Winnebago Rolls as America Rediscovers the RV
As the summer vacation season kicks into high gear and you head out on the road, expect to see a familiar sight. Recreational vehicles and motor homes are experiencing a rebirth. That's welcome news for Winnebago Industries, which has survived one of the roughest periods for the RV industry.
"During the depths of the recession we weren't even running the factory at times, it was so slow, business was that bad," said Randy Potts, Chairman and CEO of Winnebago Industries. "Now we are running the factory every week. In fact people are working overtime."
Winnebago's crews are working longer hours because the company is seeing a pick-up in sales. In February of 2012, Winnebago's backlog of RV orders was 1,004. By February of this year, the backlog had grown to 2,752.
(Read More: Recreational Vehicle Resurgence Buoys Indiana Town )
"The order backlog is strong and it is just an entirely different environment than it was during the recession," said Potts.
New Buyers, More Bells and Whistles
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is predicting 307,300 RVs will be sold in the U.S. this year, a 7.5 percent increase.
What's driving it?
Some of it is because of pent-up demand as annual sales plunged during the recession and prospective buyers put off buying an RV. Meanwhile the increase in consumer confidence and banks making financing more available at low rates has brought in new customers.
As he showed CNBC around his plant, Potts talked about the growth of first time customers. "We are seeing more of the new buyers because we have come up with some entry-level products that are appealing to buyers that we just didn't have before."
They also want more technology and creature comforts in the model motor home they're buying.
"A lot of them have three televisions, hot water heat, dishwashers, deep freezers, washer dryer combinations, porcelain tile floors, it just goes on and on," said Potts.
The average Winnebago sells for approximately $138,000.
(Read More: Summer Travel Forecast: Better, but No Blowout )
Not every Winnebago costs that much. In fact, the company has seen steady growth of smaller, less expensive class C RV models.
Moderate Gas Prices Fueling Demand
Last year, the company improved sales by 16.1 percent. One factor behind that growth has been gas prices holding steady.
Like all motor home manufacturers, Winnebago has developed more fuel-efficient models. Still, at the end of the day these are vehicles that average under 20 miles per gallon. Potts is encouraged that gas prices have been moderate. "We don't look at fuel as such a factor," he said. "As long as it is available and the prices are relatively stable I don't think that's really much of a headwind."
—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews
Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com