The RV industry has seen consistent growth every year since 2009.
And with the advent of van life, more retirees switching from traditional homes to an RV, and the Coronavirus changing how we travel, we are at the beginning of another RV boom.
In this report, we look at the current state of the RV industry by identifying key statistics, trends, and facts.
Why People Buy RVs and Why the Industry is Growing
Recreational vehicles, or RVs, are one of the most convenient ways to travel and camp. Most RVs come equipped with modern home comforts, such as a kitchen, dining area, and even a bathroom.
RVs are arguably the most efficient way to put your whole life on wheels. And it’s one of the best ways to travel the country on your own time.
Furthermore, aside from the recent explosion of people living in campervans (#vanlife on Instagram passed 7 million in 2020) helping to fuel the industry, the pandemic has travelers opting for an RV vacation instead of boarding crowded planes and staying in cramped hotels.
RVing provides a sense of control and safety while traveling, something unique to the Covid era, compared to living out of a backpack or staying in hotels.
RV campers can easily socially distance themselves when they need space. The ability to set up camp near wilderness areas and less populated towns is a huge plus for many pandemic-weary travelers. Another huge bonus is the option to prepare and cook meals independently while on the move (no need to eat at crowded restaurants).
Combining the comforts and safety of a home with the freedom of travel, you might say RV life permits you to have your cake and eat it, too.
Important RV Industry Statistics
Whether you’re looking to rent or invest in an RV (or even an RV park), it’s crucial to have a bird’s-eye view of the overall RV market.
Let’s simplify your RV deep dive with some stats:
A Closer Look at RV Industry Trends
The RV and camping industry was already riding a steady uptrend before 2020, with 41.8 million people in the United States enjoying some form of camping in 2017. Collectively, campers spent nearly $3 billion on camping equipment that year.
How Has Coronavirus Affected the RV industry?
- Ipsos’s survey found that 20% of respondents are more interested in RV living as a direct result of COVID-19, and 51% of all respondents who plan an RV trip in 2020 cite health concerns as the top reason why they are interested in RV camping.
- Not to be deterred by the coronavirus, one in four respondents plan to engage in an RV-related task over the next 12 months, such as taking an RV trip, buying or renting an RV, researching RVs online, or visiting a dealership.
- The recreational vehicle industry is having its moment, with the US Travel Association reporting that 68% of people feel much safer traveling by personal vehicle than taking a domestic flight (March 2020).
- Adding to that, those surveyed perceive RV parks and parklands to be safer areas than hotels, rental homes, bars, and restaurants.
How Many RVs Sell Each Year?
- The pandemic is transforming how we think about travel, which is prevalent in the increase in RV sales. The RV Industry Association’s October 2020 survey reported that total RV shipments increased 21.4% year-over-year, the second-highest October increase on record.
- The number of wholesale shipments of RVs in 2018 topped 483.7 thousand. Soon we will have all the stats on 2020’s RV sales, and many experts in the industry believe the results will contain surprises.
- “In May… RV shipments were down 25 percent,” said the RV Industry Association President Craig Kirby. “The RV industry came roaring back, making up nearly that entire deficit in less than six months.”
- Stocks don’t always go up, but in June, they sure did. RV-related tickers such as Jayco Holding Company, Thor Industries, Winnebago, LCI Industries, and Camping World rocketed by triple digits. CNBC’s Jim Cramer thinks “the pandemic has given the industry a huge long-term boost.”
What is the Most Popular Type of RV?
- Of the half a million RVs Americans bought in 2018, travel trailers came out on top with nearly 290,000 unit sales. Versatile, affordable, and variable, the standard travel trailer is the best all-rounder on the market.
- The RV Dealers Association tracks the most popular RV brands for each class. For travel trailers, Jayco takes the lead. Fifth wheels are the second most popular RV class, and Montana comes out on top for market share, with Reflection trailing not far behind.
- Class A RVs are a marvel among motorhomes, with the famous Winnebago holding the torch since 2017. Class B, or camper vans, are rising in popularity as people tighten their budgets. Winnebago dominates this segment as well, alongside the iconic Airstream.
- Class C RVs, constructed on truck chassis, are another budget option growing in popularity. Four Winds is the top brand in this class.
How Many RV Dealers and Campgrounds are in the US?
- The US Census Bureau listed 2,667 US-based RV dealers that produced $25.9 billion in sales in 2017.
- The US Economic Census lists 4,513 RV parks and campgrounds with employees, producing $2.4 billion in revenue in 2017. Californian RV parks had the highest sales that same year, while South Carolina produced the highest sales per park. Texas claimed the most RV parks, with a total of 376.
The above numbers don’t include the thousands of parks operated by the National Park Service, state and local governments, and governmental organizations.
The Census also leaves out free camping offered by some organizations (Boondockers Welcome) and services that pair RVers with homeowners and other types of businesses (Harvest Hosts). As an RVer, you genuinely have a smorgasbord of options.
How Many People in the US are Full-time RVers?
- Currently, about one million Americans live as full-time RVers.
- RV life is gaining serious attention. The 2020 North American Camping Report found that four in 10 campers are more interested in going full-time after the pandemic. One in 10 infrequent campers is considering full-time RVing.
- The report also found that travelers are eager to spend time outdoors with their friends and family. Also, 60% of travelers think it’s now critical for their kids to experience the great outdoors. The sentiment suggests a long-term growing interest in the RV lifestyle.
RV Sales Statistics by State
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More State Sales Statistics
- Indiana nearly corners the market for RVs and RV component national shipments, accounting for 67% of the $3.6 billion market. Elkhart, Indiana, the world’s RV capital, produces about 80% of all recreational vehicles.
- RV dealers in Maryland reported the most significant average sales per company in 2017.
RV Ownership Statistics
- Posts for #vanlife on Instagram passed 7 million in 2020, up 312% since 2017. These days, perhaps everyone is dreaming of a personal escape pod.
- RVs are a hit among Americans, with more than 11% of households owning a house on wheels. Whether it’s to downsize or pay off debt, many people find full-time RV living more affordable. The cost can be lower than owning a home or renting an apartment (looking at you, San Francisco).
- In 2018, 24% of North American campers stated that a recreational vehicle was their primary accommodation while camping. Let’s explore the profile of an average RV buyer in the USA.
Traditionally, the RV industry serves a wide demographic spanning multiple generations. However, nowadays, the younger crowd, especially Millennials, are rapidly stealing Gran and Gramp’s thunder.
Here’s a breakdown of RV ownership rates among Americans by age group, according to RVIA:
- 18-34 (4.9%)
- 35-44 (11%)
- 45-54 (11.4%)
- 55-64 (11.1%)
- 65-74 (8.8%)
- 75+ (5.5%)
According to RVIA, a typical RV owner is 48 years old, married, with an annual household income of $62,000. RV owners typically spend three to four weeks vacationing in their RV annually.
No longer reserved for retirees and empty nesters, families with children and pets are also surfing the #vanlife wave.
RV Buying Statistics
How much you’ll spend on RV life varies greatly. While starting up your RV life can be done on a tight budget, buying an RV will likely be your highest expense, though there are financing options out there for more high-end vehicles. Class A RVs, for example, could be the best option for long-term RVing. However, a Class A unit will set you back between $60,000 to $500,000. Buying an RV at the best time can also save you thousands of dollars.
Buying a used camper or RV is a good option if you’re familiar with all the warranties and checklists involved. Many people opt to rent an RV before taking the plunge into full-time RV life. It’s a great way to roam the country in style, all within a reasonable budget.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) lists the following price ranges for new RVs:
- Pop-up Trailers: $6,000 to $22,000
- Truck campers: $6,000 to $55,000
- Conventional travel trailers: $8,000 to $95,000
- Fifth wheel trailers: $18,000 to $160,000
- Types B and C: $60,000-$150,000
- Type A: $60,000-$500,000
RV Rental Statistics
RV rental costs on average $81 to $129 a night for towable RVs and $209 per night for drivable RVs, depending on whether you rent through a rental company or a peer-to-peer rental service. Popular peer-to-peer options include RVshare and Outdoorsy.
The type of RV, extra services, and fees can quickly make RVing expensive, especially if you’re traveling short-term or not splitting costs with others. Weekly and monthly deals can often bring the price down. Pop-up campers, travel trailers, truck campers, and fifth wheels are the most affordable RVs to rent and own.
Many RV parks cost as little as $5 per night and come with laundry, electric hook-up, gyms, and playgrounds for kids. Premium RV parks and resorts can cost you between $55 to $85+ per night, while state parks will sell an annual pass for around $80 and $225.
On average, expect to spend between $20 to $30 per night in a private RV park. However, RV and camping club memberships usually offer discounts. There are also plenty of free or nearly free camping options. Check out https://freecampsites.net/ for some sweet deals.
Before trying to rent an RV, ensure you are of legal age. The minimum age to rent an RV in some states is 21, while in other states you must be at least 25.
RV Accident Statistics
In 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported 75,000 injuries due to RV accidents.
Common causes for RV accidents include:
- Inexperienced drivers (most states do NOT require a special drivers license or testing to drive an RV)
- Senior drivers (14% of RV drivers are over the age of 65)
- Driving over the speed limit
- Wind (High winds and sudden wind gusts)
- Exhaustion from driving for long periods of time
- Adding too much weight to the RV
- Travel trailers rolling away
- A High center of gravity causing rollovers
- Not properly calculating a turn
- Miscalculated stopping distances due to the vehicle being heavier and taking longer to stop
RV Service Technicians Employment Statistics
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 15,580 individuals employed as an RV service technician as of May 2019.
- The mean hourly wage is $20.03
- The mean annual wage is $41,660
News in the RV Industry
As the RV industry returns to somewhat normal operations, RV park owners and operators are doing everything possible to get back to business safely.
The reopening process includes prioritizing health and safety, more robust sanitation measures, and staff training of the new protocols. In a recent virtual conference of stakeholders in the RV industry, safety appeared as the primary concern for RV travelers in late 2020 and into 2021.
During the conference, participants shared compelling data from their customer surveys. According to the survey data, 59% of people are ready to travel once the pandemic is over, and 47% intend to travel for vacation by vehicle.
The report also shows that 41% of campers intend to take a planned camping trip in 2020. About half of vacationers plan to swap a canceled or postponed trip with one that involves camping.
In the face of a pandemic and global economic shake-up, about one-third of people who don’t camp often are now much more interested. Reasons for the uptick in interest include spending time outdoors, affordability, and the fact that it’s easier to practice social distancing.
Chances are high between 2020 and 2021 for camping, glamping, and road trips to replace vacations that may involve large crowds. Reservation data between April 15 and May 11 reflected a sharp increase (192%) in online registration revenue. However, cancellations remain high due to changing health and safety regulations from state to state.
RV Market Long-Term Economic Impact
- The RV industry is an essential piece of the US economy, contributing over $114 billion per year, $6 billion in taxes, and employing about 600,000 people in the United States.
- In 2018, 56% of North Americans stated that they intended to camp more often. The trend was interrupted by the pandemic. With the potentially lower cost and risk associated with RV living, experts anticipate the sharp rebound in demand and revenue to continue well into 2021.
- In fact, 46 million Americans intend to take an RV trip within the next 12 months, with the highest demographic interest among 18-34 years old. The same report found increased time among participants in researching for RV info online with the intent to purchase or rent an RV.
- The ITR Economics report forecasts that wholesale RV shipments will gain nearly 20% in 2021, a 4.3% increase over 2019. The trend is pointing to 2021 beating 2020 in RV sales. 2020 saw a modest sales year when considering the industry’s pressure due to the pandemic. The forecasts show 2020 emerging as the fourth best year on record, despite a two-month lockdown earlier in the year.
Global trends such as the rise of remote work and the allure of smaller towns, suburbs, and migrating away from large, expensive urban centers are all set to boost the popularity of RV travel and RV living. When you can work from home, living from a motorhome while traveling the country starts to make even more sense.
What are the Top RV Destinations?
As campgrounds continue to reopen, RVers hit the road once again, and perhaps the world outside feels a whole lot bigger than it once did, even with all the restrictions. Depending on the degree to which sites have reopened, travelers may find limited capacity in campgrounds this year and early 2021.
Best RV Hotspots as Parks Reopen to Travelers
I’m obligated to suggest a trip to your nearby parklands, as it’ll likely be more affordable and safer concerning the pandemic.
Data from Togo RV’s road trip planning app revealed the United States’ top destinations for planned RV vacations in 2020. The report includes the most popular resorts and campgrounds. It’s worth a look!
Top 10 most popular states for RVers in 2020:
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
The top 10 national parks in 2020 include:
- Grand Canyon
- Great Sand Dunes
- Crater Lake
California, Montana, and Utah accounted for 60% of all planned visits.
Tip: While most of the national parks in the United States have reopened to visitors and campers, it’s still smart to be cautious. Be sure to travel safely and check out the National Park Service’s public health updates. RVshare keeps an updated list of the reopening status of national parks for each state.
For RVers who are ready to go full-time, below are some things to know about domiciling in recreational vehicles.
Where to Domicile an RV
If you ask RVers where to find the best place to domicile, you’re going to get a mixed bag of responses and a whole lot of “it depends.” It comes down to deciding what state works best for you.
To clarify, a “residence” is wherever you currently live, and you can have any number of residences sprawled across the world. A “domicile” is where you file paperwork regarding legal affairs, like taxes. As a full-time RVer, you’ll have to carefully consider where you domicile, as rules and distinctions concerning RVs are different for each state. And you’ll want to check the legality of living in your vehicle if it is at a residence, for example, living in a camper in a backyard.
The best places for full-timers to domicile are currently Texas, South Dakota, and Florida. These states are “domicile friendly” as they are income-tax-free, and each state has several mail-forwarding services.
Comparing Costs of RV Travel to Full-Time RV Living
According to CBRE Hotels Advisory Group, RVing with family can be drastically less expensive than traditional vacation travel. Cost savings can be as high as 20 to 64% for a family of four, something that has the Millennials excited. More than 15 million Millennials own an RV in the US alone, catapulting the industry to record growth in popularity and revenue.
Millennials aren’t as spendthrift as their parents and grandparents, so it’s not a surprise that they’d appreciate a 60% cheaper vacation. Some RV types, such as pop-up trailers and truck campers, cost as low as $6,000. While fuel costs are higher for some recreational vehicles than others, the difference isn’t large enough to significantly impact RV savings compared to other types of travel.
The cost of living as a full-time RVer varies enormously according to your lifestyle, domicile, whether you rent or own your RV, the type of RV, and unforeseen circumstances. In general, a full-time individual RVer can expect to spend roughly $2,000 to $3,500 per month with rent and living expenses included. Hey, it’s still cheaper than San Francisco.
As states across the US reopen, RVers, along with the dealerships and campgrounds that fuel the RV industry, continue to flourish. The year that asked us to “stay inside” has inspired an RVing culture ready to hit the road and roam the great outdoors.
For many Americans, 2020 was the year they embraced van life and the mantra, “home is where you park it.”