – are complaining online about the construction quality they are seeing.

The RV Industry Association’s job is to keep the RV party going. Right now, they have an easy task as millions of new potential RVers continue to flock to the camping lifestyle.

“Despite the challenges we have faced with supply chain and workforce, what is really remarkable is the way the RV industry has found ways to overcome the issues and deliver 12-straight months of record shipments,” said RV Industry Association President and CEO Craig Kirby in a recent release. “We know more and more people want to get outdoors and experience the joys of RVing with their friends and families and our manufacturers and suppliers have responded impressively to keep more and more RVs heading to dealerships every month.”

What’s next?

One thing is clear: RV manufacturers’ production numbers will continue to set impressive marks as they approach 600,000-plus new rigs next year. The supply chain will get unkinked, and millions of newbies will be there to throw their money down on anything that rolls out of the plants.

If experienced RVers looking for an upgrade decide the price isn’t worth the quality they see, they’ll be asked to step aside and make room for the masses of less experienced buyers waiting anxiously in the wings, wallets at the ready.

Those 600,000 or so new rigs obviously won’t help crowded conditions in U.S. campgrounds. Yet investors are flocking into the camping business with their money, and new parks and park expansions are on the way. Unfortunately, it takes longer to build a new RV site than it takes to build a new RV.

It’s going to take a while for the RVing and camping explosion to shake out and, along the way, there are going to be many big decisions made by industry leaders.

What would you tell RV manufacturers?

Forest River CEO Pete Liegl, Thor Industries’ CEO Bob Martin, and CEO Mike Happe from Winnebago Industries are all giants in the RV industry and hold the keys to RVing’s future.

Believe what you will about their motivations, but these aren’t foolish men. They were all around for the recession that nearly crippled the industry in 2008 and used it as an opportunity to expand their brands through the acquisition of struggling companies.

Let’s pretend for a moment that those three fellows are anxiously awaiting your input regarding the ONE THING they could do to help RVers. What is the single most important thing these three need to know, from your viewpoint?

This is your chance. In the comments below, tell Pete, Bob and Mike your suggestions. Let’s keep your comments concise, constructive, and civil. Maybe we’ll all learn something.

##RVT1028b

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Suzanne Davis
1 month ago

So after reading all the comments, I’m seriously rethinking this while thing. I have serouis health issues and my hubby can no longer tent camp, so this is a natural progression for us. We are poor, but quality still matters. It matters in my health care and matters in all aspects of my life.

I have no problem walking away from a life style I have not started yet and returning all the items for our rig. We needed lightweight and I’ve done that. I’ve been learning what to expect in terms of repairs on our own. These things I accept, it’s like owning a home; things breakdown over time. Learning how to do minor repairs is good.

If not accepting our rig sends a message In on board. My life is hell I just want a little snippet of heaven.

Quality equals heaven

Suzanne Davis
1 month ago

We’re one of those newbies waiting in the wings. We’re attempting to ask the what things which is a huge learning curve. We’ve joined RV Fb groups age in one of those groups a newbie was going over his new arrival when he noticed a huge issue with quality. Everyone, seriously everyone v said run do not take that.

We were given the opportunity to look at and walk in a new customers rv, same as ours, we saw some things that made us scratch our heads. We let our dealer know about what we saw and told them we will not accept shying subpar. I also went a step further and wrote the company telling them what we saw.

I was hoping they would be able to follow ours and do a slended job, but that’s not how things work. Lol. Too bad.

While I don’t want to turn down our new rig, if it’s just slapped together we plan to get our deposit back and I’ll return all the gadgets I’ve already purchased and we’ll wait for sunnier days. This is a huge investment.

Natasha Stevens
1 month ago

While it is impressive to hear the number of new RVs that are making it to dealerships, my largest concern is the quality of those rapidly produced rigs. Even before big COVID boom, New RVs we’re notorious for having “kinks to work out”, and owners, like myself, struggled to get these rigs into shops for warranty work. Instead of being reactive and correcting a problem when it comes up, I think the RV industry needs to be proactive and prevent these issues from ever happening. We need a strong quality control program that checks for issues during production. Take note from the construction industry. If manufactures have inspections for electric, plumbing, framing, etc as a unit is being constructed, many problems will be found and remedied before it leaves the manufacturer. This will not only prevent issues down the road but it will also increase owner satisfaction as well as reduce the burden on repair shops.

ChiefW78
1 month ago

If the RV suits are interested in quality produced units, I wonder why they seem to ignore the amount of information (complaints) provided by the RV dealers and the consumer over the past decade. They seem to turn out more elaborate units which fail basic QC. For example, simply ensuring the slide-outs slide back in flush with the brand spanking new unit! How did this one ever get passed? Spent a couple of weeks waiting for the builder to figure out how to resolve the issue! Common business sense and integrity is being blinded by personal bank accounts.

Carson Axtell
1 month ago

All blame for poor quality rests entirely with the buying public. As long as sayings such as “caveat emptor”, “there’s a sucker born every minute”, and “no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses” hold true, manufacturers will continue to churn out cheap junk secure in the knowledge that they will continue to rake in the profits. Every prospective RV owner needs to read this newsletter and educate himself/herself to the reputations of RV manufacturers as a first line of defense to guard their wallets. Everyone needs to learn to “buy the steak and not just the sizzle…”

Last edited 1 month ago by Carson Axtell
Michael Johnson
1 month ago

Mr Liegl,
Quality of product and lack of assistance from Owner Relations has been a problem since delivery of our trailer on the 13th of September 2021. Many cosmetic issues to include ceiling tiles hanging down 6 inches on the day of delivery, wall panels not tacked in place and sticking out, a wall separation on drivers side between bathroom and kitchen. Leveling jacks that do not hold the trailer level so I have the drivers side on jack stands. A/C’s that do not keep up in Arizona. Electric water heater that did not have connections tightened shorted out and burnt the wires.
Owner Relations provided me with numbers to RV maintenance places that will not do initial warranty work. I have shared this back with them and they have quit responding to me.
Not sure if writing here does any good but I have spent many many hours trying to get assistance from anyone…

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
1 month ago

Hi, Michael. For those readers who might be curious, what type of Forest River product are you having so much trouble with, if you don’t mind telling us? I’m going to pass your comment along to Russ De Maris, who’s in charge of our new RV Consumer Support column. Good luck, Michael. Take care, and stay healthy. 🙂 –Diane

Michael Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Hi Diane,
The trailer I bought is a 2021 Cedar Creek 360RL 5th Wheel. It was purchased brand new on the 13th of Sep 2021.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
1 month ago

Thanks for the update, Michael. I’ve just emailed your original comment, my response to it, and your current response to me, to Russ De Maris for possible follow-up. Have a good night, and stay healthy. 🙂 –Diane

Donna McBrier
1 month ago

Quality, quality, quality. Final finish supervisors who actually check a coach out and get things fixed even if it adds a bit to delivery time. I’m not enjoying my new coach as much as I should because final finish is so poor in so many areas. And taking it back to the dealer for repairs after purchase is unacceptable.

RJR
1 month ago

Focus on quality not quantity.

hotrodjr1211
1 month ago

Put big showers in rvs. The corner showers do not work for tall rvers. Residential showers.

Jeff
1 month ago

The quality is never going to change until competition comes into the market. Just like the auto industry. Remember the old Ford commercial, “Quality is Job One”!
What I don’t understand is why these big RV companies don’t see the camp grounds as a business opportunity. Before I retired, I was a business consultant and help many companies expand the lines of business they were in, or partner with someone that had already built out the business. My wife and I bought an RV site so we always have a place to go. When we are not there it rents out. It’s like having rental property w/o all the pain that comes with renters. We sold the eight rent houses we had and are buying RV sites. We are making more money renting cement than we were renting a house.

Bob and Charlotte and Champlin
1 month ago

Quality, responsive customer service, and repair services that don’t tie up our rigs for weeks and months. Although they, too, have had their problems, the Tiffin family, motorhomes and Vanleigh fifth wheels, and the Tishomingo RV Service Center are great examples of how things should be done. These three things are especially important to those of us that are full-timers.

Dr. Mike
1 month ago

Good evening Mr. Liegl, Mr. Happe, and Mr. Martin.

I can provide you with a brief outline to improve the quality of your product, however, a face-to-face presentation would be better.

You will need to design and staff a quality control department. This will be an independent department and answerable only to the CEO of the firm.
There will be multiple teams of quality control inspectors throughout the plant and will report to separate quality managers (one for exterior, one for interior…). All of the quality managers will report to the vice president of quality who then reports only to the CEO.
There is a whole lot more to this, but that is why I said a presentation would be better.

Installing a QC (Quality Control) department will, over time, increase the value of your product and have a tremendous increase in sales which in turn will yield better profit.

Best

Dr. Mike

Hidden Due To Upcoming Trip
1 month ago

Quality Control
Better Insulation/True 4 Season Equipped for Class A/C/5’r
Integrate a TMPS on all rigs (Seriously, why haven’t you already??)
Streamline the front ends (no bricks in the windtunnel)
Finally, two or three tone paint full-body paint. Really over the stickers and swirls. Doesn’t have to be a $9000 paint job – robots can spray the walls before assembly and shrinkwrapped.

Joe
1 month ago

The RV manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank because people still buy this junk. Quality is job none. RVIA is a joke. The industry should be sued for fraud.

Dr. Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe

” People still buy.”

This is the problem. Have the public speak with their wallets, and change will happen.

Chris Giguere
1 month ago

Good day
I’m a proud owner of a 2015 Open Range 319 RLS purchased new back in 2015.
My only advice if I may to these powerful men in the RV business would be to please continue building these great RV for us customers who loves the outdoors life and freedom with Quality IN MIND.
Quality parts, materials and mostly a high quality in the construction of all RV types for us customers, who spend lots of money with great expectations.
I would like to thank this site to give me a chance to express my concerns and reaching at CEO’s level.
A Canadian customer
Chris

Garry Hammond
1 month ago

Quality, quality, QUALITY!
AND more spaces to park them.

Thomas Champagne
1 month ago
Reply to  Garry Hammond

They can only provide the “Quality”. They have absolutely nothing to do with the “spaces to park them” !

Larry McFadden
1 month ago

Create Campgrounds! Not enough for the hordes of RV’s being produced and sold

Betty Danet
1 month ago

QUALITY CONTROL PERIOD! Many people we talk to in the campgrounds have horror stories about their new rigs and the ordeal of getting warranty work done. Some of the defects are mind boggling. We feel so sorry for them. Their dreams have turned into nightmares.

Goldie
1 month ago

Insulate your units better. There is no excuse for putting even the least expensive travel trailer on the road without decent insulation. It’s a minor expense that makes a major difference in the end user experience. Institute automotive style quality controls and make a 2 year warranty standard, 3 years on the high end coaches. Invest in your people and your dealers and help them to invest in their employees. Reward high standard service work, penalize those that can not maintain a reasonable level of service. Pay attention to your customer satisfaction scores (CSI) and follow up on complaints. Strive for transparency and consistency across the board. If you think sales are good now, increase your CSI and watch them climb.

MR M TAGLIANINI
1 month ago

Diesel vs. Electric Power Trains: Is the global RV industry waiting for the Tesla semis?

Maurizio

Timothy Hanley
1 month ago

There needs to be better quality control inspections. Take a little more time building the rigs and quality will improve.