Two years after the Ford Model T debuted, the first recreational vehicles were built. And while creature comforts were few — a toilet was considered a luxurious touch — they offered the same thing today's recreational vehicles offer: the chance to take a bit of home with you when you hit the road. • One hundred years later, the appeal is very much the same, even if the vehicles are much more comfortable.
And while you'd expect an RV to have a kitchen, how about one with high-endcountertops? Or an LCD TV? How about a central vacuum system, leather recliners or a computer work station?
The amenities once reserved for expensive motor homes now are available on fifth-wheel trailers (which hook into the bed of a pickup truck) and travel trailers (which hook onto the back of SUVs).
"Ten years ago, you would have seen a lot more motor homes on the lot," said Tim Loen of Chesapeake RV Solutions in Chesapeake, Va.
"The motor home used to be No. 1, when pickup trucks were crude. Ten years ago, they were construction trucks. They're not for the construction guys anymore. Today, they are luxury vehicles."
The result, Loen says, is a declining local market share for motor homes as buyers realize the SUVs and pickups they use for daily commuting and chores can pull a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel trailer on the weekend.
"The majority of RVs are the type you pull," says Jamie Dodd of Dodd RV in Portsmouth, Va. "They are the biggest sellers because most buyers already have an SUV, so they can hook it up and take off."
They're also less expensive than motor homes. Dodd says that travel trailers start around $16,000; motor homes start out at $80,000.
Buyers of less expensive RVs tend to be families, so manufacturers design them to sleep a minimum of six, and as many as 10, allowing a family with children to take their friends on a weekend trip. By contrast, motor homes tend to appeal to retirees who want to visit friends or tour the country for long periods of time.
"Those units are extremely decked out. They sleep two to four people, maximum, and are very spacious for living comfortably," Dodd said.
Driving a motor home is similar to driving a transit bus, which limits their appeal. Power comes from a gas or diesel engine built by Ford, General Motors and Freightliner. Typical fuel economy runs between 8 and 10 mpg on gas models.
Since RVs have a kitchen and bath, they are considered second homes, and the interest on RV loans is tax-deductible. And unlike traditional vehicle loans, which last three to five years, RV loans stretch over a longer term, which lowers the monthly payment.