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RV Industry On Slow Road To Recovery In 2011

BRUCE SCHREINER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) â¿¿ The recession-dented RV industry pointed Tuesday to modest gains atop last year's turnaround performance as another sign that the sector is on a slow road to recovery.

RV makers, dealers and suppliers attending an annual industry trade show were told that 2011 shipments from manufacturers to dealers are expected to be up 2 percent from last year's 242,300 shipped units. The 2010 total amounted to a 46 percent gain from 2009 as the economy improved.

"You guys sitting in this room today are all survivors in this industry, and I think that bodes very well," said Richard A. Coon, president of the Virginia-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

In 2007, shipments of RV units totaled 353,400 â¿¿ the fourth-highest figure in a quarter century. By 2009, shipments slumped to 165,700 units as older RVs parked on dealers' lots drew scant interest from cash-conscious consumers.

Consumers remain jittery by stubbornly high unemployment, sagging home values and a volatile stock market. As a result, the industry is bracing for a projected 2.6 percent decline in RV shipments in 2012 to 240,600 units, based on a forecast by University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin.

"It plays with the psyche of those people that are in our target market," said Bob Olson, chairman of RV maker Winnebago Industries Inc.

Lackluster consumer confidence aside, he noted some favorable trends: dealer inventories have improved and consumer credit has become more available, especially for less-expensive towable RVs attached to pickups or hitched to the back of another vehicle.

"A lot of tough decisions were made by everybody in that room in order to be here today," Olson said following the trade show's opening session. "You didn't find anybody in the RV industry getting a bailout. We did it the old-fashioned way, with some pretty tough decisions."

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