Camper vans are storming the RV scene across the U.S. – Duluth News Tribune
DULUTH — In the 2020 film “Nomadland,” actress Frances McDormand plays a wandering widow who lives out of her pickup truck, with a mattress thrown into the back for her bed and a bucket for her bathroom.
Yes, the movie won Oscars. But perhaps it’s a bit misleading about what a modern camper van looks like inside and out.
In fact, what many people call campervans, and what the RV industry calls Class B motorhomes, have become the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. RV market in recent years.
These aren’t just pickup trucks or even conversion trucks with open sleeping space in the back. These are complete, self-contained residential vehicles with kitchens, beds, living space and bathrooms.
They are longer, wider and taller than typical trucks. But they are much smaller than traditional mobile homes. This size and shape seems to be a big part of their appeal.
They were called “micro-mobile homes” – blown-up versions of the popular Volkswagen campervans of the 1960s and 1970s.
“They’re easier to drive. You can park them on a city street without a big problem. They don’t take up a lot of space — at home or at the campground,” said Monica Geraci, spokeswoman for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. “And they can go places RVs can’t.” The bigger ones are the ones to go for.”
Some campers even take the four-wheel-drive Class B models off-road to get away from the crowds.
If you’ve spent any time on America’s highways over the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed these smaller RVs. (You may notice more than a dozen brand names on bodies made by automakers like Mercedes, Ford, Dodge, and Fiat.)
A decade ago, in 2012, only 2,100 B-series models were sold in the entire United States. But during the height of the pandemic rush to get outdoors, in 2020, sales jumped to 7,200. By 2021, they had reached 13,823, and in 2022, Americans bought 17,026 campervans, representing a 23.1% increase in sales year over year. .
Class B models have grown from just 0.75% of the RV market a decade ago to 2.3% in 2022.
“It’s still a very small percentage of all RVs sold, but it continues to grow,” Geraci said. “There is a segment of the population that is really attracted to the smaller size and benefits of the Class B.”
The Duluth family loves a camper road trip
Joey Defliger and his wife, Stephanie, ordered a brand-new Winnebago Solis Class B camper ahead of the family’s great American road trip in 2022. They packed up their three kids and drove 9,000 miles, from June 6 through August 6, through 28 states and one Canadian province.
“They went into Ontario to get to Niagara Falls, as far east as Acadia National Park in Maine, as far south as Orlando (Walt Disney World/Everglades) and as far west as Zion National Park,” Joey Defliger told the News Tribune.
The Duluth family had been planning their camper adventure for nearly five years and decided the Class B was just the right size for urban, open-air travel.
“We wanted to be able to get around easily and experience small towns and tight spaces, (so) anything more than Class B wasn’t going to work,” DeFliger noted of the 19-foot Winnebago.
This included places like the Vermont Farmers Market and parking spaces at the Philadelphia Museum of the American Revolution. The smaller size of the B-Class allowed them to return to remote camping spots as well.
It is also important for the family that all five people are in seats with seat belts while on the road. But they also loved the Solis’ outdoor shower feature. The full kitchen allowed them to cook most of their meals themselves, which saved a lot of money compared to restaurant prices.
“We had the pop-up roof, which the kids loved, and (as a bonus) there would have been fewer bodies in the main cabin area when we were camping,” DeFliger noted, adding that the unit’s solar-charged batteries always gave them enough power. For daily use such as lighting.
Their only regret was not ordering an air conditioning unit because the temperatures in the southern states they toured were “too hot, even at night.”
Very popular among couples, old and young
While the B-Class is often built on the same chassis as the C-Class, the B-Class is generally lighter and usually gets slightly better gas mileage. While there are exceptions for each category, the average speed for Class B motorhomes is 18 mph on the highway; Class C, 14 mpg; and Class A, 7-13 mpg, according to guaranty.com.
Buyers often pay more money for new Class B motorhomes than they do for larger Class C motorhomes — the kind with a bed above the cab. The average Class B ranges from $80,000 to $160,000, while larger Class C models sell for $50,000 to $150,000. (The largest mobile homes, Class A, generally sell for $100,000 to $200,000, but can be worth much higher.)
Geraci noted that the size of the Class B camper appeals to retired couples just hitting the road, such as younger baby boomers.
“Most (Class B models) can sleep up to four or five. But they’re actually better designed for two people.
But Class B also attracts Gen Z (about 25 and younger), millennial couples (about 26-41) and young families, at least those with the money to buy them.
Overall RV ownership has increased by more than 62% in the past 20 years, with significant growth among people ages 18-34, who now make up 22% of the total RV market. A recent Go RVing survey found that 51% of camper owners are between the ages of 18 and 34 and 49% are 55 or older.
It’s a much simpler lifestyle than a giant Class A motorhome, and perhaps it will help some people in their quest to do more with less, and gather experiences on property. There’s really no room for giant screen TVs, washing machines, or much more in a campervan.
The first all-electric RV is here
Winnebago continues to move toward its first marketable all-electric motorhome with the unveiling of the eRV2 in January.
A Class B motorhome has all the elements of other models of the same size — a kitchen, bathroom, living space and sleeping space — but doesn’t have a gas-guzzling engine.
Its all-electric motor, powered by a large rack of solar panels on the roof, can move the RV just 108 miles between charges. But Winnebago says it has put the eRV2 out for testing by RV enthusiasts and that the company is making strides in battery technology that could see zero-emission RVs on the road for the general public in the near future.
If you’re not driving it, the eRV2 can power itself for camping (lights, appliances, etc.) for up to seven days without charging, which RVers call boondocking. Recycled materials are used extensively throughout the interior, including flooring, removable mats and the mattress system. Cab seat covers are made from renewable plant materials. Acrylic countertops are made from biodegradable materials. Wide color spectrum lighting allows users to customize interior lights from white to red, helping to reduce light pollution.
Another half a million new RVs on the road in 2022
New RV sales across the United States reached 493,268 in 2022. This is down 17.8% from 2021, but still the third-highest number of RVs ever sold in the United States in a single year.
“After reaching all-time highs in 2021, the RV industry continued to record strong shipments during the first half of 2022,” Craig Kirby, president of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, said in announcing the 2022 data last month.
Towable recreational vehicles, led by traditional travel trailers, finished 2022 down 20.1% from 2021 with 434,858 bulk shipments. Mobile homes finished the year up 3.9% compared to 2021 with 58,410 units. (Class A and C mobile homes were actually down, but Class B sales were up 23.1%, pushing the entire category higher.)
Park-style RVs, the type that are set up at camp and stay there, finished the year up 20.4% from 2021 with 4,723 units shipped, an indication that people are using RVs as vacation cabins and not just for road trips.
67 million Americans plan to go RVing in 2023
A recent survey by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association found that 37% of U.S. leisure travelers, representing 67 million people, plan to take an RV trip in 2023.
Among leisure travelers — any U.S. resident who has taken some sort of recreational trip in the past year — the top reasons for traveling by RV are to explore the outdoors and have extra flexibility through remote work or school. While spending time outdoors has always remained a top reason for mobile driving, the number of respondents citing flexibility at work increased by 12% in the past year.
The survey also showed that finances are the driving reason people plan to take an upcoming RV trip. On average, RV vacations cost 50% less than comparable hotel and plane rides and a third less than hotel and car rides.
The most popular destinations for RV trips include state and national parks, with the latter remaining the most popular destination among all age groups.
Commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association and conducted by Cairn Consulting, 1,212 surveys were completed by a statistically balanced cross-section of U.S. leisure travelers. The poll results have a margin of error of 2.74 percentage points.