RV Study: Unrelenting Price Hikes, a Booming Rental Market and Evolving Buyer Diversity
With nearly 50% price increases in many popular RV models this past decade, buyers are experiencing soaring costs that go well beyond inflation. Average RV manufacturers’ suggested retail prices (MSRP) are up over 23% in 2021 over 2010 after adjusting for inflation. These price hikes come amid a new wave of RV enthusiasm spurned by COVID-19 that has many travelers turning to renting RVs instead of buying.
Our Most Interesting Findings
- RV prices are up as much as 62% for some popular models.
- RV rental bookings on some platforms are up over 80% since 2019.
- Shifting demographics — first-time RV buyers are younger and more racially diverse than ever
We obtained RV data for the 20 most booked RV models on Outdoorsy Inc., which connects local RV owners with people wanting to rent them. A decade-long historical price analysis reveals yearly RV price hikes as significant as 6%, with an average annual price growth rate of 2.2% after inflation adjustment.
What is Happening
Higher prices for new RVs are a combination of factors. In the short term, demand for RVs is skyrocketing; wholesale RV shipments are up 33.8% in August compared to the same time last year, according to the RV Industry Association, which represents RV manufacturers and suppliers. Despite supply chain disruptions and labor/part shortages, the RV industry is hitting new wholesale shipment records every month in 2021. However, the industry is still facing parts shortages, creating billions of dollars in backorders. The increase in RV demand far outpaces the supply growth, creating a deficit that raises costs.
RV production costs continually rise over the long term due to advancements in engineering, technology, safety, and design. Take steel main frame costs, for example; hardier, lighter, and higher quality steel is now industry standard, increasing safety, performance and efficiency — all at a higher price. Opting for aluminum “cage” frames over wood will lead to a lighter and more robust construction but will also cost more.
RVs today have more features than their decade-old counterparts, and even base trim models come well equipped with features that enhance ease and comfort while on the road. Solar panel systems used to be complex and expensive after-market installations. Today, many manufacturers partnering with solar companies ensure solar systems come standard off the lot. These bells and whistles add premiums to RV prices, allowing manufacturers to charge more and reap larger profit margins.
We took the 20 most booked RV models on Outdoorsy and researched each model’s original manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), going back over a decade. We collected over 240 MSRP data points from NADA Guides and TrueCar to analyze yearly RV price fluctuations. Our investigation into historical RV manufacturer pricing reveals RV price hikes surpassed inflation rates virtually every year this past decade. 2015 saw the average price of an RV increase eightfold the inflation rate.
For example, at the average yearly price increase of 2.2%, assuming zero inflation, a new Thor Motor Coach Four Winds model costing $94,000 today will cost $114,000 a decade from now. Even a new Winnebago Minnie Winnie costing $109,022 today will likely cost $2400 more for next year’s model, regardless of inflation.
The Rush to Rent
The RV lifestyle has exploded in the past 18 months due to COVID-19. Travelers are drawn to RVs right now for many reasons, including the ability to avoid urban crowds and control the cleanliness of your immediate surroundings. With 11.2 million RV-owning households in the U.S., RV ownership is at an all-time high, according to a recent study by the RVIA. However, with RV prices rising, not all potential RVers can afford a motorhome that often costs as much as a starter home in some markets.
That’s where Outdoorsy comes in. The ‘Airbnb’ of RVs is eager to offer the experience of RV ownership, minus the ownership part. With an 81% cumulative increase in RVs rented since 2019, Outdoorsy is suddenly a behemoth in the motorhome rental industry.
Outdoorsy Co-Founder and CEO Jeff Cavins knew that if he took the existing, unprotected RV renting ecosystem and built a safe online environment to facilitate transactions, his company would have wild success. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, magnified this.
“There has been a consistent YoY increase in demand for RV vacations since we started Outdoorsy,” Cavins said. “But COVID catapulted the industry into the mainstream. The pandemic opened people up to new forms of travel. People began to feel tired from lockdowns and turned to the outdoors regardless of if they were avid outdoorsmen or not — and that showed in the numbers, with roughly 90% of all our renters last year being first-timers. This large number of new renters opened Outdoorsy to new demographics, which fed into our goal — to make the outdoors accessible to all.”
Cavins claims Outdoorsy is keeping up with demand due to robust supply levels heading into the pandemic but mentions one of his top focuses for 2022 will be acquiring additional supply in areas with the most unrelenting demand. With wholesale RV shipments projected to reach 600,000 units in 2022, Outdoorsy should have no trouble finding owners wanting to monetize their RVs when not in use. The median usage for RV owners in the U.S. is only 20 days per year, after all.
“Outdoorsy has provided RV owners with a way to monetize their asset when it’s not in use,” Cavins said. “We expect these use patterns to continue with new RV owners, which we expect in turn will translate into folks looking to make the most out of their rig when they’re not personally taking it out on trips. We’re looking forward to working with this new generation of RV owners to bring the magic of outdoor travel to an even broader group of people.”
With a 62% increase in RV ownership since 2001, the U.S. market is flourishing. The traditionally older and whiter demographics of the RV market are rapidly changing, according to the RV Owner Demographic Profile Study, a comprehensive investigation produced by Go RVing (in partnership with the RVIA) and Ipsos.
- 51% of RV owners are now under 55 years old.
- 18-to-34-year-olds now comprise 22% of the RV market.
- 84% of RV owners ages 18-34 intend to buy another RV within five years.
- The median age of RV buyers in 2020 was 41.
RV Industry Spokesperson Monika Geraci acknowledged the lack of diversity among RV owners up to now but pointed to a growing crowd of significantly younger and more diverse owners.
“When we looked at [current] RV owners as a whole, 7% indicated they were non-white,” Geraci said. “When we looked at people who bought RVs for the first time [in 2020], that jumped to 30% — it’s a significant difference.”
A younger and more diverse RV owner market is what much of the outdoor recreation industry wants and works towards, Geraci Said.
“The Go RVing team has been working for over a decade to make sure that everyone can see themselves in an RV,” Geraci said. “And make sure our marketing reflects RVing is for everyone. It’s not your grandma and grandpa’s RV — RVing is for everyone — and the new buyers are showing that.”
Cavins also eagerly welcomes this new age of younger RV owners who are part of the sharing economy generation.
“A generation that is familiar with and widely adopts the concept of sharing their assets with others,” Cavins said. “So we believe that will translate to more and more RVs available for rent across the world through our platform, which will drive new RV renters.”
Expanding the demographics of the RV industry is also part of Outdoorsy’s mission.
“RV ownership — and camping in general — can be cost-prohibitive for many,” Cavins said. “As more RVs become available for rent at even more competitive pricing, we believe that will drive broader adoption of RVing across different types of people, including those that may not have been traditionally well represented in the outdoor space.”
The demographic study also identifies seven RV owner demographic clusters that present a unique opportunity to find your RVer personality.
Casual Camper: The casual camper is most often associated with the RV lifestyle; they are mostly retired with no children at home and over age 55. They are generally more private people who enjoy camping, gardening and fishing. Casual campers prefer weekend trips in their RV, usually a conventional travel trailer.
Family Camper: Family Campers are young, with over half under the age of 34. They take several week-long RV vacations each year where you can find them camping, fishing and hiking with their kids.
Escapist: Although many are employed full-time, escapists manage to sneak away for two months a year for long camping expeditions in their RVs. Nearly a third of escapists live with children at home, and most make more than $65K a year — think well-established working professionals.
Avid RVer: Mostly female, retired, and over 55, the avid RVer manages to spend four months a year in their conventional or fifth-wheel travel trailer. These RVers are more social people and prefer long multi-week trips, often with a particular destination in mind.
Happy Camper: Happy campers are chiefly snowbirds who flee harsher weather for six months a year, according to the demographic study. Although over two-thirds of happy campers are over 55, around half are still working. A few even live with children at home.
Full-Time RVer: Frugal, young and private, full-time RVers live year-round in their trailers, usually a fifth-wheel. Full-timers are mainly female — reportedly 70%. They love swimming and taking their RVs on long road trips to the beach. Most full-timers do not live with children and earn less than $65K a year.
Adventure Seekers: Although only a tiny portion of total RVers, adventure seekers are likely a growing demographic. Over a third are between 35-54 years old, and over half make less than $65K per year but escape to their RV for an average of 200 days per year. Adventure seekers love destination trips in their RVs like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite.
The table below breaks down the seven RV demographic clusters, where you can compare characteristics, RV types and attitudes of RV owners to see how your travel habits compare.
This article’s visualizations and analysis were partially created from a list provided to us by Outdoorsy of the 20 most-booked RV series, January 1, 2020-October 14, 2021, for vehicles added to the platform since January 2020. We used NADA Guides and TrueCar to pull 240 base model MSRP data points for long-standing models in each of the most-booked RV series going back to 2010. J.D Power manages NADA Guides MSRP data.
Inflation adjustments were made using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator; all MSRP data was adjusted to September 2021 dollars. The Annual MSRP growth rate was computed for every model going back a decade using the inflation-adjusted values. All inflation adjustments were calculated on 10/20/21.
For this analysis, we picked the most frequently and longest-produced RV models in each of Outdoorsy’s popular RV series. For years that a model was not produced, price growth was computed using the last year a model was manufactured and dividing the growth rate by the number of years since the previous model. For example, we calculated the price growth of a 2018 model if the last model was produced in 2015 by computing growth as usual, then dividing the answer by three.
All MSRP data points were gathered from NADA Guides except for the Ford Transit lines collected from TrueCar. The Ford Transit is a custom order commercial vehicle, and the MSRP points provided are base pricing without additional options. All RV MSRP points are base prices without any other features or options.
Some RV model names varied slightly over the last decade. In these instances, the models’ price, style, and features were checked for consistency, and if essentially indistinguishable, we used the varying models. The model numbers provided in the tables represent Outdoorsy’s popular model year.
Cumulative price growth was computed by totaling the annual average price growth for Outdoorsy’s popular RV models for the past decade. The average annual price growth was calculated by averaging the average price growth for each popular RV model in the last decade.
Outdoorsy also provided us with the percentage increases of RV rentals, listings and average nightly rate data on their platform for the past three years.
The RV demographic table and visualization were created from the publicly available RV Owner Demographic Profile Study.
You can download the entire data workbook compiled for this analysis (.xlsx format) here.
Excel and Flourish are the tools used to analyze and create data visualizations for this article.
Our research is editorially independent, and we do not earn a commission for purchases made through links in this article. Trips to Discover is in an affiliate marketing partnership with Outdoorsy and may generate a small commission from clicks that result in a purchase elsewhere on this site.
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