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RV towing needs drive SUV and pickup popularity

The rising demand for towable recreational vehicles could mean a rising demand for tow vehicles.

Large sport utility vehicles and trucks may be making a comeback, thanks to a growing trend in the recreational vehicle market. Data from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) indicate that while sales of conventional motor coaches have flattened, the sales of towable vehicles, including travel trailers and fifth wheels, are on the rise.

Growth of Towing Capacity, 1999 to 2006“The towable market is just booming right now,” says Rachel Parsons, public relations manager for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. “Overall RV sales are up 14.3% for the year, driven by a towable market up 19.7% over last year.”

The growth in towables is coming from two directions, Parsons says. There has been a significant increase in the number of younger buyers, and their first RV is usually some kind of towable. And the increase has come from the top down, as many RV customers are trading in their conventional motor coaches for travel trailers and fifth wheels.

Many of these customers are moving to towables due to higher fuel costs and the desire for more flexibility. Conventional motor home owners often flat-tow a smaller vehicle to use as transportation once the motor home is parked. With a towable trailer, the tow vehicle can be unhooked and used for short trips or to run errands.

As these consumers move to towable trailers, many still expect to have the same level of luxury features — such as tile floors, granite countertops and big-screen televisions — as they had in their motor coaches. For example, data show that 88.3% of fifth-wheel RVs manufactured have at least one foldout room.

“You may not get the same level of comfort in a towable that is available in a top-of-the-line, 47-foot Type A motor coach,” says Parsons. “But you can have all of the amenities in a towable that you can get in a Type B or C coach. They all have slide-outs, and you still have lights and water and everything when you hook up.”

Most of these larger trailers require a large truck, such as Ford’s Super Duty or heavy-duty versions of the General Motors and Dodge pickups. For 2008, Ford is launching the ultimate tow vehicle in the F-450 pickup, a truck that’s capable of hauling more than 24,000 pounds combined weight of truck and trailer.

The launch of the F-450 was driven by customer need. Ben Poore, Ford’s Truck Marketing manager, has kept a keen eye on truck trends. He and his marketing group have set up alliances with groups such as the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), spending plenty of time at its functions and gathering firsthand knowledge on how customers use their trucks.

“We saw people who were pulling five, six, seven horses and lots of gear like saddles, tack, feed, boots and other things that they need to take for exhibiting their horses,” says Poore. “That trailer or tow vehicle also has to serve as living quarters for the family.”

He says many of them had outgrown their conventional pickups and were turning to the aftermarket to convert commercial trucks into pickups.
“They still had a need for a pickup with four doors and room for the whole family,” says Poore. “But they needed more total payload and towing capability than a conventional heavy-duty truck could offer. Being first to market with a factory-direct F-450 pickup shows how quick we react to trends.”

Posted Sept. 28, 2006