Americans Eager to Get Back on the Road

The COVID-19 crisis has led to a jump in RV sales, an opportunity for fuel retailers
various RV's
Photograph: Shutterstock

BEVERLY, Mass. — One of the unexpected results of the COVID-19 pandemic is the dramatic increase in motor home sales in the United States. Sales and rentals are up almost 100% since April 1 of this year, according to RV dealers across the country.

Winnebago of Iowa has seen its stock price triple since the beginning of the spring. It recently announced plans to add an additional 2,000 employees to its current 3,000 employee base. Currently, total nationwide employment in the RV industry is 45,000, paying $3 billion in annual wages. Air Stream, the other major RV manufacturer, has also recently reported record sales and rentals.

The Travel Bug

A recent RV industry and AAA report sites that 46,000 Americans are planning a motor home trip this summer with the most popular destinations being the Grand Canyon, the Dakotas, Brice Canyon, Montana, the Southwest, and Yellowstone. The average round trip is estimated to be 3,000 miles and last 14 days. In total, it is estimated that over 20 million gallons of gasoline will be consumed.

The primary impetus for this dramatic increase in RV travel is the desire to escape COVID-19 exposure at public restrooms, restaurants and hotels. RV travel is also relatively inexpensive, with the average daily cost to rent or own it under $300 per day excluding fuel, according to industry data.

There are currently 9.2 million motor homes in the United States and sales are increasing at 3% per year.  At this rate of growth, there will be over 12 million RVs in the United States by 2025.

Driving the Trend

In May, in the midst of the pandemic, shipments totaled 28,000 units. This growth is not just driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by demographics. Thirty-three percent of the U.S. population is over 50, which is the prime age for a motor home purchase. The top 10 states with the highest number of people over 50 and where most sales of RVs are occurring are Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, West Virginia and Vermont. 

Depending on amenities, motor homes cost between $50,000 and $70,000. The average person travels approximately 27,000 miles per year in their motor home, with a fleet average mpg of 7, which translates into 39 billion gallons of fuel demand, assuming an average fleet size of 10 million RVs.

The recent dramatic increase in RV sales and rentals proves once again how we in the United States adapt to challenges and how even calamities can create opportunities. No one knows how long the pandemic or this trend in RV sales and rentals will last, but, one thing is for certain: Americans love the open road and to travel, which continues to bode well for petroleum consumption.  

Sources: RV Industry Association, AAA, Commerce Department and EIA

Joseph H. Petrowski Jr. is a senior advisor for Yesway, the 17th largest c-store chain in the United States. He previously was the chief executive officer of Cumberland Farms Gulf Oil Group, a diversified petroleum and retail convenience store holding company located in 29 states with more than 8,000 employees and $13 billion in annual revenues. After leaving Cumberland Farms, he founded Mercantor Partners, a private equity group focused on downstream energy distribution and retail convenience. Petrowski remained chairman of Gulf Oil through 2017 and oversaw the sale of Gulf Oil to ArcLight Capital Partners in 2015.

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