Makeover needed: Motor homes

Name an industry affected by these problems: high gas prices, tight credit, and delayed retirement. One answer --- the motor home industry, in particular, the land cruisers costing $100,000 or more. According to a recent survey, motor home sales fell a huge 40% in the third quarter, while inventory grew to half-a-year's worth.

The reason are all too evident. Those with the loose cash to buy them probably were deeply invested in the stock market. Those without the cash might use a line of credit against their home to finance the purchase, a pool of money that has dried up. If they try to finance the vehicle conventionally, they might find loans hard to come by. GE recently discontinued loaning money on boats and motor homes, considering them too risky as investments.

The market decline is also causing many boomers to reconsider retirement, and many had envisioned buying a motor home and exploring the country in their golden years. Many planned to pay for the motor home by selling their house, another dicey proposition.

Don't miss the rest of our series on Makeovers Needed!

The rising cost of gas also increases the operating cost of a motor home. At 5-10 mpg, long-distance travel becomes a very expensive proposition.

How can the industry combat the malaise, except by praying for a market recovery?

Start, I think, by making more of the potential economies of a motor home. Most retirees don't drive willy-nilly across the U.S. They head south during the winter. New Mexico and Arizona host hundreds of thousands of snowbirds, many of whom camp for free on spacious BLM land. Sure, they pay for water, dumping fees, propane, but they don't pay house bills, property taxes, and they don't need winter clothes. Most pull a second, more fuel-efficient vehicle for running about. In the summer, most head north to higher ground, beating the cost of A/C.

RVers also know how to find a deal. For example, many take advantage of the many American-trained dentists working just over the border in Mexico, doing crowns and fillings for a fraction of what they would pay in the U.S.

The industry should also emphasize how many RVers supplement their incomes with summer work. Good friends of mine have worked on a dude ranches, in national parks, and other interesting gigs to help fund their full-timing. They've been on the road for 14 years now and still love it.

It should also sell the experience. People willing to pack up and go on the road are interesting, adventurous and energetic, the kind of folks with whom you'd want to spend time. Tales told around the RV park campfire are generally much more interesting that those in your local watering hole. They also enjoy congregating at events such as the Quartzite, Arizona Show, where 50,000 RV gather for the mid-winter event.

This might be a great time to make a pitch that, since your money isn't making money, why not put it to work bringing you some fun?

Finally, if none of these steps work, the industry might consider buying into NASCAR. Who wouldn't pay to see Tony Stewart wrestle a Winnebago through the banked turns at Daytona?

And if the worst comes to pass and you end up living on the road, would you rather travel like the Grapes of Wrath family or in the comfort of a 39-foot Winnebago with cable TV and a King-size bed?

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