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Justin Fox

Is an RV Downturn the Same Recession Signal as Before?

The industry, an economic bellwether in the past, is experiencing sharp sales declines. But after an epic pandemic buying boom, that may have been inevitable.

Times are tough in the RV business.

Times are tough in the RV business.

Photographer: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

When the US recreational vehicle industry has slumped in the past, it has often been a sign that a recession is on its way. RVs are discretionary purchases, often paid for with borrowed money, so they can signal a softening of consumer demand before it shows up in other spending categories.

Right now, times are tough in the RV business. The biggest manufacturer, Thor Industries of Elkhart, Indiana, announced this week that its net sales for the quarter ended Jan. 31 were down 39% from the same period a year earlier. Earnings per share were down 90%, and the company downgraded the outlook for the rest of its fiscal year. Late last month, the RV Industry Association reported that manufacturers’ shipments to dealers were down 61.8% in January compared with those in the month a year earlier.