Behind the Class B RV sales boom

 Behind the Class B RV sales boom

When we first started out 18 months ago, I have to admit, I had my doubts about a life of RVing in a Class B motorhome, sometimes referred to as Type B to do away with all the negative stereotypes that come with the word “Class.”

Anyway, I was sure it would be fine for weekend getaways but as the this blog took off and it became apparent that we were going to be traveling a lot more than I first planned, we secretly wondered whether the 23-foot Roadtrek we travel in would be big enough.

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At a recent Roadtrek Class B rally in Branson, MO

Now, with more than 42,000 miles under our tires and extended trips for weeks at a time over the past year and a half, we know the answer: It is!

But more than that, we’ve realized we are living out a major trend in RVing, a boom in class B RV sales that seems to be turning around an industry hard hit by the economic doldrums that had put many a dealer on the edge of bankruptcy.

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We’ve driven 42,000 miles over the past 18 months in Class B RVs

The RV business is once again healthy, and leading the resurgence are Class B RVs.

Monthly sales figures for Class B’s confirm what we’ve concluded from our own experience, interviews with dealers we have met at various RV shows around the country and the many other Class B owners we’ve met in our travels this past year.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association deftly tiptoes around the size distinctions of motorhomes, simply noting that “Class A motorhomes are generally the largest; Class B motorhomes or van campers are the smallest and Class C motorhomes generally fall in between.”

Search around a little more, though, and you’ll find more info that indicate Class As usually range in weight from 15,000 to 30,000 pounds and stretch from 30 to 40 feet in length. Class Bs are often referred to as van conversions, weigh 6,000 to 11,000 pounds and are 17 to 24 feet in length. Class Cs are scaled down versions of an A, weigh 11,000 to 15,000 pounds and go 22 or so feet to 31 feet in length

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Inside a Class B motorhome

Class Bs are typically on a Chevrolet, Ford or the Sprinter van body, modified and converted into a motorhome.

When it comes to Class B motorhome manufacturers, there’s the Big Six. And it’s dominated by Canadian companies.

Four are in Canada –Roadtrek, in Kitchener, ON; Pleasure Way, in Saskatchtoon, SK; Leisure Travel Vans in Winkler, Manitoba; and Great West Vans in Saint Andrews, Manitoba.

Two are in the U.S. – Winnebago, marketing its Class B under the Era brand in Forest City, IA, and Thor Industries’ Avenue and Interstate models, in Jackson Center, OH which the company says are inspired by its Airstream brand.

A new Class B manufacturer – Advanced RV – located near Cleveland – opened shop earlier this year, building luxury motorhomes on the Sprinter platform by direct factory order, with no dealer network.

The boom in Class B sales can be attributed to two trends.

Baby Boomer Retirees – Each day in America, 10,000 Baby Boomers reach Social Security age. Sociologists tell us this generation of retirees is the most healthy, active, affluent and adventurous of any other group that came before. Many, retiring early because of buy-outs or being forced out during the economic downturn, have made calculated decisions to seize the opportunity to see the country. Others have planned for this moment for years. But new retirees are choosing Class B’s because of their easy mobility and the convenience of also being able to use them as second vehicles.

Downsizers – There is also a sizeable contingent of new Class B owners who are downsizing from a Class A or C. These are typically veteran RVers who have been on the road for several years. Some are fulltimers who have found an area of the country to purchase a home and settle, but still want to be able to travel in comfort. Others want to be more flexible in the places they go and are downsizing as part of a transition to simplify their lives or are tired of towing a second vehicle or being relegated to pull through spots and full service campgrounds.

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We can go anywhere

Jennifer and I are in the first category. Granted, we don’t know anything different. We’ve never tried a Class A. And sometimes it does feel cramped in our Roadtrek, especially when our 70-pound Norwegian Elkhound, Tai, is traveling with us. But we’ve adjusted to the tight spaces we absolutely love the mobility our Class B provides, from pulling into regular parking spaces to being able to boondock and stay deep in state and national forests, totally self contained in true wilderness.

Darlene, a reader of this blog, has owned a Class B 2004 Roadtrek 190 Popular since 2010 and has taken trips as long as five weeks in it.

“We have purposely bought small RV’s to force ourselves to be outdoors,” she says. “You can never feel closed in being outdoors. The whole idea of taking a trip is to be enjoying and appreciating the great outdoors.”

John and Sally Hearne from Pittsboro, NC are typical of many downsizers. I met them at the FMCA’s 87th annual reunion in Indianapolis last year and shared a seminar stage with them about downsizing from an A to a B.

They started RVing in 2005 with a 32-ft., gas-powered Class A motor home and traveled across country. They did all the bucket list spots – the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and fell in love with the RV lifestyle. In 2010, they traded in their 32-ft. gas model for a 40-ft., four-slide diesel pusher, complete with a washer and dryer, residential refrigerator, and central vacuum system.

For five months, they traveled the country with gusto in their big rig, towing a car behind them. But then, some discontent entered the picture.

“We found that traveling in a large coach requires that you do most of your traveling on major highways and Interstates,” said Sally. “Therefore, we didn’t get to travel on the back country roads that we love to tour.”

The more they traveled, the more the allure of that 40-foot motorhome began to wear off.

“We could only use fueling stations that could accommodate our size and length. There was no impromptu stopping along the way. I would see a roadside stand with fresh produce that I would love to buy. But, there was nowhere to put our big rig. We couldn’t just pull off the road anywhere. I saw shops in small towns that begged to be explored. Nope, we couldn’t do that. There was nowhere nearby to park. By the time we could find a campground that could accommodate our coach, unhook the tow car, and drive back to the produce stand or small town shop, we would be miles away from the place of interest. So, I just had to forget about it. “

In July 2011, they sold the 40-foot Class A and bought a Roadtrek 210 Popular.

“The space is a miniature of the Class A, but it has all we need,” Salley explains. “There is inside storage for clothes, food, etc., and outside storage for some essentials. Since it is so easy to stop anywhere we want, we do not have to stock a large amount of food. We love being able to drive anywhere we want to go in town or out of town.”

The Hearnes experience has been echoed by many.

Ron Woodward, a retired engineer from Minnesota, told me about the same thing. He previously owned a Class A. Last year he downsized to a Class B from Pleasure-Way. “We didn’t like the big campgrounds and our dependency on hookups,” he said. “Now, we can go anywhere. We love boondocking in the state forests. Just us and nature.”

With fall rapidly approaching and colder temperatures on the way, the great Snow Bird migration to warmer regions will soon begin.

We’re hoping to become a part of it this year, taking long trips to Florida, the Gulf States, the Texas Hill Country, Arizona and the Southwest.

We won’t be gone the entire season but rather will return to our Michigan home for grandkid fixes, planning three and four week forays on each leg.

But we’ll do so confident of our Class B RV and excited about the adventure that awaits as we go Roadtreking across North America.

Hope to see you out there…on the open road.

Mike Wendland

Mike is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road. He enjoys camping (obviously), hiking, biking, fitness, photography, kayaking, video editing, and all things dealing with technology and the outdoors. See and subscribe to his RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube, where he has hundreds of RV and travel related videos. His PC MIke TV reports, on personal technology are distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations.

14 Comments

  • i didn’t have to buy a class A to know that it would be too big to drive around. i am not an accomplished driver from my previous experiences driving big trucks, towing trailers, etc. i never wrecked anything – i just prefer something i can sense the corners of, and see out the back windows in the mirror. and after three years of fulltiming, yes, there’s enough room in a class B. why drive it around if you don’t need it? and if fuel prices double overnight, will you still be on the road? i will.

  • I’m with Campskunk on this one. I’m a road warrior, growing up in MIchigan with parents who were one of the first to purchase the old “Lesure Vans” that Dodge made. We rolled all over the place and I became hooked on vans and traveling. I promise you if my dad were alive today, we would have a Class B motorhome. It just makes sense. I love to travel (In fact as I type this I’m in Birmingham, AL for the weekend) and since it’s just me and two dogs now, I don’t need anything that big, but would love to boondock on a regular basis. Still not sure which Class B I want (definitely a roadtrek but the Chevy or Sprinter?) but by the time I’m ready I’ll know.

  • Agree 100% … Class B is definitely the way to go. I know that I have longer trips planned for the south this year … just to get a break from our northern winter.
    I love the Class B lifestyle!!

  • I envy you! This is my dream but finding an affordable RoadTrek is like looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. So, I had not considered one. I’m looking at Class “C’s”. I love reading your blog and learning from it. Much of your experiences can be applied to any class. Thanks so much.

    • I hear what you are saying Alexis. I understand that finances are certainly one consideration. But when I made the decision to purchase my Class B I figured that I couldn’t afford not to get one. As time marches on and we see people we know and have worked with passing away before they have had a chance to enjoy their retirement years it made me think that I don’t have the time to wait.
      In my case I didn’t have the cash to by a $100,000 Class B … but the bank does and I jumped in with both feet. No regrets … every time I am driving down the backgrounds of North America I have a smile on my face and a spring in my step knowing that I am doing what I want to do.

      In the words of Mark Twain …

      “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

      • Karsten, it was that quote from Mark Twain that had us jump with both feet into a new 2013 RS Adventurous. We loved our 04C190P for 3 1/2 yrs and knew there was no other travel life style for us. We figured we have 10 more “good” years, or so we hope, and felt the same way. We wanted something that was new(er) for all those miles we plan to put on our RS.

  • Mike,

    You are absolutely right. We have friends who are wagon masters for a luxury coach manufacturer. They take folks on tours with each family in its own huge coach. To do that efficiently our friends drive the same routes beforehand searching for places a dozen or so of these behemoths can be berthed, while their owners either tour in their tow’d or are picked up in smaller coaches to be ferried to the point of interest. Logistically, it’s like Hannibal’s Alps crossing. They want us to buy one of their company’s coaches, so we can travel with them….. No thank you.

    BTW, these dear folks move their coach from their home near us to Florida annually. They stay five months. They are members of a large church in FL as well as one up here. They sing in both choirs. Christmas cantatas in FL and Easter up north. It would seem easier to have a Class B to travel between two houses rather than feed the monster to take them to FL. I’m an engineer and tend toward logical solutions. Some don’t.

    My logical solution…. Roadtreking!

    Bill

  • I love my class B and am on my second one. We are from Texas and we are the opposite of snowbirds. Is there a name for us? We travel north in the summer to escape the heat. We have met several others from Arizona and Texas spending their summers up north for the same reason. We just returned home from a 12 week trip. We were planning our next trip before we got home.

  • I love the idea of a class B. Easy of driving and parking, Gas milage, and all of the needed items are available. We have not bought ours yet, but will before we retire. One manufacturer you forgot was Advanced RV in the USA. They are a small and new company.

    • I meet Mike from Advanced RV at a RV Rally in May. He is a great guy and will work with you to get exactly what you want. His units are very high quality and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend 100%.
      Best of luck on your search for your ideal Class B.

  • My sister and I looked hard for a suitable Class B for her to purchase. At nearly the last moment, we realized that to accommodate three adults sleeping comfortably (her husband, herself and me for the big trips) not to mention sufficient privacy for all, she needed to upsize. Itasca Navion IQ, with twins in back converting to king and full size sofa bed in front, separate shower in bath with room to change clothes, big window screens, screen door, solar and blackout shades and nifty pleated shades instead of curtains for the cab, was the best choice. Yes, drawbacks are the 11ft 4in height and boxier body, not too stealthy, but 25ft 5in length makes it comfortable for us girls to drive and park without anxiety (hubby wants no part of driving, hence my participation). Class B is great size (we still look at them longingly) for a married couple or partners, but a mixed pair or trio will love the Navion/Winnebago View size and features.

  • There’s a reason affordable used class Bs are hard to find: they hold their value. We’ve been RVing 14 years and now on our third (new to us) Roadtrek.

    We sold our 1986 six years after buying it for the same money we paid for it. We drove our 1990 for 7 years – it developed a few issues and we sold it for $6000 less than we had paid. (How can you beat a cost of less than $1000 per year?) We now have a 2002 and hope to enjoy it for at least 10 years. Each time we upgrade, it costs a bit more but we’ll never afford new and we don’t want debt. This works for us.
    As for the size – every two years we’ve gone on an extended trip. Our first trip was 1 year long, another was 6 months, and five times we’ve been away for 5 months at a time. We’re constantly on the move and do lots of boondocking so anything bigger would never work. When people ask how we manage, we tell them, “Yes, it’s a small bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen…but you should see the size of our living and dining rooms…the great outdoors!”

  • I am not sure I could make the adjustment from a Class A to a B. I am 6’5 ” and there is barely enough room for me now. I think I am stuck with the burden of a Class A or C until I am confined to a wheel chair. It is a shame because we could see so much more on a tighter budget with the MPG savings.

  • Greg,

    Take heart! There are a number of B+ coaches that will meet your needs. at 6’5″ you may have to stop slightly but you can have a full, dry bath in a 23′ coach. We’re strongly considering one that’s so equipped and only 22′ long. It has no slides, twin beds (one of which is 80″) inside water tank and heated waste tanks on a Ford F-450 chassis. Keep looking. They’re out there.

    In deference to the Roadtrek theme of this blog, I won’t elaborate. Roadtrek, buy far builds the most innovative, usable, Class B around and they’ve gotten there by brain power and sticking to the confines of the Class B. My hat is off to them for the new ground they’re breaking in providing off-the-grid small coaches.

    Best regards,

    Bill

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