- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

The recent 2002 Louisville RV show reveals a bright promise for RVing.

Every year RV manufacturers, dealers and members of the press gather in Louisville, Ky., to participate in the largest trade-only show hosted by the RV industry. All of the new products for the upcoming year are showcased and, sooner or later, may appear on a dealer's lot near you.

Even more than a product show, the Louisville event is also a bellwether for the mood of the "RV economy." When the nation's economy is bad, the dealers are more conservative about ordering stock for next year. This year, the dealers were mostly optimistic, and as informally polled, the manufacturers reported vigorous sales at Louisville. What this means for consumers: more selection and more exciting new products on dealers' lots next year.

While there was no one RV model that set the show on fire as has happened in the past when the Fleetwood Bounder or Champion Eurocoach was introduced and created new RV market segments exciting small refinements and design trends were seen in virtually every manufacturer's display.

• Several interesting new trailers made their debuts at the show. Among these is a Coachmen product, its "Spirit of America" series of low-price, entry-level travel and fifth-wheel trailers. The Coachmen models feature a long list of standard equipment in an amazingly affordable and good-looking package.

Several steps up the price and equipment scale is the all-new Aspen trailer from Western Recreational Vehicles Inc., with sleek body styling, a smooth fiberglass exterior and a luxuriously appointed interior. Fold-down tent trailers were well represented at the show and a cute Starcraft model called the 10RT attracted a lot of attention. The 10RT is designed for travel to remote campsites, towed by a 4x4 vehicle, and includes an extra-tall suspension, oversize all-terrain tires, and a super-strong chassis.

• Slideout rooms are hotter than ever, and RV manufacturers are producing interesting new ways to use them. Rexhall Industries placed the motorhome entry steps in the curbside slideout in its Aerbus diesel pusher coach, a first for that kind of floorplan detail. Gulfstream stirred up a lot of excitement with its new Atrium Class A motorhome, which included a large curbside slideout fitted with four large side windows, large end windows and four overhead residential-type skylights.

The Atrium feels like a home sunroom. It admits lots of light and gives a great view out, and the feature is sure to be duplicated by other manufacturers in the near future.

Other manufacturers' RVs displayed a new slideout floorplan with opposing slideouts in the back of the vehicle in a dropped-floor "living room" design, and an entertainment center in one slideout, plus a pair of recliners in the other. This den type of area typically is designed to be closed off with French doors to isolate it somewhat from the balance of the coach.

• RVs that combine living space with a small garage for hauling motorcycles, ATVs, or even a dune buggy or jeep, have grown more popular. Most such RVs, known as "toy haulers," are based on fifth-wheel or travel trailers, but a few models are being built as motorhomes as well. Almost every RV manufacturer has at least one toy-hauler model, and some have a broad range of sizes to suit many family needs and tow vehicle capabilities.

• Improved and expanded storage areas are welcome functional touches. Several vehicles displayed a type of rear-wall storage closet feature with a large swing-up door enclosing a compartment with shelves and divided cargo spaces. This extra storage "trunk" is a terrific place to store lawn chairs, sports equipment and the like.

• Regarding tow vehicles, General Motors displayed a new medium-duty tow rig based on its Kodiak cab and chassis. Designed as a head-to-head competitor for the Ford Super Duty series, the Kodiak 4500 Pickup conversion is designed by Monroe Truck Equipment.

• Dodge is dropping its long-popular full-size Ram Van from its product lineup, and replacing it with a small commercial van built by Mercedes-Benz. The new van, to be marketed by Dodge and/or Freightliner (a detail that's not been decided yet) has already been used as the basis for Class B van conversion motorhomes. No less than five manufacturers displayed motorhomes built on the new chassis. It's powered by a 2.7-liter, five-cylinder Mercedes diesel rated at 154 horsepower and has a five-speed automatic transmission. RVs built on this chassis can get as much as 20 miles per gallon or more on the highway.

It looks like 2003 is going to be an interesting year for RVs.

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