Travel restrictions abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic have created an unprecedented rise in RV sales demand which are proving a challenge to meet for dealerships across the country.
Central Okanagan RV dealers confirm they are caught between a spike in people wanting to buy trailers or motor homes and curtailed supply chain issues which has prevented a post-COVID ramping up of production for U.S. RV manufacturers.
“What we have right now is a frenzy for used trailers … while we are putting in new orders in the queue with no certainty over their ETA (estimated time of arrival),” said Rod Haywood, general manager of the Kelowna RVs dealership in West Kelowna.
Haywood said the backlog right now is six to eight months for new trailer models.
“That has never been the case in our industry since I been involved in it for the past 40 years,” said Haywood.
Jason Friesen, vice-president of Voyager RV Centre in Lake Country, echoed Haywood’s sentiments, saying with the pandemic travel restrictions, people are looking for other ways to spend their recreation time and money.
“Our family went on several camping trips with friends last summer and the thing that struck us was how normal we all felt,” he said, compared to the stress sometimes of international travel. “We just hung out, sat around the campfires, and had a great time.”
The story behind the supply chain challenges felt today began with the outbreak of COVID-19 last winter, causing many dealerships and manufacturing plants to close down or reduce their workforce as the economy bogged down.
“A lot of dealers made decisions to stop orders and cutback their business, not sure what the future held at that time for the economy or buyer interest,” Haywood said.
Once some signs of certainty began to return to the economy by the summer of 2020, the RV industry felt a dramatic and immediate impact, as people were looking for new ways to find a vacation escape from the stress of their daily lives.
“Once the flood gates opened, it started to put a lot of stress on the industry in the U.S. as many plants had been downsized or shut down, and the order queue began to get really backlogged,” Haywood said.
“The impact of that is beginning to show itself this year.”
Adding to the public health complications for assembly line manufacturing, Friesen said the supply chain for certain components – such as fridges, air conditioners, awnings, hot water tanks, etc. – are often made in China, and not being delivered to the same extent as in the past.
The reasons for that are complicated – coronavirus slowdowns, the current toxic state of U.S.-China trade relations and manufacturing plants adjusting to new health standards for spacing out workers on assembly lines.
“Canada long ago gave up making trailer components and the manufacturing end of and we are paying the price for it now,” added Haywood.
The same supply chain shortfalls are also impacting the cycling, boating and ATV product manufacturing levels right now.
MJ Wiggins, executive director of the Recreation Vehicles Dealership Association (RVDA) of B.C., said the scenario facing Central Okanagan RV dealers is the same provincewide.
“Actually it is Canada-wide,” said Wiggins. “There is a shortage of inventory coupled with a huge demand for people to buy units. Besides component parts for new units, there is also a shortage of replacement part availability so there is that side of it too.”
As an advocacy group for its members, Wiggins said the RVDA will participate in virtual meetings during advocacy week in Ottawa the third week of April, but the challenges are beyond the Canadian industry’s control at the moment.
“We have no hold up at the border because we were able to initially get RVs classified as essential because for many people their RV is their home,” she said.
“There are still units in dealership inventories that are available…but if you want a special order colour scheme or floor plan, you are probably going to have to wait a while to get it.
“These are interesting times, unique for our industry to be sure.”
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