- airstream and winnebago have seen retail sales increase as more people opt for road trips and vacations outside crowded spaces amid the coronavius pandemic.
- both companies have seen more new faces coming to the brands than in previous years.
- it's not only road vehicles: winnebago is also seeing an increase in boat sales from its chris-craft brand.
the lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic are still unknown. what we do know is that people are tired of being at home but also trying to balance their annual vacation plans against covid-19 safety concerns. with that in mind, recent studies have shown that more people are thinking about in-car trips over spending time in a metal tube flying through the air. one way that's playing out is an increase in retail sales for two of the biggest names in rv and travel trailers, along with a boost in the rentals of travel vehicles.
airstream saw retail deliveries up 49 percent in may 2020 over the previous year, a record for the company, justin humphreys, airstream vice president of sales, told car and driver. the company known for its iconic travel trailers is also seeing record sales numbers in june as demand continues to grow, although the company does not release the number it actually sold.
airstream is also seeing an influx of customers new to the brand, and the national move to socially distance could be part of the reason. road trips are a great way to see the country, and there's the added safety benefit of rolling in a self-contained moving vacation spot. as humphreys said, it's a "home on wheels" that lets people "avoid planes, hotels, public restrooms, and restaurants along the way."
winnebago is also seeing newer faces in its vehicles. in previous years, the number of new buyers ran between 20 and 35 percent. this year the company has seen that number climb to an estimated 45 to 50 percent, especially in the towable category. "we have seen a strong wave of first-time rvers this late spring and summer,” winnebago spokesman sam jefson told c/d.
like airstream, winnebago has also seen an increase in year-over-year retail sales, and like airstream, the company won't disclose actual numbers. in addition to towable trailers, class b vans are leading an uptick in sales, winnebago said. the larger camper vans were already getting a boost thanks to the #vanlife trend. now, that phenomenon has evolved beyond a hashtag-based lifestyle into a serious way to get out of town.
that escalation hasn’t just confined itself to vans and travel trailers. "our luxury brands, newmar [luxury motorhomes] and chris-craft [boats], have seen some of their strongest retail and order weeks in memory occur in recent times," jefson said.
but not everyone can afford or even want an additional vehicle they might only use a few times a year. for those vacationers, there's cruise america, the nation's largest rv rental firm. it's experiencing about three times more reservations this year compared to the same period in 2019 and also seeing an influx of first-time customers.
"the domestic business is booming," cruise america spokesman randall smalley told c/d. "there's no other form of travel. that's not a negative to rvs. it's just that a lot of people would never consider this type of vacation. they would be going to the hotels or doing something of that sort, [now] they're saying 'you know what, it's time to consider rv travel.' " the reservations are also different. there are far more last-minute trips being booked, and the duration of these rentals tends to be longer than usual. even the company's call center is seeing a spike as those new to renting an rv reach out to the company to ask questions about the service.
like auto rental companies, cruise america sells used rvs in its fleet to purchase new vehicles. on that end, in may and june the amount of rvs sold was double that of may and june of last year.
but the industry, like others, has been hit hard by the pandemic. according to the rv industry association, may 2020 shipments were down over last year following large-scale shutdowns. "while numbers compared to last may show a 30 percent decrease, the reality is the rv industry is very strong right now. many rv dealerships that were able to reopen their showroom reported record sales," rvia president craig kirby stated in a monthly market report.
fortunately for dealers, recreational vehicles already on the lots are selling while the manufacturers spin up production to replace them.
with summer in full swing, expect to see more vacationers on the road than ever: families packed into a single large vehicle seeing the country from the ground instead of 30,000 feet up. maybe yours will be one of them.