The recreational vehicle market has boomed since its financial crisis low point. More than 500,000 RVs were sold in 2017, up 17.2 percent from 2016, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. The sales included 442,000 towable trailers and 63,000 motor homes. Last year's record level of RV shipments is expected to be eclipsed again this year.
The RV market has grown by more than 200 percent since 2009, and as sales recovered, manufacturers turned to innovative design to differentiate their products. RVs are proving popular across generations, with baby boomers, Gen-X'ers and millennials all "taking part in the RV-lifestyle," Thor Industries CEO Bob Martin told CNBC last year.
Kevin Broom, RVIA spokesman, said that lighter and more aerodynamic towables are gaining in popularity, as they do not require large trucks or SUVs to tow. Smaller crossovers, cars and even motorcycles can tow many models. Trailers have dominated over the past decade (87 percent of sales last year). Broom noted that lighter, wind-cheating designs also waste less fuel.
Motorized RVs are also getting more efficient, he said, thanks to increased use of lightweight materials. "Traditional framing and wall materials, like steel, fiberglass and aluminum, are still in use, but we're seeing increased-use composites and resins in RV construction. These are making RV bodies lighter but more durable."
There are concerns that prices may rise in the RV market in the coming months as a result of the Trump administration's metal tariffs. Thor CEO Martin said this week that the biggest RV producer is already experiencing inflationary pressures as a result of the steel and aluminum tariffs.
"Pricing is a concern as metals tariffs take effect. It has to work its way down to consumers," Broom said, adding that it may not be immediate but occur over a matter of months.
CNBC looked at some of the newer designs available on the RV market for every budget and tailored to various transportation and travel needs.
This 89-year-old brand is known for its iconic aluminum travel trailers, but earlier this spring introduced its very first fiberglass model, the Nest. Looking a bit like a "Star Trek" shuttle, the new trailer sleeps two in a minimalist interior drenched with light from windows on all sides and overhead. Modern touches include Bluetooth-controlled LED lighting, multiple USB posts and a 3-D laminate galleytop in the small kitchen. It's even pre-wired for solar panels for those who want to live off the grid for small stretches. At under 17-feet long and with a base weight of 3400 pounds, the Nest doesn't need an especially large tow vehicle.
Starting at $45,900 (MSRP).
The 2018 winner of RV Business' RV of the Year and named one of RV Pro's Best of Show, Winnebago's new Horizon is bringing sleek, uncluttered design cues to the high end of the RV market. Whereas many large, Class A RVs feature complex swirls and patterns on their exteriors, the Horizon features a more subdued palette for an understated look. The interior is similarly clean and modern with LED tube lighting and an electric fireplace. In lieu of papered wallboard found inside traditional RVs, the Horizon features padded vinyl textured laminates. The look is more 21st-century Danish living room than Victorian-era English drawing room. Winnebago president and CEO Mike Happe told an RV trade publication that the motor home's interior look was more likely found "in a Manhattan condo or London flat." This diesel-powered behemoth comes in 41- and 43-foot lengths, making it one of the largest RVs on the road, and one of the priciest outside of custom-builds.
Starting at $434,968 (MSRP).
If you need something suitably posh to tow behind your vintage Morgan convertible, your wealthy self is in luck! The Hutte Hut marries an aircraft aluminum space frame chassis with marine-grade plywood paneling, birch flooring and a retractable canvas top that diffuses sunlight. Created by Brian and Katrina Manzo, the husband and wife team behind industrial design firm Sprouting Sprocket Studio, the 15-foot teardrop trailer weighs only 850 pounds and can be towed behind a range of small cars. It can be equipped with basic conveniences such as a kitchen and refrigerator. Fast Company called the Hutte Hut a "jewel box on wheels" but while its craftsmanship is without question, Treehugger noted that it costs more than $70 a pound and may be too vulnerable to thieves and wildlife to leave unattended at many campsites.
Starting at $63,900 (MSRP).
Traditional teardrop trailers curve down towards the front, like their namesake. This aerodynamic shape makes them easy to tow, but limits interior room. In contrast, inTech's 15.4-foot Luna features a nearly upright front profile to better utilize space. To maintain easy towability, the Luna features a lightweight aluminum (rather than steel) frame, which helps keep weight down to 1,800 pounds. A proportionately gigantic windshield provides a view out the front and air conditioning and a 40-inch television come standard. Like traditional teardrop trailers, the inTech kitchenette is accessible from the front when stationary. RV Business' named the Luna 2018's Top RV Debut of the Year and RV Pro's awarded it one of the year's Best of Show.
This week, inTech launched a basic version of the Luna, the Luna Lite, which offers a smaller TV and stove, more basic refrigerator, no microwave or rear bumper, and traditional RV windows rather than European style frames. The changes allow the company to offer the model at an MSRP a few thousand dollars less, something the company said feedback had indicated was an option consumers wanted.
Luna MSRP is $16,537–$19,995. Luna Lite has an MSRP of $14,168–15,518.
Taxa's Cricket values function over form, as might be expected for a camper meant for wilderness treks designed by a former NASA engineer. Garrett Finney had designed habitation modules for the International Space Station before founding Taxa in 2009. His Cricket's bent-and-folded exterior resembles large-scale origami and the design incorporates a standard pop-up tent to provide up to 6'4 " of standing height. Small Trailer Enthusiast notes that, for strength, the Cricket is constructed with extra heavy gauge aluminum and a plywood floor nearly twice average thickness. The 15-foot trailer can sleep two adults and two children and has been featured along with its creator multiple times in Dwell, the architecture and design magazine.
Starting around $36,400.
Innovative Australian company OPUS Camper makes standard and off-road campers with folding aluminum frames that are light enough to be towed by many small- and midsize trucks and SUVs. The basic trailer weighs 1,577 pounds, and is less than 4 feet tall when closed up for towing, which improves visibility. Once opened, the trailer provides a tent with 8 feet of ceiling height and enough space for a large family. Options such as bike and kayak carriers, a toilet and solar-powered shower are available.
But the OPUS's party trick is that that the tents can be equipped with air tubes instead of standard poles to make setup a breeze. An electric pump inflates the tubes with the press of a button in about 90 seconds, and quick-release valves means stowing the tent for transport is even faster. (The interior of the regular and off-road versions are nearly identical, but the exterior shot below is of the off-road version.)
Starting at $18,999 (inflating tent an extra $2,499).
Some design ideas deserve another day in the sun. This aggressively retro camper was designed with a color-matched boat clamped to its roof, like a giant hat. The American Dream is a modernized take on a trailer/boat combo from the early 1960s, and features automotive style tail lights and chrome-colored accents from that earlier era. The combination only weighs 650 pounds in total, and measures 11.5 feet long. The sleeping cabin measures 6 feet 8 inches by 4 inches. New Atlas reports the boat will hold up to 500 pounds of people and gear, and can be rowed or powered by a small motor.
Unfortunately, the future of this retro design concept is uncertain. Paul Dahlman of American Dream Trailers told CNBC the company has been on a production hiatus for almost a year and doesn't have plans to start up again in the near future. He said there are a few of these trailers still left on a dealer's lot in Salem, Oregon, but that's it. "Still fun to look at though," Dahlman said of the pictures he sent to CNBC.
Starting at $12,180 (MSRP).