By Blake Citte
The modern recreational vehicle has played a major role in Americana for over a century. Manufacturers of RVs date back as early as 1910, and by the time the 20s roared their way through history, RV parks began popping up all across the country.
The RVs of the 30s saw a major design upgrade, shifting from beds-on-wheels up to tiny mobile houses with electricity and water. When the newly introduced U.S. interstate system in the 50s and 60s suddenly made cross-country travel much more accessible, motorhomes and travel trailers transformed into glamorous living pods, complete with all the trappings (right down the kitchen sink) of a modern home.
As the years rolled by, the American RV only became more refined and its popularity continued to gain speed clear into 2007 — until the industry was slowed by an unexpected traffic signal soon to be dubbed “The Great Recession.”
Discretionary spending came to a screeching halt, hitting hard against the leisure and travel industry. Newspaper headlines touted some banks as “too big to fail”, whereas others claimed “lending is locked up.” The RV industry, composed of hundreds of small, medium and large manufacturers, was definitely not too big to fail. By 2010, the 60-year-old classic behemoth Fleetwood RV had gone defunct. In some states, large manufacturing facilities laid vacant. Decals of popular brand RVs sat unused. Talented and experienced craftsman stood unemployed. There seemed no light at the end of the tunnel.
The industry found new life when business tycoons, such as Warren Buffett, doubled down on their investments and began purchasing these struggling and defunct brands, consolidating them into mega-manufacturers with more-efficient procedures.
The RVs of today range from the simple to the luxurious, featuring coaches so opulent that they appear nicer than their owners' homes. Upper scale trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes can now be outfitted with residential refrigerators, stoves, convection ovens, island kitchen configurations, two bathrooms, electric fireplaces, giant top-line TVs, king-sized beds, top-grain leather massage recliners and multiple sliding rooms that substantially increase indoor living space. While many of these comforts have been around for years, it’s the integration of new technology that makes these modern RVs far more intuitive.
An advantage of having such large manufacturers lies in their ability to produce more cutting-edge innovation. Phone applications are now available to save owners the manual labor of extending an RV’s slide-out rooms and awnings. It’s even possible now to remotely level a parked coach. With the swipe or push of a finger, owners can turn on their interior lighting and opt for a variety of color settings. They can power the generator, fine-tune the heating and air-conditioning settings, adjust the fireplace and stream music inside or outside the RV unit.
For recreationalists hoping to escape their phones, all of these functions can still be operated through their RV’s built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, with their mobile devices set to the non-intrusive airplane mode. Purists who choose to leave their phones completely behind also need not worry. Many modern RVs come with tablet computers and remotes that perform all of these services.
Mobile apps spiking in popularity amongt RV owners also promote the concept of RV-sharing. Through online services, such Airbnb and Campanda, RV owners have the ability to rent out their unit when they don’t need it. This technology also affords noncommittal buyers the luxury of an RV experience without a purchase, taking the entire lifestyle for a test drive. Also as a bonus, these services help relieve some of the financial burden on RV owners, who can now compensate their purchase through renting out their unit. Keep in mind, services like Airbnb and Campanda require renters to be insured either through the service’s insurance or through a binder insurance on the renter’s own policy.
But as tech-friendly as RVs have become, the industry is still a bit behind the curve. RVs have been pretty predictable for the last few decades. When one speaks of innovation, it’s not uncommon to get an “I’ll believe it when I see it” response. Nevertheless, the trickle-down technology from the automotive industry paints an exciting future for RVers and RV enthusiasts.
Many people envisioned the future of cars to be the hovering Jetson’s mobile that beep-beep-beeped across the lollypop-house skyline. While that’s yet to be proven to be an accurate depiction, the direction that automobiles are heading is something that many people never thought they’d live to see.
Imagine a day in the coming years when an RV won’t need a physical driver. This future technology has the potential to revolutionize and catapult a steady industry into an even more thriving business. Busy road warriors could use their stressful commute as an office place to get their work done. Families could leave their homes in the evening and wake up in the morning to their RV destination. Companies, such as Otto, Tesla and Embark have already begun working on this concept for small cars and semi-trucks. Should any of these companies be successful in this, expect to see a fully autonomous RV in the rearview.
A common concern among potential RV buyers is MPGs. Gas is expensive and is often a factor in a buyer’s decision to purchase. But if Salt Lake City’s Nikola Motor Co. has anything to say about it, the new concern will be MPGE (miles per gallon equivalent). Nikola is currently building 100 percent zero-emission, hydrogen-powered, electric-drive semi-motors with up to a 1,200-mile range, running at nearly double the efficiency of the (already efficient) diesel engines on the roads today. If this more-efficient model takes hold in the trucking industry, the same technology would no doubt make for far more efficient RVs.
But for the time being, RVs play an important role not only in American culture but also in its survival. They are crucial for many small-business owners. They are the workhorse of the movie and entertainment industry. They are part of the backbone to Utah’s bustling tourism economy. They are parked alongside homes across the state, waiting to host memories for thousands of Utah families during the weekends they work so hard for.
Whether it be in a teardrop trailer from the 50s or in a mega land-yacht of today, the view of Utah’s landscape should be more than a picture on a promotional calendar in someone’s office. For either work or pleasure, there is no time like the present to go RV-ing.
Blake Citte is a third-generation family member at Ray Citte RV in Roy and works in finance and insurance at the dealership.