Friday, January 18, 2008

From an Article in Tampa today

Baby boomers

Overall, the U.S. recreational vehicle industry is in a slump. Sales of motor homes, and other luxury items such as boats, usually see signs of a recession long before other sectors of the economy. People are not likely to buy expensive toys when they are worried about job security.
Industry insiders predict RV shipments to drop 10 percent this year, but there is a silver lining to this cloudy economic future. In a recession, people are likely to stay closer to home. Instead of buying that condo in ski country, they might consider a popup camper or travel trailer to tour their own state.

"We are counting on the baby boomers," said Pate Rawak, a representative of Ohio-based Airstream. "As they get ready for retirement, they are going to spend their money on something ... a boat, a trip aboard the Queen Mary, or maybe an RV."
It's always been my dream to own one of the sleek, aluminum travel trailers, the design of which hasn't changed much in 75 years. At 47, I'm still 20 years short of retirement, but I am a boomer and can see myself sitting on a oceanfront state park somewhere filing stories from the salon of an Airstream.

Classic style

Much of the Airstream's generational appeal is a result of its old-school design. On the outside, the company's original 1931 model doesn't look that much different than one built in 2001.

"Over the years, we have only had five design changes," Rawak said. "The last one came in 1996, when we widened it from 96 to 101 inches."

People can identify an Airstream by sight. There is no mistaking the familiar airplane fuselage on wheels as it rolls down the highway.

"Grandpa and grandma had one, Uncle John had one and now we hope that this next batch of retirees will want one, too," Rawak said. "And Airstream will last forever. We have built roughly 100,000 of them over the years and 60 percent of those are still on the road."
Another plus in these economic times is the Airstream's fuel efficiency, reportedly 20 percent greater than a traditional box trailer. At the Florida RV SuperShow, the Airstream display aired a continuous video of a Porsche Cayenne pulling one of the silver trailers down the interstate.

"Most small SUVs or cross-over vehicles can pull an Airstream," Rawak said. "You don't need a full-size truck to go out an enjoy yourself."

The price: $33,000 for the 17-foot, entry-level model.

Airstream Ranch

Frank Bates, owner of an RV dealership of the same name in Tampa, loves Airstreams.

"There is nothing like them," he said. "All over the world - Japan, Europe, even Australia - people are lining up to buy Airstreams. They are like the Harley Davidsons of the RV world."
With the company celebrating its 75th anniversary, Bates wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. So he bought eight used Airstreams they don't come cheap and built a monument along Interstate 4 in Dover.

"I'm from Texas, and we have the Cadillac Ranch, which was a tribute to the Cadillac Motor Company, which at the time built the finest luxury cars in the U.S.," Bates said. "I love roadside attractions, and thought we should have one here in Florida. So I built the Airstream Ranch."
The eight trailers - one for each decade Airstream has been in business - are buried nose down in the ground, just like the Cadillacs in Texas.

"The Airstream is an American icon. ... They even have one in the Musuem of Modern Art in New York City," he said.

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