New RVs sitting in manufacturers’ fields. No parts to finish them!

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By Tony Barthel
If you’re driving around and seeing RV dealer lots empty it’s not because they’re going out of business. In fact, RV dealers and the industry as a whole are thriving. The problem is a shortage of critical parts at manufacturing plants that makes finishing many RVs impossible or presents long delays.

According to some sources, there are RVs sitting in fields waiting for just a few parts before they’re considered complete and shipped off to the dealers. And for every RV that a dealer may have on order, there may be multiple people willing to put down a deposit on that RV and buy it sight unseen. 

Thor, the world’s largest RV manufacturer, stated in its first-quarter fiscal results that it has $8.9 billion in back-ordered RVs worldwide, predominantly due to parts shortages. That’s like Santa promising you a toy for Christmas and you not getting it until Halloween – if you’re lucky. And it’s not substituted by Jack Skellington. 

Options that may have been available to customers and dealers in the past may not be available now due to parts shortages. 

“We were told there were options for 12-volt refrigerators,” said one RV dealer employee I spoke with, who noted that it used to be possible to choose between a 12-volt refrigerator or the more traditional RV gas-electric refrigerator. “Now that option is take it or leave it,” he said, referring to only being able to get the 12-volt models.

This was in reference to the shortages of the typical gas/electric refrigerator that is so common in RVs. But recently, 12-volt compressor-based refrigerators are becoming increasingly popular as manufacturers scramble for parts. If there aren’t gas/electric refrigerators available, what’s the alternative?

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In a video, Jason Epperson of the RVMiles podcast indicated that some manufacturers that had offered two air conditioners on a unit as an option were foregoing that for the time being while the units were in short supply. 

I also had a chance to have an exchange with Karl Miller, Operations Manager for Forest River’s Rockwood/Flagstaff brand, a premium brand of travel trailers and fifth wheels. 

Miller indicated, “…anything that is imported from overseas is delayed due to shipping containers not finding space on vessels and we understand some ships have not been reactivated since the COVID shutdown.” 

In other words, while the RVs are predominantly made here in the U.S., they all use parts from overseas, and getting those parts to the U.S. is a big factor in the problem. 

Miller also indicated that inventory levels were already down due to large demand. A backlog of parts just exacerbated the situation. Among the parts Miller cited were sinks, faucets, ceiling fans, 110-volt breakers and that sort of thing. 

But then there are also U.S.-made components that rely on parts made overseas including air conditioners, ovens, toilets, axles and more. 

Josh Winters

Josh Winters from Haylett RV in Coldwater, MI, spoke from the dealer’s perspective saying, “Unfortunately a large number of suppliers have simply been unable to keep up with the unprecedented surge in demand that began post-quarantine. Our industry has always seen ebbs and flows of demand, but nothing like what we have seen in 2020 so far. 

“And how I wish I were referring to things like pillows or sink covers — little stuff you can work around or replace/fulfill at a later date. Unfortunately, there have been a number of ‘all stop’ shortages on items that simply prevent the RV from realistically being used.”

Both Miller and Winters also cited something else in short supply: RV toilets. Toilets are almost as scarce as toilet paper in a supermarket. 

“I’m not even joking, sadly,” said Winters. “This is a real thing. This is happening. And now we are about to enter the silliest phase of this whole shortage cycle yet — the Great Toilet Shortage of 2020.”

So how are the manufacturers handling the situation? Some are just producing at levels that can be supported by incoming parts shipments. 

According to Karl Miller, “Some are coping with it better than others. Documentation and re-inspection of the units are the important steps to have in place in order to not let the dealers and retail customer suffer from shortage-related issues. Maintaining a manageable shortage yard is also very important, as it takes time to install parts. Overbuilding the number of shortage units you have will cause mass confusion and result in damaged units, dirty units and missing parts.”

In other words, some RV manufacturers have actually set production levels at a reasonable level relative to incoming parts and the ability to complete units. 

There is a lot of speculation on social media about RV companies building their products at a frenetic pace to try to keep up with demand, but that’s just not realistic. Well-managed companies are building to maintain long-term relationships with their customers and keeping quality at levels at or above previous standards. 

Winters also said he was encouraged by the level of quality of rigs that are showing up and the defect rate of new units compared to at any time in the past. 

“If anything, we’re seeing equal or better quality of the rigs rolling in here.” 

Perry Bates

That was echoed by Perry Bates, owner of Redwood Empire RVs in Ukiah, CA, who said, “We’re very happy with the quality of the units we see coming in. We may not get everything we want from a volume standpoint but we are getting quality units.” 

And new product innovations are also making appearances with floor plans that reflect a growing number of Americans’ realities of working on the road. 

“There are now RVs with spaces to work, spaces for kids to learn. There are even models where people can set up remote offices,” said Bates. 

“The manufacturers are doing all they can to make sure their RVs remain 100% functional. Sometimes that just means the camper just ends up looking a little differently than it would in the brochure (though only if you put it under the microscope, so to speak),” echoed Winters. 

That kind of thing is not just affecting the delivery of new RVs but also of repairs on existing models. For example, my own RV has a damaged awning. That awning was damaged in August and the estimated time to get the replacement is somewhere around February or March. 

“We have been hit by it even harder in a lot of ways at the dealer level,” said Winters. “Suppliers of items like those toilets have already dedicated basically 100% of their completed parts to the manufacturers who represent their biggest customers. For several months we have literally been unable to restock a myriad of items from our parts shelves. Thankfully, warranty requests are still being fulfilled though not quite as quickly as we or our clients would like at times.”

So when does the industry feel they will get a handle on things?

“It has been a moving issue. As some issues get resolved, others show up,” stated Karl Miller. “With what we are seeing with import, the local labor issue, and the low dealer inventories (demand), I believe we will see product shortages and the constant need to monitor it through the first two quarters of 2021. As we see a better product flow, the industry will just try to do more… The brands that plan the best and are responsible for production will shine in the dealers’ and retailers’ eyes. We need to remember it is not how many we build but how well we build what we do build.”

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Steve Wilkins
3 months ago

To me, the real story may have to do with RV parts suppliers. I encourage RV Travel to do some investigative reporting on that segment. More specifically, Dometic may be a good place to focus.

It appears that Dometic needs to incorporate better supply-chain management systems into their operations. In January of 2020, Dometic announced that they were moving their awning operations from LaGrange, IN to Mexico. According to this article, Dometic’s president of Regions America was acting to address an “industry downturn” in RV demand. Although, RV sales had not, yet, begun a COVID-related upturn, at least one RV manufacturer was having problems getting awnings and awning replacement parts because of the disruption in shifting production to Mexico.

Apparently, Dometic does not maintain U.S. parts inventories for products made overseas. In January, the control panel on my 2019, German-made refrigerator failed. It took 2 months for a replacement to be shipped by slow boat, from Europe.

Julian
3 months ago

I took my 2015 Keystone Springdale in for bodywork back in late June 2020. My fault, made a turn too sharp and did some damage. It is Dec. 24th and my camper is still sitting in their storage lot awaiting sheet metal. Last week dealer informed me again that panels would not be available until at least mid January.

Mojo
3 months ago

Past import sell-outs and give-aways to exporting countries only encouraged us keep buying everything from China and company. Is this shortage really a total surprise to anyone ??

Abe Loughin
3 months ago

There seems to be a lot of hype about manufacturers adding “work space ” to the new floor plans. Back in the early 2000s some Monaco coaches came with pull out computer trays, they even had pre-cut holes in the counter top to run cables for the monitor and a shelf for a printer.

Dennis
3 months ago

One reason we ordered our RV from Newmar I was impressed with there production system seems like they are not pushing their production to push more sells. Yes we have to wait till March 25 2021 but I’m okay with that.

Montgomery Bonner
3 months ago

It seems to me, the parts companies, would be miles ahead just bringing back all the production here, then putting to work all the out of work folks all around. Yeah, parts cost go up, but the units would then be COMPLETE, able to ship to dealers and end users. People would be working, the velocity of money in the economy would be happening, instead of all of it sitting in savings someplace. Our 2019 is for sale, anyone interested? Because I would never every purchase a 2020 model, or possibly a 2021, missing parts, rushed production lines, laid off experienced workers with other not familiar with this or that. No me.

Danny Wells
3 months ago

With RV quality and workmanship as bad as it has been for a while I, can’t believe someone would buy one Sight unseen.

Ernie
3 months ago

“Some sources” may see the issue of parts availability as a reason for the manufactures to be more concerned with QC, but I have my doubts. And of course the factory reps and dealers will never admit to the poor builds that can plague the entire industry.

Gordy
3 months ago
Reply to  Ernie

My thoughts exactly.

MIchael Briggs
3 months ago

I recently drove to Des Moines, IA to pick up a trailer for a friend. He was lookpng for a specific floor plan and a dealer there had it. We noticed several things on the trip there and back. First, every RV dealer we drove by, no exceptions had full or nearly full lots. Hard to tell if most were new but it seemed that way. This includes the dealer we went to on I-80. They even had rv’s in an adjacent lot. I asked them about inventory and they replied they were receiving everything they had ordered. Pretty good sized dealer. Mostly Jayco.

Second, it seemed like a steady stream of transporters (licensed DOT trucks) pulling 5th wheels and bumper pulls west. Through Montana, it looked like a parade. We had a fun time, trying to identify and guess lengths. Coming back I spoke with a transporter driving a motor home west while we were fueling. He was running a little late due to wind in central Montana. I asked him if he was staying busy and he replied he was very busy.

Gordy
3 months ago
Reply to  MIchael Briggs

I noticed a dealer near me that over a weekend their lot seemed to become very empty? Ether they had one hell of a weekend of sales or stuff was moved elsewhere. My bet is the second.

Cheryl Bacon
3 months ago
Reply to  MIchael Briggs

I have a feeling they are only using the western and NW part of the country as a barometer for this shortage claim. There sure don’t seem to be a shortage in the other parts of the country. When they kept saying the dealers were packed, we saw plenty with hardly anyone there. Now the shops, yes they are busy. During this pandemic was a good time to put your rig in there, especially if you chose to stay close to home and in familiar areas. Also most of the lots that sell the higher ticket price RV’s are having sales to make way for the new rigs on order.

Tom
3 months ago

I purchased a new to me motorhome in August. One of the roof top air conditioners was not working. I had my RV mechanic order one for replacement.
Fast forward. I was just notified that it finally came in on 12/16.
My mechanic told me everything is going to the manufacturers.

Thomas D
3 months ago

Those days of buying all usa made stuff is long over,unfortunately. It’s a World economy. Manufacturer s want the cheapest price. Shipping must be free. I live in Wisconsin. Kohler makes toilets. Not in Wisconsin but Mexico. How much of the final price was paid for shipping. Tariffs put on do nothing but tax the consumer. Remember,all the taxes,shipping costs profit, labor ,everything, goes into the price you pay. No one else.

Gordy
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

This will become worse I fear with the incoming administration.
Wished we would build more stuff in the US but labor rates is so high and with those wanting a $15.00 per hr min wage I dont see it getting better.

tim palmer
3 months ago
Reply to  Gordy

Why? It is worse now since the current administration raised all the taxes (tariffs) on the imports.

Bobby
3 months ago
Reply to  Gordy

So people should get an unlivable wage just so people with money don’t have to pay realistic amount for labor. I bet you won’t be working for $15.00 hr and buying an RV. If we want to keep wages lower, don’t be greedy with rents, food, medical and housing costs. It would help this country if we were not buying EVERYTHING from China and built it here. Honestly, I don’t know know how people can even make it on $15.00 an hour.

Doug W
3 months ago
Reply to  Bobby

Agreed, funny how those with money want others to work for free.

Rory R
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

Someone always finds a way to bring politics into the conversation….

Cee
3 months ago

I have been waiting since Aug for 2 awning arms (inside only) for my 2016 MH which I’ve owned for 3 years. Thank goodness I don’t need to replace my toilet!

Richard
3 months ago

Spent five months on a walk about recently.Florida to Maine and back to Florida..saw no shortage of RV’s at the many dealerships we passed and stopped. Where is the shortage? There is however shortage of parts I am told ..also our coach was just returned to us after a month at the dealer for warranty work…our dealer IS slammed with work…so if you have a new rig of any size …use it before your one year warranty runs out !!! We had multiple problems that we would have not found out if we didn’t travel…

Donald N Wright
3 months ago

“Buy American” isn’t so easy. I have worked in small manufacturing plants, normal people have no idea how much it takes to create and build something. Is a nail simple ? Try and make one, or ten thousand.

Tom Moeller
3 months ago

I just drove from Tampa, Florida to central Georgia along I 75 I saw camping word loaded with RV’s and general rv seems to have lots full of RV’s and some smaller dealer with plenty.I know some major parts are not available.But I question the article.

Glenn
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Moeller

We just returned from a trip to Virginia, NC, SC. The dealers we saw were packed with rvs . Stayed in Myrtle Beach for 4 days. Independent dealers packed, corporate dealers packed. On the return trip, I95 to I10, every dealership we passed was filled to bursting with rvs of all types. I don’t know where the shortage is, but it doesn’t look like it’s in the southeast.

If someone can’t find what they want near home, perhaps fly and drive or drive and drag are an option.

Oh………since when has shipping an incomplete rv been a problem for manufacturers? I doubt that most have ever shipped a complete and fully functional unit.

My .02 on sunny Saturday in south Alabama.

Kimberly Lockwood
3 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

Our small business UpClose-RV participated in an alternative RV show to the Hershey Show in September in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We learned that many of those units on those lots may not be available and are already sold. But it is something we can’t necessarily confirm.

CHERYL
3 months ago

STOP BUYING THE PARTS FROM CHINA HAVE AN AMERICAN COMPANY MAKE YOUR PARTS. STOP RELINING ON CHINA. BRING YOUR BUSINESS BACK TO AMERICA.

Bill Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  CHERYL

Amen!!

Gman
3 months ago
Reply to  CHERYL

Not gonna happen. Parts are cheaper overseas with regulations far more lax than here. The bottom line, profits.

Rodney
3 months ago
Reply to  CHERYL

American consumers don’t and won’t pay the price it would cost to manufacture parts in the USA! Why do you think corporations learned years ago, cheaper labor overseas added more profits to their bottom line. Corporations don’t answer to the consumer, they answer to the stockholders!

Rory R
3 months ago
Reply to  CHERYL

Wonderful idea, then many buyers won’t want to pay the increased price…