SCOTT SIMON, host:
This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
May not come as a surprise that RV sales plummeted in recent years. Like any other automotive industry, the RV market suffered through high gas prices and the recession. What maybe surprising is this week one of the nation's top RV manufacturers, Winnebago, posted stronger-than-expected quarterly profits.
And as NPR's David Schaper reports, sales at RV dealerships are now on the rise.
DAVID SCHAPER: The last few years have been among the most difficult ever for the RV industry. Manufacturers closed plants and laid off thousands of workers. But here at Camp-Land RV in Burns Harbor, Indiana, about 40 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, owner Al Paschen says business is picking up.
Mr. AL PASCHEN (Owner, Camp-Land RV): We never had a losing year through all of this and this year is turning out to be one of the better years we've ever had.
SCHAPER: Sales, Paschen says, are up 20 percent. That's partly due to the fact that some nearby competitors have gone out of business, leaving Paschen's Camp-Land as one of the few RV dealerships left in Northwest Indiana.
But Paschen also says he thinks consumers are finally starting to feel more optimistic about the economy. And he notices buyers are getting younger.
Mr. PASCHEN: Just during the summer, we always see a lot of families, but we're seeing younger couples too, people in their 30s, 40s. The retirees have sort of been absent here for a few years.
SCHAPER: Paschen says the hit many retirees took to their savings is keeping them out of new RVs. Among those who are buying, Paschen says, tastes are changing, even among those trading in and trading up.
Mr. PASCHEN: Now we see them upgrading but not getting bigger. In fact, we see some getting smaller. And we see some doing things like this Earthbound here is a very expensive travel trailer, and it's small.
SCHAPER: Can you show me what it looks like inside and that sort of thing?
Mr. PASCHEN: Yeah. Well, this one is, some people will say, radical. It's modernistic...
SCHAPER: Paschen passion shows that the travel trailer is made of lightweight aluminum and composite materials.
Mr. PASCHEN: Composite materials, they call them, and they're very light weight, even the doors on the cabinets in here...
(Soundbite of voices)
Mr. PASCHEN: ...composites instead of wood, and this whole thing is very light.
SCHAPER: Sleek and curvy travel trailers like this one are getting smaller and lighter so they can be pulled by cars that are getting smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient themselves.
(Soundbite of traffic)
SCHAPER: Outside of the showroom, on his six-acre lot of more than 200 RVs, Paschen shows us that even the motor homes are shrinking too.
Mr. PASCHEN: You know, this is a really small Winnebago as Winnebagos go. It's a Vista and it's a 26-foot and it's the best selling Winnebago on our lot right now.
SCHAPER: And regardless of size, RVs are getting a lot nicer. Glossy finishes on the cabinets and other high-end and high tech features such as flat-screen TVs show that many consumers are demanding more luxurious road trips and camping trips.
Compartments that slide out on both motor homes and travel trailers create more living space inside. And that's exactly what Harold and Georgia Phillips of Valparaiso, Indiana are looking for.
Ms. GEORGIA PHILLIPS: We're spending a lot more time in it now that he's retired; we went to Alaska last year. And it's a matter of tripping over each other and we just found this - we thought this one would be more comfortable for us.
Mr. HAROLD PHILLIPS: Yeah, and a bigger kitchen to, in it.
Ms. PHILLIPS: Oh, yeah.
Mr. PHILLIPS: It's got a lot more counter space.
Ms. PHILLIPS: More cabinets.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Because that way it's easier to cook and stuff like that.
SCHAPER: The Phillips are a little disappointed, though, that they won't be able to hit the open road in their new RV for another month or so. The model they want is on back order, a sign RVs are selling better than they have in years.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.