Airstream’s recent release of their new travel trailer model, Nest, is not only a shift from their well-recognized aluminum shell, but an example of how the RV industry is changing to reflect consumer attitudes. Just as the modern RV market isn’t the same as it once was, so too is the Nest unlike any of Airstream’s previous traditional RVs.
Down to the Fiberglass Tacks
The Nest is just over 16 feet long and 7 feet wide, with a starting price of $45,900. Unlike other Airstream models, the trailer is clad in fiberglass instead of aluminum.
The unit’s more standard, consumer-friendly features include the option of a convertible or fixed bed layout, allowing RVers to choose the floor plan that best fits their lifestyle. In addition to a small kitchen and bathroom, the unit has a large, panoramic front window and a skylight, which make the compact unit feel larger.
The Nest also appeals to the modern consumer with a number of technological conveniences such as LED lights that can be controlled by Bluetooth and multiple USB ports for all of a traveler’s charging needs. Moreover, the Nest has a powered exterior awning with LED lights, which enables sheltered outdoor activities and increases the unit’s usable space.
Travel Trailers Boom, and Not Just with Boomers
In the past few years, travel trailers have set record sales. US demand for travel trailers has more than doubled since 2012, reaching nearly 400,000 units in 2017. Although that level of growth is not expect to continue, unit sales are expected to grow 3.9% per year through 2022. To meet this demand, a number of manufacturers – including Airstream – are planning or have undergone plant expansions in recent years.
Additionally, the industry is finding new sales opportunities with younger demographics. Beyond the “snow birds” and retirees, who still account for the majority of RV sales, consumers of all age groups are noticing the affordability of travel trailers – especially smaller units – and are entering the RV market. In particular, millennials seeking out experiential lifestyles have found RVs to be useful travel companions.
Go Small or Go Home?
While most American durable goods consumers seek increased product sizes and power, the RV industry has slowly shifted in the opposite direction. Consumers are opting for smaller units, whether they’re choosing a class C motorhome over a class A or switching from a 30-plus foot travel trailer to a sub-20 foot model.
As manufacturers catch on to this swing, most RV models decreased in average length. However, less length doesn’t necessarily mean fewer amenities, especially with the extra space that slide-outs and exterior entertainment areas provide. What a smaller RV does mean for the consumer is better maneuverability on the road, better gas mileage, and most importantly for many, lower overall cost.
Aluminum’s Growth Prospects Potentially Foiled by New Regulations
The timing of the release of the fiberglass-based Nest is somewhat serendipitous following the implementation of the Trump administration’s new 10% tariffs on aluminum imports and 25% tariffs on steel imports. These tariffs greatly affect the RV industry due to its dependence on these materials.
In a statement released in the aftermath of President Trump’s initial tariff announcements, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association said: “These new tariffs will negatively affect the RV industry and its many supplier companies that use steel and aluminum, even those who source their steel and aluminum from domestic producers. With these new tariffs, the cost of imports will significantly rise, but it is also expected that the price of domestic steel and aluminum will increase.”
With the tariffs currently in effect, Airstream and other companies that use aluminum shells might consider developing more models with fiberglass. However, aluminum shells are an iconic look for Airstream so they will likely be hesitant to move away from them. Regardless, the Nest is an important step forward for Airstream and a good template for how the modern RV industry might move forward.
For More Information
With the new Airstream Nest in tow, demand for recreational vehicles is expected to continue to grow. For more information on these insights and others, check out The Freedonia Group’s industry study, Recreational Vehicles in the US, which offers:
- historical data and forecasts
- demand for recreational vehicles by product and region
- analysis of the factors affecting demand
- a breakdown of industry players
- consumer survey research
About the Author:
Dan Debelius is an industry analyst at The Freedonia Group, where he writes industry studies on the US consumer and commercial goods market.