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Outlook excellent for sales of RVs.

Byline: From Register-Guard and news service reports

Monaco Coach Corp., Thor Industries and other makers of motor homes and travel trailers may sell a total of 320,000 units this year, the second-best performance in a quarter century as the economy improves and more Americans retire, a study estimates.

Shipments of recreational vehicles probably will approach the 321,000 sold in 1999, but trail the record 389,900 in 1978, according to an estimate by University of Michigan researcher Richard Curtin, who prepares industry forecasts.

``Americans are going back to the basics, and that means bringing the family together,'' Mac Bryan, vice president for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Reston, Va., told Bloomberg News. ``We're a leading indicator for the economy, and our outlook is a strong signal for the economy long-term.''

Any improvement in RV sales would be a boon for Lane County, one of the nation's RV manufacturing centers. The county is headquarters for Monaco, and for the Country Coach division of National RV Holdings Inc., as well as for privately held Marathon Coach. The three firms directly employ about 2,800 workers in Lane County, and contract out work to dozens of local firms.

The retail value of shipments of motor homes and travel trailers in 2003 rose to an estimated $12 billion, the highest ever, as more Americans turned 55 and low interest rates make it easier to buy, according to the association, which collects shipment information. The biggest growth came in the most expensive motor homes, Bryan said.

October shipments of motor homes and travel trailers rose 3.8 percent to 29,900 from the same month a year ago, the best October in 27 years, RVIA said. Trailer sales rose 2.1 percent to 23,800 and motor home sales rose 11 percent to 6,100. Recreational vehicle shipments rose 1.9 percent.

A Bloomberg index based on shares of the five largest makers of recreational vehicles climbed 48 percent in 2003, compared with a 26 percent rise for the Standard & Poor's 500 index of big U.S. companies.

The industry, through RVIA, spent $60 million from 1997 to 2002 on a campaign to promote vacations using RVs. The organization will spend $50 million on the 2003 to 2005 campaign, which emphasizes using motor homes and travel trailers for hobbies and other activities.

The number of Americans 55 to 59 years old rose 6.2 percent between 1999 and 2000, while the total aged 60 to 64 rose 4.6 percent in the same period, the U.S. Census Bureau statistics showed.

Winnebago Industries Inc. Chief Executive Bruce Hertzke said last year that the company would add as many as 100 employees by the end of 2003 to meet demand. Coachmen Industries Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind., added two plants, and Monaco CEO Kay Toolson said his company has boosted production to keep pace with demand.

Thor, based in Jackson Center, Ohio, the world's largest maker of motor homes and travel trailers by unit sales, in late 2003 said it will double its quarterly dividend as part of a 2-for-1 stock split as sales improved.
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Title Annotation:Business; The news is good for local firms Monaco, Country Coach and Marathon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 3, 2004
Previous Article:FOR THE RECORD.
Next Article:BRIEFLY.

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