Even before the Academy Award-winning movie “Nomadland,” about a peripatetic RV owner, got people talking about life on the road, the Garretts joined the growing number of households that own an RV According to Monika Geraci, a spokeswoman for the RV Industry Association, the number is up to 11.2 million in North America. Over the past decade RV ownership has increased 26 percent and sales of new RVs in March broke all records, with a little more than 54,000 shipped to dealers in North America.
Dealers and online marketplaces report there is also a huge demand for used campers, trailers, buses and vans. And for the new models the innovations just keep on coming, according to Bob Wheeler, president and chief executive of Airstream Inc. His enthusiasm is evident when he talks about what might be the next big things: rollout awnings with embedded solar panels and technology that will allow gray water to be reused.
“The pace of change is accelerating,” Mr. Wheeler said. “All we can do is try and anticipate and design systems that can be flexible.”
Cary Auburn, a retired lawyer from Colorado who has been camping since he was a teenager, notes the progress with wonder. “The explosion of technology in RVs over just a few years is almost shocking, especially to those of us who’ve been RVing for so many years.”
Mr. Auburn, 77, remembers a time when batteries provided little more than a trickle of power and bathing and dishwashing water was dumped into the woods as a matter of course.
“We’ve evolved so much on the coaches,” said Dave Simso, owner of Dave’s RV Center in Danbury, Conn. “You are never anywhere where you don’t have everything you need.”
That may be the case for the ultra-luxurious Newmar brand RVs which start at just under $200,000 and can go up to $1.3 million. But Mr. Simso’s son, Dave Jr., the company’s general manager, says even manufacturers of moderately priced RVs have always tried to keep up with new products — even when “new” meant microwave ovens and DVD players.
A robust aftermarket allows buyers of older models to update their units. Interest is largely focused on three areas; internet, portable power and what John Tinghitella, president and owner of RV Designer, which supplies replacement hardware for RVs, calls the “icky” subject of toilets.
The pandemic is widely considered to be fueling the present popularity of RVs, but even before the global shutdowns, digital nomads were taking their work on the road and not just young professionals. The Abramsons — he’s a C.P.A., she’s a tutor — are in their 60s. When they got their camper van, they promptly added a second desk behind the driver’s seat so both could work while traveling.
“There are many people who want to keep it simple and get away from the complexity of their home lives, but everyone wants connectivity,” Mr. Wheeler said.
Airstream’s higher-end campers and trailers, like those from other manufacturers, come with Wi-Fi and cellular antennas and there are several companies active in the aftermarket. These antennas boost reception from a cellphone tower or Wi-Fi access point, whether it’s a campground or a local Starbucks. But they can’t improve slow speeds. That’s an infrastructure problem and it has been exacerbated by the “exponential increase” in the number of people taking to the road and expecting home quality internet, said Andy Mikesell, who works in dealer services at Winegard Company, which makes and sells RV antennas to dealers and consumers.
“The real trick to the whole thing is to get all the different parties to work together, and campgrounds have to put in better network capabilities and install better servers,” he said.
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