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Luxury RVs lumber through U.S. rough patch

Don Capellani, 68, of San Mateo in Putnam County checks out a motor coach Wednesday at the Family Motor Coach Association rally in Brooksville. Capellani and his wife were perusing the dealer displays although happy with their rig.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Don Capellani, 68, of San Mateo in Putnam County checks out a motor coach Wednesday at the Family Motor Coach Association rally in Brooksville. Capellani and his wife were perusing the dealer displays although happy with their rig.

BROOKSVILLE — To hear the dealers tell it, the nationwide crisis in the housing market has largely missed the home-on-wheels crowd.

At least, that is, for those people willing and able to spend big bucks on luxury recreation vehicles.

"People are buying now rather than putting their money in the stock market," T.R. Fulks of Dream RV in Bradenton said Wednesday at the 28th annual Family Motor Coach Association rally at the Hernando County Airport.

"We have been as busy as last year," added Dan Wylie of the same dealership. The $5,000 to $100,000 market is the most active for his customers, he said.

A certain percentage of RV owners are full-time residents on wheels, said Bill Runyan of Harberson RV Pinellas in Clearwater. However, he noted, he has not seen an increase in the number of people giving up their houses because of the depressed housing market and moving into motor coaches.

That's not to say that RVers are immune to the pressures impacting the national economy.

Don Capellani, 68, and his wife, Juanita, are attending the RV rally from San Mateo in Putnam County in northeast Florida. "We have a friend who has a small dealership and handles all our repairs," Capellani said. "He does a lot of repairs, but he can't sell them right now."

A retired woodcarver, Capellani and his wife spend much of their time traveling to art shows around the United States. That means the price of gasoline, while lower now than during the summer's historic highs, is still an issue for them.

"It pains you to fill the thing up," he said. "We get 7 miles to the gallon … but when I park, I've got my own bathroom, my own bedsheets, my own food."

He's not alone in feeling the pinch. "I would say that people are parked a lot longer than they would normally,'' he observed.

The couple pointed out that many RVers periodically upgrade their rides, which helps keep the dealers busy. "A lot of people are trading up all the time, just transferring the payments,'' Capellani said. "They'll be making payments till they're dead."

Mark Cascio, sales representative for high-end custom coach manufacturer Parliament Coach, Clearwater, noted that preowned coaches costing between $300,000 and $900,000 are the most popular with his customers.

At the other end of the spectrum are the company's new models, which fetch from $1.8 million to $2.1 million. No two the same, Cascio said, adding that no interiors are duplicated and that they are equipped with top-end appliances and electronics.

On a chilly Wednesday morning, as wind whipped flags and rally-goers clutched mugs of hot coffee as they strolled the enclosed commercial exhibit hall for warmth, the dealers awaited potential customers.

"You have a captive audience here, all interested in motor coaches," said Wylie of the Bradenton dealership.

Parliament's Cascio said he might not sell a single unit at the rally, but the company's coaches will be seen by hundreds of people, which often leads to sales.

"They'll tell others, "You should see what we saw at the rally,' he said. "In the long run, you'll always sell something."

Staff photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

If you go

Rally at airport

The Southeast area rally of the Family Motor Coach Association runs through Sunday at the Hernando County Airport, off U.S. 41 south of Brooksville. The rally is open to the public for a $7 day pass or $10 for three days; children under 12 are admitted free. Hours for the public are from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, and from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Sunday is reserved for association members. For information, call 796-0154.

Luxury RVs lumber through U.S. rough patch 02/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 6:29pm]
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