Tuesday, April 08, 2008

RVs Beckon Baby Boomers Despite Fuel Costs

PERRY, Ga. — At the nation's largest gathering of recreational vehicle enthusiasts, talk inevitably turns to the versatility of Velcro and the challenges of toilet maintenance.

One topic that isn't getting much focus — on the official program, anyway — is the meteoric rise in gas prices. Hard-core RVers, which include many of the 8,000 attendees at the four-day Rally 2008 that ended Monday at the Georgia National Fairgrounds here, will tell you an RV isn't just a vehicle. It's a lifestyle. And a little thing like $4-a-gallon gas isn't going to put the brakes on a way of life.

Fuel efficiency isn't a hot topic among the 300 vendors here, either. Over at the Born Free Motorcoach exhibit, for instance, the spec sheet inside a spanking new 32-foot $174,015 President model offers details on cabinet finish (cherry), toilet type (porcelain) and upholstery (leather) but is mum about what it costs to actually drive the thing.

"It's something that gets talked about enough without you pointin' it out," says sales manager Jerry Ehrhardt.

As if on cue, an elderly man in a brown polyester jumpsuit strolls up and asks, "What kinda mileage does this get?"

But with the first wave of 79 million baby boomers poised for retirement, industry experts are betting that boom times are on the horizon.

The 1,000 or so factory-fresh rigs on display at the fairgrounds, with names such as Renegade, Conquest and Dynasty, speak to the notion that you can take it with you. Super-deluxe models can cost in the seven figures, and even more modest rigs (starting, say, in the $250,000 range) sport 42-inch-screen TVs, surround-sound systems and granite countertops.

"As baby boomers age, they clearly want more than their parents had," says Mike Schneider, president of Affinity, sponsor of the rally and owner of RV-related clubs and publications. "Their parents were do-it-yourselfers. They're the do-it-for-me generation."
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