He was standing in the doorway of what seemed to be a cruise ship on wheels. It was parked among 900 recreation vehicles in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium at what claimed to be the largest RV show ever assembled.
Bob Lee, president of Country Coach Inc., pointed to a small statue sitting on a coffee table in front of the soft leather couch. "I got a deal on a limited edition run of these bronze Remington cowboy sculptures," he said, "and rather than choosing art to suit the interior (of the RV), I designed the interior to complement the art."
The price for this aesthetic anomaly? Only $440,000, including the Remington bronze. Oh yes, it also includes custom-carved hardwood paneling; a kitchen with microwave, trash compactor and dishwasher; three air conditioners, two televisions, digital sound system and a bathroom complete with a bathtub spa.
"I design to suit my tastes, my ideas of style and comfort. And since we've sold 24 of our top-line, custom-built motor homes this year, somebody out there must agree with my sense of aesthetics," Lee said.
He's among 80 manufacturers showing their wares at the 35th Annual Recreational Vehicle Show, which opened Friday and continues this weekend and through Nov. 16.
What's new in RVs this year? Would you believe basements?
Yes, one of the latest moves is to raise the floors of the living quarters to allow space for storage under the floor. And this practical improvement is indicative of a trend toward simplicity, getting rid of some of the gadgetry of years past and going for sturdy, lasting practicality and economy.
There have been aerodynamic improvements in recent years, efforts to lighten the weight of the vehicles. In many cases, more fuel-efficient drive trains are being used. While the average miles-per-gallon for RVs was between eight and 10 a decade ago, the average now ranges between 15 and 18 miles.
But one doesn't have to hock the family jewels to have a home away from home on the open road, as evidenced by the wide variety of motor homes, trailers, truck-bed campers, van conversions and camping trailers at the show. It takes all kinds to make up this $8-billion-a-year industry, which was born right after World War II.
"The RV industry has been through three distinct phases of growth," says Dave Humphries, president of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Assn. "It took us 20 years after the war to get all the elements in place: manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, campgrounds and so forth. Then the oil embargo (1973) and recession (1979-'80) shook the industry to its roots.
"But things have turned around, both culturally and in terms of RV technology, so now the winds of change are blowing in our favor. We still haven't hit the sales peaks we saw in the '70s, but we've had an increase every year since 1980 and sold about 400,000 RVs of all types in 1987," he said.
Industry statistics indicate that there are more than 7.5 million RVs on the road today and that more than 25 million people are in some way involved in the RV life style. One in every 10 vehicle-owning families owns an RV, while another 18% (12 million-13 million) are likely to buy or rent one in the future, according to a survey commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Assn.
The social factors fueling this growth include a trend toward physical fitness and outdoor activities, as well as a growing need for activities that bring families together. Also a major factor is the increasing number of active older people who no longer enjoy the "roughing it" aspect of camping, but still like travel and outdoor activities.
Escape From Stress
And the stress of urban life has boosted interest in RVs for weekend leisure. Glenn Kummer, president of Fleetwood Enterprises, the largest of the manufacturers, talks of a high-level elected official whose "wife picks him up at the office on Friday afternoons. She heads the RV down the highway while he showers and changes. They arrive that evening at whatever destination they've chosen, get a good night's sleep and spend two blissful days relaxing. Then they drive back early Monday morning. She drops him directly at the office in time for the staff meeting."
While a small segment of RV owners, mostly in the 55-and-up age bracket, have actually gone completely over, selling their homes and adapting to a new life on the road, by far the largest percentage of owners use their vehicles for a home base for weekend activities in the outdoors.
And the wide range of these activities has resulted in a proliferation of types of RVs (which has become a widely accepted generic name for a whole family of camping vehicles that combine transportation with temporary living quarters).
Choices run from pop-top camping trailers light enough to tow behind the smallest economy car or mini pickups to top-of-the-line motor homes, such as the deluxe "rock star" models with color TVs, satellite dishes, refrigerators, freezers, microwave ovens and bathtub spas.
For Every Taste