The Remote Period of the Modern Era (2020-Present) of RV history had a lot of potential. The RV industry was back on track, and everyone had grand plans for the Remote Period. There were new technologies coming out and current innovations reaching new heights. One way or the other, the Remote Period was pregnant with promise.
By 2019, the RV industry was breathing easy. 2017 had an RV history record-breaking year with 504,599 units sold. December’s numbers were close to those numbers, so the shareholders were all happy down to the line workers. Manufacturers could kick off 2020 of the Remote Period well, but the media started talking about this new virus.
When the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first American case of COVID-19 on January 21, 2020, everything changed for the RV industry. At that point, the world knew this virus would forever affect the world.
During the Modern Era (2008-Present), the RV industry survived the 2008 Financial Crisis 12 years earlier at the beginning of the Revitalization Period (2008-2019). However, while the Industry prepared for another belt-tightening year, an unexpected RV boom occurred.
Join us to recount the first few years of how the Remote Period became the biggest RV boom in history. You’ll learn about how people, the RV Industry, and related sectors adapted to this rapidly changing society. We’ll also show you how the lessons and technologies from the previous RV history eras prepared the Industry to face this ultimate challenge head-on.
Defining the Remote Period of the Modern Era
Defining the Remote Period of the Modern Era was incredibly difficult. Finding one word that encompassed everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen during this period of the Modern Era was a challenge. The word “remote” makes sense:
- During the worst months of the COVID-19 global pandemic, people used RVs as mobile personal protection equipment (PPE) to get home safe, keep themselves quarantined from infecting others or isolate themselves from the virus due to the critical nature of their work.
- Technology has advanced to the point where people could live and work in a motorhome or travel trailer almost anywhere in the United States. They could work gig jobs or work a complex career surrounded by the best landscapes America had to offer.
- Some services allow RV full-timers to have a domicile address, receive hard copy mail, and take care of other non-electronic issues online (although many of them have existed for years).
- This period is the easiest time for children to attend school, earn a valid high school diploma, and even attend higher education without ever stepping into a traditional classroom.
The list of reasons continues. The point is Americans now have the option to live full lives without living or working in a sticks-n-bricks structure. To further define the Remote Period, we’ll break it down into five essential characteristics:
- The unexpected RV boom that came from the global pandemic
- The radical changes to the RV industry’s traditional thinking
- Technologies that contributed to the great resignation in an RV
- Mergers and partnerships that significantly enhanced the RV world
- The EV revolution becomes realistic for the RV industry
The Unexpected RV Boom That Came From the Global Pandemic
The unexpected RV boom from the global pandemic of 2020 was genuinely bizarre. The first reaction of the RV manufacturers, dealers, media, and experts was to change their perspective. They threw out their forecasts and based their new numbers on 2008’s Financial Crisis that started the Revitalization Period. They knew it would be worse.
On March 11, 2020, President Donald Trump issued a travel ban for the United States that began on Friday the 13th (a coincidental juxtaposition). The travel ban left many people stranded away from home. Car rental companies were also grounded to stop the spread of COVID-19 (remember, no one had figured out the proper cleaning methods yet).
For those that couldn’t travel by car, people chose a method of travel with a booming effect that’s still echoing in mainstream America: the RV boom.
The RV Industry Answers Uncle Sam’s Call Once Again
With the commercial airlines grounded and car rental fleets cleaned out, RV rental companies offered stranded people discounted one-way rates so they could drive home. It was a safe way to travel home in a self-contained situation. Stopping would be limited to fuel, food, and other essential issues.
From late March to early May 2020, the United States went on lockdown as each state declared a stay-at-home curfew. Essential workers like medical staff, utility workers, first responders, grocery stores, construction crews, distribution companies, and others kept America operating against the virus.
President Trump drafted companies to switch gears, to change their production lines. Instead of making their regular widgets, they built respirators and other medical supplies the hospitals desperately needed.
Yet, as they did at the end of the Antique Era (1910-1944), the RV industry was the first in line to volunteer to help in the medical effort against COVID-19. During the worst of it, manufacturers, vendors, RV rental companies, and individual owners served their country:
- Thor Industries and its subsidiaries donated several travel trailers as mobile triage centers.
- RVs dealers, manufacturers, and owners donated coaches so infected first responders could isolate themselves from infecting their crews between calls.
- Utility workers that had to stay at the plant to keep the power and water flowing lived in rented motorhomes and travel trailers in the gated parking lots.
- RV component vendors changed their production lines voluntarily to help produce medical equipment.
Once the stay-at-home curfew lifted, the country started opening up in stages. While everyone was locked away, the news media continually mentioned what the RV world was doing to help. In addition, the blogosphere, YouTube, and other social media channels gave people plenty of information about the benefits of RV life.
By the end of May 2020, peer-to-peer RV rental companies reported 1,000% sales increases, and RV sales jumped 600%. This is because people wanted out of their houses, and RVs allowed people to do that in a safe, self-contained way.
More Money, More Problems: The RV Backlog
According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), 2020 ended better than expected despite the challenges. 2021 ended with 600,240 RV sales. By the end of 2021, over 20% of Americans owned an RV, and over 72 million planned on taking a motorhome or travel trailer vacation in 2022. Here are the numbers:
|Total RV Sales||People Vacationed in an RV|
|2017||504,599 (previous record)||41.8 million|
|2022||613,700 (projected)||72 million (projected)|
As the customer orders poured in, manufacturers suffered from component shortages. If an RV was missing a part, like a 6-gallon water heater, they would upgrade the coach with a 10-gallon or tankless version. When that was no longer an option, they moved the 98% complete travel trailer to their holding lot until the vendor supplied them with the part needed.
Due to RVIA and certain Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, many of these unfinished RVs couldn’t leave the limbo of the holding lot. In addition, customers couldn’t sign a waiver to accept the coach as is since the product would fail pre-delivery inspection (PDI) minimum requirements.
Depending on the popularity of the floorplan, customers would wait between 3-9 months, with an average of 4 months, before they could take their RV home. So when the 2021 floorplans came out, the Big Four Manufacturers (Forest River Inc., REV Group, Thor Ind., and Winnebago Ind.) and their subsidiaries trimmed down their model selections to decrease the variations of parts needed.
Popular RVs had up to eight different floorplans, and average sellers had four layouts. Hybrid trailers disappeared for a year, and pop-ups became limited.
Manufacturers built one of each version of a motorhome for a particular region and sent each one to different dealerships. If a customer wanted one, they could either walk through the dealership’s floorplan or visit the dealer that had the floorplan. If they wanted the motorhome, the manufacturers would build them by customer order.
Both Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), i.e., the RV manufacturers themselves, and the suppliers built their products for the customer first, dealers second, and the aftermarket last. The aftermarket created backlogs in the RV service center sector since they had to wait months to receive replacement parts for repairs.
The Factors That Led to the RV Backlog
COVID-19 wasn’t the only factor that led to the RV backlog. Like life, it was a culmination of a series of events. Some of the most significant events include (in no particular order):
- The Texas Ice Storm on February 13-17, 2021, changed the climate conditions for foam producers. As a result, the various products they produced wouldn’t cure correctly, so mattresses, seat cushions, and other foam parts became delayed.
- On May 13, 2021, there was a Ransomware attack on the 5,500 mile Colonial Pipeline that supplied diesel and gasolene to most of the eastern United States. The country was already expecting gas shortages due to decreased fuel truck drivers.
- Shipping from foreign vendors became delayed as cargo ships backed up, waiting to make port in the U.S. Once unloaded, finding qualified truck drivers to drive the cargo to its destination was another roadblock. As a result, many truckers left the industry or moved on during the curfew.
- Essential materials like lumber, MDF, plastic, and aluminum increased in price due to production drops.
- Complex components like water heaters, furnaces, and other mechanisms had production setbacks due to their problems with obtaining raw materials.
2020 required a few price increases to adjust for overhead, but 2021 saw price increases almost every month. As a result, RV dealers had to suspend price guarantees because they couldn’t maintain their overhead costs with the rapidly climbing prices.
In 2021, it became a seller’s market, and customers saw a few instances of disreputable tactics. Luckily, those issues were investigated and taken care of properly. Unfortunately, there were a handful of situations where RV manufacturers allowed some of their products to leave the factory lot using components that workers would typically discard.
Lower quality customer reviews show up for 2020 and some of 2021. Before you pass judgment, make sure you get the whole story. RV dealers and manufacturers have addressed these problems and have done their best to resolve them.
The Radical Challenges to the RV Industry’s Traditional Thinking
The Remote Period has had the most radical changes to floorplans, furniture, and overall design. Ideas that first showed up in the Revitalization Period fully flourished during the second half of the Modern Era. One of the biggest surprises was the absence of a furniture piece that dates back to the Romani and Irish Traveler Wagons centuries ago.
The RV Desk: A Workspace That Balances Work and Life
Before the RV desk showed up, motorhomes had a pull-out tray on the dashboard that dates back to the Neo-Classic (1990-2007) Era. It was great for those new laptop computers of the time that were almost as thick as a suitcase. If you didn’t have a Class A motorhome with the tray, you dealt with doing your work on the RV dinette.
Tiffin Motorhomes offered a dinette with a computer workstation for years, but it didn’t catch on until the Remote Period. So RVers knew it was more than a fad when Airstream created the Flying Cloud 30FB Office floorplan. In the RV world, Airstream doesn’t chase after short-term trends. So when they offered this executive office-level space, everyone knew the RV office space was here to stay.
Hidden Pantry: Bootleggers Storage
During Prohibition (1920-1933), certain people in Chicago, Detroit, and New York would have loved the hidden pantries behind the entertainment centers in the Remote Period’s travel trailers.
These full-length and large-width pantries have a massive amount of space to hold food items, clothing, camping gear, and other things. Don’t get any ideas; the hidden pantry started towards the end of the Revitalization Period, and the authorities know about them.
Lofts and Upper Bunks
Due to state law limits, an RV can only stretch 45 feet in length, about 8 ½ feet wide, 13.6 feet high, and about 400 square feet. These numbers refer to the travel mode restrictions. Yet, no one says anything about what RV manufacturers can do with the upper half of the interior.
During the Revitalization Period, fifth-wheel designers created mid-bunk rooms. To maximize the space between the room and the RV’s ceiling, a loft space for storage or sleeping space for children became popular. The Remote Period took advantage of this loft space by developing it further.
A great example of this loft space development is Forest River’s Sabre 37FLL. There are two lofts spaces. The first is above the rear master bedroom. The second exists above the bathroom. It’s an excellent way for families with older children and teens to travel where everyone has their own space.
Travel trailers followed the same train of thought by expanding the upper bunk. Making them queen-size allows children to have that loft-like experience. In addition, these spaces have storage, climate-control ducting, TVs, and electrical devices connections.
The Forest River Cherokee 294GEBG has a 64-inch upper bunk that your teenagers will love. The LED TV hookups, USB outlets, and privacy curtain give them their corner of the world all to themselves.
RV Dinette: First In, First Out?
If you’ve read the RV History Antique Era piece, then you know both the Romani and Irish Travelers had multi-functional furniture in their horse-drawn carriages that date back before the 1800s. One of which was the convertible dinette that created sleeping space (yes, the concept is that old).
In the first years of the Remote Period, multi-functionality stepped up to a new level. While the smaller Palomino SolAires don’t have dinettes, the sofa has either a freestanding or pedestal table that sets up in front of it. Mid-size and larger travel trailers still use dinettes, but a significant portion of RV consumers would instead give up the table space for something else. So will the dinette go the way of the dodo in the future?
Technologies That Contributed to the Great Resignation in an RV
About a year after the COVID-19 curfew, technologies that contributed to the great resignation in RVs and residential homes changed the way Americans worked. These technologies started as far back as the Classic Era (1971-1989), like the cellular telephone and satellite television.
In June of 2021, the media reported that millions of Americans began leaving their office, service, and hospitality jobs to find work-from-home positions. Restaurants had to close up because they didn’t have the staff members to cook or serve customers. Office workers enjoyed working from home during the curfew and didn’t want to adapt to the traditional working environment.
Wireless networking, the various websites, mobile apps, laptops, and mobile devices evolved to the point where work could occur remotely. Except for highly regulated and controlled information industries, people realized making due wouldn’t do.
In 2019, the population of full-time RVers sat around the one million mark, but by 2021 it would double. It took decades to reach the first million but only a couple of years to double that because of mobile networking technologies.
Existing careers like traveling nursing, contract I.T., food delivery, and social media influencing grew rapidly. Employers recreated on-site jobs into remote positions to keep their staff when possible.
RVers already had things in place for this. Escapees RV Club has had a job board for its members for years. For the past decade, many have used workamping and online job boards to find remote work. Other full-timers have tried their hand at RV influencing and have been successful.
Mergers and Partnerships That Significantly Enhanced the RV World
In the fantasy genre, when you read or see a drawing of a creature with the body of a lion and an eagle’s head, it’s known as a griffin. They’ve appeared enough times in art and media that even those who aren’t fans of fantasy are no longer shocked by the sight of it.
In the RV world, we’ve seen some company mergers that look like centaurs, griffins, hippogriffs, minotaurs, and various other strange hybrid creatures. Yet, once these partnerships start producing their products or services, they’re a great benefit to the RV community.
During the worst days of the RV backlog, the biggest RV dealerships (Camping World, Lazy Days, General RV, and RV Retailer) started buying up family-owned or small chain dealerships. By the end of 2021, here’s how many locations each has:
- Camping World: 207
- General RV: 14
- Lazy Days: 16
- RV Retailer: Over 90
- Bish: 16
- Campers Inn: 30
We aren’t listing them all, but as you can see, each one of these RV dealerships went through a rapid expansion. For many RVers, buying from a family-owned small dealership is a preference rather than a corporate entity.
However, the backlog did a lot of financial damage to independently-owned businesses. These mergers allowed the current locations to keep their staff and owners but gave them better financial backing and access to a broader selection of RVs to sell.
KOA and Love’s Truck Stop: Gas and Rest
For years, Love’s Truck Stop has partnered with motel and hotel companies giving weary travelers a place to rest for the night. KOA and Love’s partnered together to try this idea for RVers. KOA’s Journey division focuses on campgrounds off major interstates aimed at travelers who need to stop for a night or two.
In McComb, Mississippi, the Love’s Truck Stop now has a KOA at its location. So instead of RVers having to lotdock among the cacophony of semi-tractor truck engines throughout the night, they can pull into an actual campground with KOA’s quality for a good night’s sleep.
If the test location works, there are plans for this idea to expand throughout the U.S.
Camping World Becomes the Ultra Mega Superstore for RVers
Camping World stores joined the ranks of the superstore by becoming a one-stop-shop. Besides their aggressive expansion, they did a lot with their stores:
- They created the first Electric World in Salt Lake City, Utah. These stores will sit next to their main stores but feature devices specific to RVs.
- Now offer DIY materials for those who want to customize their motorhome or travel trailer.
- Partnered with Happier Camper to install their Adaptiv cube system in full-size vans as a campervan option.
- Partnered or obtained various exclusive licenses to sell the latest products like the Watergen atmospheric water generator.
- Will be the exclusive dealership of the Lordstown EV truck.
- RV manufacturers make specific brands and floorplans only sold at Camping World.
Are Campgrounds Becoming Open Air Hotels?
Manufacturers and dealers sold over 600,000 RVs in 2021, but campgrounds added only 60,000 more campsites through new campgrounds. The rapid increase in the RV community made it difficult for independent campground owners to keep up with the sold-out guest lists they had. As a result, the offers they received from corporate buyers became very attractive.
Once the purchase went through, the new owners would update these properties. Many campgrounds gave you a place to park your RV, utility hookups, a picnic table, and maybe a firepit. RVers that wanted more from their camping experience wanted on-location features like dog parks and swimming pools. The corporate owners complied by adding such features.
Of course, with these new features came new pricing. The 2022 National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) Expo in Raleigh, North Carolina, introduced many new ideas to campground owners. One of which was dynamic pricing.
Like airline tickets, when an RVer wants to reserve a private campground space, an algorithm determines the price. Factors include the time of year, the type of reserved campsite, and others. Once the guest confirmed the reservation, the software locked in that price. The following person making a reservation with the same factors could receive a different price.
National Parks Busting at the Seams
When President Donal Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) in 2020, a significant portion of that would update the U.S. National Parks’ campgrounds. Unfortunately, all of this construction during an RV boom didn’t help an already tenuous situation.
National Park campgrounds saw overcrowding issues. They tried several different tactics like creating specific check-in times and other techniques. At the beginning of 2022, the National Park Service announced that they made a Campground Office designed to improve the consumer experience in the over 1,400 campgrounds throughout the National Park System.
The office’s goal was to manage the financial and operational concerns of the campgrounds. In addition, the superintendent and their staff would plan and create solutions to use the remaining GAOA and campground fee revenue for future projects.
These are just a few of the many mergers and partnerships that have taken place during the Remote Period. Now that the RV industry has gained the attention of pop culture, we’re sure to see more to come.
The EV Revolution Becomes Realistic for the RV Industry
The Remote Period of the Modern Era coincided with the auto industry’s electric vehicle (EV) advancements. Early attempts started in the 1970s with hybrid cars, but the Toyota Prius kicked things off in 1997.
Using the brushless electric motor, initially conceived by Nikola Tesla in the late 1800s, hybrids led to all-electric passenger vehicles. In the Remote Period, EV pickup trucks debuted in Fall 2021 with the Rivian R1T. 2022 promised others like the Ford F-150 Lightning, GM’s EV Hummer, the Atlis XT, and others.
The biggest challenge was weight and towing. These trucks could get 200-500 miles on a charge by themselves. They’d lose half of their driving distance when towing near their capacity. This issue became an RV industry problem. Ideas floated around all over the internet.
One of the more popular ideas was to add a secondary battery bay to towable RVs. The second bay would house lithium-ion batteries that would send power through the electric umbilical cord (the electric cord that connects the tow vehicle to the travel trailer) to recharge the EV truck’s energy.
The 2022 Tampa RV Supershow showed the U.S. some concepts Thor Industries and Winnebago Industries were working on about EV RVs. Thor introduced the eStream. Partnering with the German company ZF, the Airstream had a dual electric motor system on the wheels that produced 242 horsepower.
With this system, the RV would move itself, taking the burden off of the tow vehicle. The tow vehicle would still need to have the ability to pull the trailer for surface street and maneuvering situations. The tow vehicle could maintain its near best mileage on the highway while the Airstream drove itself. The eStream is still a concept. Thor plans to add this technology to their other brands, but they didn’t announce when.
Both Thor and Winnebago showed Class E motorhome concepts (E for electric). Both companies used a Ford Transit Chassis for these concept RVs. The LiFePO4 batteries power both the automotive and coach features.
Solar panel charging is still the slowest form of electrical charging, and rapid charging would take about 90 minutes for all three of these concept vehicles. The same is true with the various EV trucks of 2021 and 2022. However, as the Remote Period continues and eventually transitions to the next Era, we’re sure the charging technologies will speed up.
What Will Happen Later in the Remote Period?
The first two years of the Remote Period of the Modern Era were so eventful they had to be documented. Experts predict that 2022 will see the RV industry stabilize with maybe 2-3 small price increases. They also expect that 2022 will see another record-breaking sales year, but only slightly. In other words, we’ve reached the plateau.
A significant portion of people in the RV world thinks there will be a “Great Sell-Off.” They believe that the many who joined the RV world recently will become so frustrated with the RV boom’s difficulties. Finding a campsite and the 4-6 month wait RV service centers are experiencing can be frustrating, so they may decide to sell their RV and walk away.
We’ve seen RVers who’ve full-timed for decades call it quits, and we’ve seen new RVers become genuinely passionate about the RV lifestyle to the point where they say it’s saved their life. We know for sure that RVers know how to adapt, help each other out, and are still the friendliest people.
We love the life and experiences RVs give us and can’t understand how we lived without one. This author is a second-generation RVer and has been a full-timer for years. But, despite the trials-and-”tribble-ations,” his two favorite places to be are his driver’s seat in his Class A motorhome and his co-pilot seat office space when he’s working. He loves what he does, where he goes, and the people he meets.
If you can honestly say this, then you’re probably an RVer for life.