Sunday, May 28, 2017

Boom times for Airstream and the entire U.S. RV Industry

Today my mom, sister, nephew, and I stopped by Idaho Airstream in Caldwell, Idaho near my sister's ranch. We had fun looking at the new Airstreams--which are awesome! They are also expensive. I asked the sales guy about hitches as I am trying to pick a hitch for my new vintage Airstream.

One number he mentioned stuck with me. He said Airstream will manufacture about 3,400 trailers this year.

3,400!! That's all?

Really?

The number sounded low so I did some quick and dirty research.

The first number I found online was from 2.5 years ago when they were said to be producing 50 Airstreams per week which would be 2,600/year. Source: Washington Post, "Airstream can’t keep up with demand for iconic silver trailers," January 1, 2015.

The same article said they are on track to increase production by 50%, but didn't give a timeline. An April 2016 Dayton Business Journal article said they were up to 72 trailers per week and on track for 77 by the end of 2016. That's all consistent, and even ahead of the the 3,400 number I heard today.

These would likely be their highest numbers since at least 1979-1980!

"That's all?" wasn't the right reaction. These are boom times!!

This photo, from the Airstream website, is the 2017 International Serenity, it was our favorite today.
I am curious how many they were producing per year from about 1955 to 1978.

After reading the history of Airstream it was likely 1974-75 when sales really began to plummet during the 1970s because of the OPEC induced spike in gas prices that shocked the whole economy.

I've heard from a few sources, including Colin Hyde on the Vintage Airstream Podcast (The VAP), that Airstream is in the midst of a big expansion. You can read more about it in the Dayton Business Journal, November 2016.

In 2016, U.S. RV shipments totaled 430,691 units. These are big numbers! This was a gain of 15.1% over the previous year and the biggest year in 40 years according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). That number is for all RVs including travel trailers and all motorhomes. Source: RVIA, April 2017. Here is another RVIA link with some historical data, but it only goes back to 1978!

2016 was also the best year ever for Airstream's parent company Thor. Thor was founded in 1980, the worst year in the RV industry in 40 years. The company began when it's founders acquired Airstream in a fire sale deal from Beatrice who owned Airstream since December of 1967. Since 1980 Thor has grown to become the largest company in the RV industry by acquiring and growing a variety of different RV brands.

Source of Thor's 2016 results: "Thor Announces Record Results for Fourth Quarter and Fiscal 2016."

The industry is highly cyclical and we here we are in the midst of a historic boom. Of course booms don't last, but we can enjoy it while it's here. More RVs for Americans! For better and worse. I've grown to love RVing and especially Airstreaming.

May 30 postscript: I am catching up on past issues of Airstream Life, today the Winter 2016 issue arrived. In it, Publisher Rich Luhr wrote: "Airstream is blowing out sales records every year--and this is the fifth year in a row . . . . the Airstream community is getting stronger. I doubt if it has been so healthy and enthusiastic since the 1970s. The Wally Byam Caravaner Club International (WBCCI) is gaining members again. . . ." Of course Rich is more in tune with the Airstream world than I am, so it's not surprising he scooped me on this observation. His letter was titled It's a Great Time to be an Airstreamer. Of course I couldn't agree more!

It would still be nice to see actual numbers from Airstream, especially historical ones.

Posted from Kuna, Idaho

Update: Read my June 1 post with information on production circa 1971. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting summary. Besides gross sales numbers, it is also interesting to see the nature of the trailers making up those sales. According to Thor's release, the trend is affected by "increasing sales of lower priced travel trailers" and "improved material costs".

They sold a lot of Basecamps and smaller trailers. The forthcoming "Next" trailer is all fiberglass. I certainly want the company to be successful but hope they remember what made/makes their brand stand out among all the others. Smaller, lighter and cheaper isn't exactly synonymous with Airstream. "You get what you pay for" should proudly be their motto. If they go hard down the inexpensive fiberglass and plastic route, I fear they will produce yet another cheap-o RV that falls apart while sitting still. "It broke? Buy another one." is a cruddy motto.

Jim Breitinger said...

I think the Nest looks cool, and definitely higher quality than the bread box pos trailers that are prolific. I hope they're on the quality end of the spectrum. Airstream's forays into other products in the past have included some dubious choices (in my opinion) including motorhomes that look like they could be any brand. I do love the Airstream-shaped motorhomes such as the one NASA used (the Astrovan).

We'll see about Nest. I am not ready to call it the wrong move yet.

The saddest thing for me has been seeing some posts the on the Airstream forums about the quality problems of new trailers. Hopefully those are exceptions. Regardless, I love Airstreams!!!