An RV is a big investment. For many people, it may be the most expensive thing they'll ever buy, with the exception of their house. So it's no surprise that RV shoppers want the most bang for their buck, gravitating toward the models with the latest and greatest bells and whistles. Gone are the days of the "tin can on wheels" bare-bones campers. Today's RV models have all the comforts of home, and then some.
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Here are some of the latest and hottest RV features:
High-tech toys. Today's consumers want lots of high-tech toys and gadgets in their permanent homes, and they don't want to leave technology behind when they hit the road. "You are seeing a lot more LCD TVs, home theater systems, iPod/MP3 player hookups and stuff of that nature becoming more prevalent in our motor home products," says Heather Everett, public relations manager of the RV Group at Fleetwood Enterprises in Riverside, Calif. That's an industrywide trend, says Phil Ingrassia, vice president for communications for the National RV Dealers Association, who has noticed an increasing demand for "more homelike consumer electronics, meaning more use of flat-screen TV, satellite TV receivers, etc."
All of these electronic gadgets can take a toll on the electrical system, which is why RV manufacturers such as Winnebago offer things like the PowerLine energy management system. When there are several electronic or electric devices running at once, this set-up prevents a system overload by temporarily turning off one or more of the vehicle's "postponable" appliances, turning them back on at a later time once the load returns to normal.
Safety features. Today's RVs are safer than ever, starting with their foundations. The industry is emphasizing stronger, more durable chassis construction and frame components made from materials that are more resistant to rust and the elements. Aside from the structure itself, RVs are also equipped with an array of safety features, including air bags; ground fault interrupter, or GFI, circuit protectors; and electronic systems that monitor everything from vehicle stability to tire pressure.
Driver convenience. Making the RV experience as pleasant and stress-free as possible for the driver is a big priority, and motor-home manufacturers offer a variety of driver-friendly features such as reclining bucket seats, rear-vision cameras, GPS and emergency-start assistance switches.
Slide outs. Slide outs are boxlike extensions that, as the word implies, slide out from the sides of the RV to provide more living space. "Slide outs are by far the option in most demand," says Karl Blade, president of Newell Coach Corp., an Oklahoma company specializing in luxury motor homes. For the most demanding buyers, the more slide outs, the better. "Almost all of our customers specify four slide outs," Blade says.
Earth-friendly options. RV aficionados like to see the world -- and not surprisingly, they also care about protecting it. "We're definitely seeing consumer interest in RVs that are smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic and more fuel-efficient," says Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, or RVIA. "We're also seeing more manufacturers incorporate 'green' technologies, such as solar panels, solar awnings, wind turbines to run onboard electronics, energy-efficient appliances and fuel-cell technology to power onboard generators."
Fuel efficiency. RVs have always been notorious gas guzzlers, but manufacturers have been making big efforts to increase the fuel efficiency of these vehicles. "Our most fuel-efficient motor homes are the Icon and Pulse models, which are built on the Dodge Sprinter chassis," says Everett. In the towable/trailer category, Dutchmen Manufacturing recently introduced its Denali SuperLite product line, consisting of seven travel-trailer models and two fifth-wheel models designed to be pulled by half-ton and one-ton pickup trucks. Six of the models weigh less than 7,500 pounds. Combined with an aerodynamic front profile, the line's relatively low weight is designed for maximum fuel efficiency.
Hybrid models. As with the automotive industry in general, the RV market is embracing hybrid models. "Two RV manufacturers introduced concept diesel/electric hybrid motor homes that get approximately 40 percent better fuel economy," says Coon. "I'd anticipate seeing more hybrid motor homes in the future."
Floor plans and furniture. One way to customize a motor home and truly make it your own is to get creative with the floor plan and furniture. At Newell Coach, Blade says they're getting lots of requests for an additional half-bath in the middle of the coach. High-end furnishings like leather sofas and Sleep Number beds are becoming commonplace from all the major manufacturers. It's not always just a matter of style and originality, though: By changing the layout and furnishings, owners can often maximize the living space and make the arrangement more practical and comfortable. Winnebago models now include a dinette designed for fine dining (it also converts into a bed). At Fleetwood, "the addition of bunk beds has been very popular, especially in our Class A motor homes," Everett says.
Other popular options. Here are some of the other options cited by our experts as popular choices for RV buyers:
- Satellite radio.
- Streamlined, aerodynamic exterior styling.
- Easy sewer connection hookups.
- Hidden storage compartments (storage in general is a popular feature).
- Low-maintenance electrical and plumbing systems.