RV History: The Modern Era – 2008 – Present

If you happen to be in the market for an RV, it is important to know what dates the industry has seen adoption of newer technology in the RV world. This is especially relevant for anyone who is considering an RV that is new or older than five years old. In order for an RV to be considered new, it must have been introduced or redesigned since 2008. Today, we are going to look at some of the more popular RV models that were recently introduced since 2008.

The first motorized RVs were built in the 1970s as a means of touring the country on the cheap. Despite their basic, unrefined designs, they were a huge hit with travelers, and paved the way for new types of RVs, including the highly popular motorhomes and now the class A & B motorhome.

Today we look at the evolution of the RV, from the first ones in the early 70s through the modern era that began in 2008.. Read more about what year was the first motorhome made and let us know what you think.

If you possess an RV that was built after 2008, you have a motorhome or travel trailer from the Modern Era of RV history. There was a time when the RV you’re sitting in was virtually non-existent. The RV industry was almost wiped out by a single world-changing catastrophe. Another natural disaster transformed the RV industry into personal protection equipment, resulting in a never-before-seen RV boom. 

As we journey through the Modern Era, we invite you to join us. We’ll demonstrate the industry’s technological advancements as well as the general adjustments it has undergone. Some modifications were incremental, while others were abrupt, resulting in a fresh viewpoint on RV design. Some advancements have revived camping ideas that were popular over a century ago during the Antique Era (1910-1944). 

If you’re new to our RV History Series, we suggest beginning with the Antique Era to get a full understanding of how far technology has progressed (they’re older than you think). Then, during the Vintage Era, go back to the days of the first mass-produced RVs and famous canned ham travel trailers (1945-1970). 

If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll love the Classic Era (1971-1989) since many of the featured RVs will be familiar to you. The Neo-Classic Era (1990-2007) should appeal to you since your inner kid will like the numerous Classic Era ideas that are still in use, while the grown-up will appreciate the modern technology, such as slideouts and bunkhouse floorplans for your legacy RVers.

The 2008 Financial Crisis in RV History

The RV Industry’s Almost-Extinction Level Event

The 2008 Financial Crisis cost the typical American $70,000, according to the Harvard Business Review. Investment banks collapsed, companies needed government loans to remain afloat, and other global macroeconomic developments cascaded. People lost their jobs and houses, and keeping up with basic expenses like electricity and food became a challenge. The personal watercraft and recreational vehicle industries were severely harmed. Due to a lack of sales and banks’ unwillingness to finance RVs, several RV shops have had to shut their doors. Those that made it were either fortunate enough to have financiers ready to take on the risk or had other variables working in their favor.

Between 2008 and 2009, over 15 RV brands declared bankruptcy. These were not insignificant surnames. Companies including Country Coach, Fleetwood Motor Homes, Monaco Coach, Rexhall RV, and Travel Supreme filed for bankruptcy because they couldn’t survive the economic downturn. The Big 4 (Forest River Inc., REV Group, THOR Ind., and Winnebago Outdoors) took advantage of the Financial Crisis at this period. Some of those in need were brought on by REV Group and Thor Industries. The parent firms reorganized the commercial side of the organization, allowing common technologies and suppliers to enter. Forest River Incorporated reduced output but did not abandon the goal. As time went on, the form of RV history started to shift.

Winnebago (formerly known as Winnebago Industries) chose to halt manufacturing by pressing the red button. Typically, manufacturing lines are shut down for two weeks at a certain time throughout the year so that the engineering team may retool for the next model year’s production. Winnie took a break from work for a few months to get her bearings. For the 2010 model year, they unveiled a massive makeover that swept everyone off their feet. 

Uncle Sam Arrives to the 2009 RV Show and Passes Out

As early as the War of 1812, Uncle Sam became the embodiment of the United States. Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy, New York, was modeled after and provided meals to soldiers throughout the war. Since then, his picture has come to symbolize patriotism, American tradition, and the United States of America. (By the way, if you can identify anything else that originated from the War of 1812, you’ll get a million imaginary points—hint: it’s sung before the start of every sporting event.)

The different state RV Trade Associations conducted their RV exhibitions to announce the 2010 model years when the world and the United States were slowly recovering from the Financial Crisis in 2009. The “Belle of the Ball” came from a brand that no one would have expected: Winnebago. With an all-red fiberglass panel exterior, their Minnie Winnie travel trailer created its own RV history and stood out like a light. Uncle Sam, your trusty RV manufacturer has gone “punk” on you.

 

The White and Beige Exterior Axiom is Being Disrupted

After Winnebago debuted the red exterior, other manufacturers began to experiment with exterior colors (it also came in blue, green, white, and black). Colors from the monochromatic, earth tone, and other spectrums were already being used in high-end luxury Class A RVs. Winnebago effectively told the RV world that towables can accomplish the same thing.

Interiors that are modern and contemporary

From 2012 to 2017, RV sales increased steadily. It “hiccupped” in 2018, but took off in 2020 (which we’ll discuss later). The Classic Farmhouse Interior Design Style has been a mainstay for RVs since the late Vintage Era (1945-1970). Younger generations began to have reservations about this concept. Young families and couples desired an interior that mirrored the sleek and contemporary styles found in their residential houses, similar to the Canned-Ham trailers of the 1950s. The interior tastes of the younger generations were emphasized in several of the 2010 models. They quickly became so popular that the traditional farmhouse style was no longer considered optional.

Outdoor Kitchens in RVs: A Brief History

 

Since bunkhouse floorplans allowed for shared inside space for the bay, motorhomes, fifth wheels, and travel trailers with outdoor kitchens have emerged. The barbeque side rail element inspired the development of the outdoor kitchen. The addition of a sink, cooktop, refrigerator, and storage to the outside living area improved tailgating and get-togethers significantly. 

Long Live the Queen, All Hail the King

More sleeping space is always preferred by RVers. The 76 x 80-inch mattress made sleeping so much better than the 60 x 80-inch queen mattress, whether it was for the family pet or for extra shoulder space. King-size beds became a common feature in Class A motorhomes, full-profile fifth wheels, and full-length travel trailers. When that wasn’t feasible, RV makers tried their hardest to come up with floorplans that would allow residential queens to become a reality. 

COVID-19 Contributes to the Modern RV Boom’s Acceleration

Prior to 2019, most people thought of a global illness causing millions of deaths as science fiction entertainment or speculative Homeland Security preparedness. Following the Christmas season in the United States, the media began to report on a virus known as the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. History would alter once again, and this time it would happen quickly.

The whole globe was under a stay-at-home curfew by April 2020. Only essential employees, such as medical personnel, first responders, utility workers, the media, food services, and others, would be able to leave their houses to do their jobs. One of the earliest industries to provide assistance was the RV industry. Travel trailers from a variety of RV manufacturers were provided to serve as mobile triage units and housing for infected first responders. RV rental businesses lowered their prices so that utility employees who couldn’t leave the property after their shift might find a place to remain. Vacationers who wanted to go home were offered discounted one-way prices by other peer-to-peer RV rental businesses. Since the planes were grounded, these individuals drove home securely in RVs and travel trailers, which kept them self-contained and socially isolated.

When the curfew was removed, the RV renters informed their friends about their renting experience, and several of them went on to purchase RVs. In the summer of 2020, when the stay-at-home curfew was removed, RV rents increased by 1,000 percent, while sales increased by 600 percent. The RV industry experienced an unheard-of 30 percent rise in sales at the end of the year. Campgrounds for RVs soon got overcrowded. Full-timers and experienced RVers may arrange reservations a week or two in advance or drive into a lesser-known site before 2020. Because of the influx of new first-time RVers, everyone had to adjust and book reservations up to 3-4 months in advance. It got to the point that some enterprising souls were having difficulty selling their campsite reservation to others for much more than the initial amount.

The National Park Service (NPS) removed a part of popular dispersed camping sites on National Forest and Park property while the RV boom was in full swing owing to non-compliance with NPS regulations. Areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were as crowded as the sold-out campsites.

The Office Workspace in RV History

Another consequence of the RV Boom was the fast rise of people who decided to live in their RV full-time. There were about one million full-timers on the road prior to 2020. That number almost quadrupled from May 2020 to April 2021. The economy had to kick into overdrive when the stay-at-home curfew was abolished but the globe awaited the COVID-19 vaccine. Due to social distance issues, office employees were unable to return to work. Many companies enlisted the help of their IT teams to create work-from-home strategies. Employees may return to work in the comfort of their own homes once the system was up and running. 

Those who wished to take their RV lifestyle to the next level recognized an opportunity. They hooked up their RV with wireless cellular or satellite technologies, broadband boosters, and other equipment. These new full-time RVers took their work-at-home careers with them on the road. Finding a coach with a dedicated area to set up a computer and other peripherals to conduct their job duties was the last piece of the jigsaw. The RV industry charged its technical teams to build on the concept after hearing from their customers. Many Class A motorhomes featured pull-out trays allowing the co-pilot to set up computers before this period. As shown in Airstream’s first workplace RV, the Flying Cloud 30RB Office, there are now office spaces that are so beautifully constructed that they seem like an executive’s corner office.

With Antique Era Car Tent Concepts, the old is new again.

Fisherman stands next to a 1915 L.F. Shilling Auto Camp vehicle, an early part of RV History.Model T Ford Club of America photo

The fisherman is standing next to his 1915 L.F. Shilling Auto Camp in the photo above. It’s connected to the driver’s side of his Ford Model T and has a wood platform as a foundation. Other variants of the Auto Camp allowed for scattered camping (but no amenities were available for another 40 years).  

What makes the RV history of the Auto Camp in the Modern Era so interesting is that it has a backstory. Tents that connect to the back or top of an SUV are now known as car campers. Some tents extend over the cargo bed tops of pickup trucks. These camping gadgets fall in between #TentLife and RVs. As an RV historian, I can attest to the fact that the automobile tent camper is a fantastic asset on both sides of the fence (yes, but in this situation, cowards live to see another day). 

 

Officials from the industry have decided to level the playing field.

When it came to new model year release dates in the late ‘teens, things began to get out of hand. RV manufacturers were so anxious to be the first to introduce the new model year to the public that they began revealing it to the public earlier and earlier. It became so bad that in a single calendar year, the public might witness three model years from the same RV manufacturer.

The Board of Directors of the RV Industry Association (RVIA) has adopted a best practice that all RV manufacturers may freely follow. They decided on a transition period for model years that would run from July 1 to August 31 each year. RV dealers could better prepare for the shift, customers could see the new improvements all at once, and there would be no multiple transitions in a single calendar year if they followed the auto industry’s lead.

Avoiding Reality While Living In The Present

Over a third of RV buyers are members of the Millenial Generation. Rather of hooking up at a campground, many of them prefer the scattered off-grid dry camping experience. They want to remain connected to their friends and family via social media, even if they’re distant from the things of humanity. For some, it’s a means to document their experiences, while for others, it’s a safety net in case of unexpected events. Many improvements have been developed by the RV industry and other industries to make this kind of RVing feasible.

Energy Independence from Solar Panels

Solar panel technology became the focal point for off-grid electricity in the Modern Era. Almost every RV featured pre-wired panels and a plug to support them. As solar grew increasingly popular, manufacturers made structural modifications to the roof and the house battery bay. Roof panels rated at 100-150 watts have become standard equipment on certain RV models.

For those who liked dry camping, solar energy opened up new options. It enabled boondockers to remain off the grid for longer and for less money since they didn’t have to use their gas or propane generators for power. Running air conditioners on solar panel-generated energy remained a challenge since the air conditioners needed more power than the panels could provide.

Sun generators, which were portable lithium-ion batteries that could be charged using solar panels, were created by companies. In almost every arrangement, the generator’s enclosure featured several outlets for 110v, USB, and DC connections. Because they didn’t produce any noise or emit any emissions, RVers could use them indoors. Larger versions may operate electric components like cooking equipment, entertainment features, or any other function for hours at a time.

Off-Road RVs are recreational vehicles that are designed to be used off-road.

Owners may take the coach on dirt roads and across most terrains with off-road kits, which increase tire sizes and improve suspensions. Expedition vehicles take it to the next level with features like tire inflation adjusters, underbelly armor, and other necessities for climbing mountains or wading through swamps.

 

Getting Rid of Propane

Following the financial crisis, each model year saw a gradual phase-out of propane usage. The RV industry and propane components have had a symbiotic connection since the Late Antique Era in RV history. Nonetheless, every RVer has had to keep a watch out for possible issues while traveling on the extremely combustible gas.

Today, the industry is phasing out propane in a variety of methods. We’re beginning to notice luxury and mid-level units without LP tanks for the 2021 and 2022 model years. The following are some of the new technologies that are being used to replace propane components:

  • Stovetops that are electric or induction
  • Microwaves with convection
  • Heating systems that use water as a source of heat 
  • Water heaters that run on electricity
  • Furnaces powered by electricity
  • Heat pump strips for air conditioners
  • Refrigerators that operate on shore power or batteries, such as residential refrigerators or 12 volt RV refrigerators
  • Electric heaters with 5,000 BTUs and LED fake fireplaces

Motorhomes and travel trailers could run without gas if they had an Aqua-Hot, convection microwave, and electric cooktop. Propane was still used for heating, hot water, and cooking in campers and small travel trailers since it was a less expensive option. The assumption is that this LP-free trend will continue across all RV categories in the future.

Wireless Security Alarms

We spoke about how wireless communications technology not only enabled individuals to work from their RVs, but also helped them to keep their mobile homes secure. Remote boondocking became safer thanks to wireless residential home alarm systems like Reolink, Ring, SimpliSafe, and Tattletale. Cameras, detectors, and sensors in complex systems notified RV owners on their mobile devices whether they were at home or abroad. If there was a security problem, a catastrophe, or if they simply wanted to check in on things, alerts would be sent out. Two-way communication and/or recorded video would be provided via cameras or other devices.

The Crazy Russian was correct.

Nikola Tesla, a Serbian physicist, achieved tremendous breakthroughs in the generation and usage of electricity in the late 1800s. He was erroneously dubbed “The Mad Russian” because he thought that his DC-powered electric motor could power any vehicle, industry, or power plant. It just need more money and development. Unfortunately, after German innovators Nicolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler, and Wilhelm Maybach created their 4-cylinder gas-powered engine in 1876, fossil fuels became the standard for cars and industries. The technology had horsepower and torque, and it was ready to use right now. Tesla’s electric motor idea did come to fruition, but only in the form of appliances, industrial uses, and toys.

Although Thomas Edison experimented with an electric automobile in 1908 and General Motors worked on a prototype during the 1973 Gas Crisis, the Japanese would be the ones to usher in the electric vehicle era. Honda’s two-seat Insight debuted in 1999, while the Toyota Prius Hybrid debuted in 2000, ushering in a new era in America’s embrace of hybrid electric vehicles.

In 2006, a car business named after the misunderstood Serbian fulfilled his goal by developing the world’s first all-electric luxury vehicle with a range of more than 200 miles. Tesla motors opened the path for the Chevrolet Volt (all-electric version), Nissan Leaf, and other electric vehicles. Most EV truck firms had sold out first-generation truck waiting lists when we published this piece.

Some of these EV trucks will be hauling travel trailers to local campsites by the end of the 2022 RV model year. Many electric trucks have towing and payload capabilities of about 7,500 pounds, as well as driving ranges of 200-300 miles. The RV industry is working on a variety of solutions to compensate for the 50 percent reduction in distance due to the RV’s weight. One option is to install a second battery compartment that provides extra power to the truck’s batteries through the umbilical connection.

Camping World and Lordstown have teamed together to develop the Class E, a new drivable RV category. The motorhome would be built on a full-size van chassis, similar to the Class B, but the batteries would be shared across the automotive and coach portions. The first generation of electric trucks had sold out waiting lists and were in the final stages of testing when we published this story. Although the Class E RV is only a concept, we are looking forward to our first tour. 

In the backlog market, the best way to buy a new RV is to hurry up and wait.

COVID-19 caused component shortages in the RV industry, therefore someone who says they had to wait four months to receive their new RV is oversimplifying. During the stay-at-home curfew, the Pandemic shut down the manufacturing lines in Elkhart, Indiana, for almost six weeks, but there’s a lot more to it. Because Elkhart was a viral hotspot, the manufacturing lines were understaffed for the most of 2020. That didn’t mean much, however, since many of the third-party suppliers that make the components used in RVs had their own issues. Other businesses manufacture the hundreds of components that make up an RV, from the tiniest screws to the suspension. 

Texas was hit by an ice storm from February 13 to 17, 2021. That kind of weather is unusual for the areas of Texas that were hit. Louisiana’s environment was altered by the rapid decrease in temperature. Foam insulation manufacturers selected this area of the United States because the climate is perfect for the foam to cure properly. These businesses wasted weeks of manufacturing and curing goods due to the weather shift. Due to a variety of problems, other raw material industries have fallen behind. Some of the main suppliers are lumber, water heaters, and fiberglass. Wherever possible, RV manufacturers replaced improvements at first. When that was no longer an option, they began lining up the coaches in their plant lots. 

The basic rule for the 2021 model year was that client orders came first. The manufacturer would build a dealer stock unit if there was time to do so. Many RV manufacturers reduced their catalogs for 2022, providing fewer floorplans, sizes, and other options. The goal was to reduce the backlog by limiting the number of variants and enable third-party suppliers to catch up by adhering to fewer component types. 

 

Defining Our Modern Era in RV History

We referred to the Neo-Classic Era as the Modern Era while we lived in it. What will our present Modern Era be called when we turn the page to the next RV Era? Will we call it the Energy Independence Era now that solar power has improved and propane and fossil fuel use has decreased? 

Should we name it the Eventful Era since we’ve had two world-changing catastrophes that have altered everything, including how the RV industry operates? We’d rather adopt a more upbeat attitude. Craig Kirby, President and CEO of the RVIA, said when the RVIA released its poll in May 2021, which revealed that over 56 million individuals intend to take an RV vacation in 2021:

“RVing has established itself as a viable mainstream vacation option.”

With RV sales rising almost every year in this Era, and by more than 30% in 2020 alone, we may come to refer to our present Modern Era as the “Mainstream Era.” Despite, or maybe because of, the massive catastrophes, the RV lifestyle has resurfaced in the hearts and minds of enough Americans to make it a significant hobby once again. 

In our RV History Series, we’ll see what’s next.

We at Camper Smarts and RV Life want to express our gratitude for taking the time to go down the RV history lane with us. We hope you gained a lot of knowledge and enjoyed yourself as much as we did. Imagining ourselves in several of those RVs was the greatest part. There’s still a lot more RV history to learn about, so we’re not quite done yet. We’ll be delving into the founding and early years of the Big 4: Forest River Inc., REV Group, Thor Ind., and Winnebago Ind. in the coming months. 

We’ll also take a look at the greatest National Parks and how they came to be a part of our country’s history. Before we do that, we’ll raise our jacks and take a drive along the roads where many of us RVers have earned our stripes. The Alcan Highway, I-90, America’s longest highway, and other significant highways. Of course, we must begin with The Mother Road if we want to examine the great American highways. Next time, we’ll pay attention to her voice because Momma’s Callin’ on Route 66.

At first, the idea of RVing may seem like a lot of fun, but as the years go by, it can become mundane. There’s a lot of fun and a lot of work involved in RVing, and the past eleven years have brought a lot of change in the RVing world. There are now many more options for camping vehicles than ever before, and with them, a much wider range of options for camping. Along with that, we’re seeing a lot of new innovations, like the rise of the “slide-in” camper, and the ever-popular “built-in” camper.. Read more about forest river rv and let us know what you think.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • rv history
  • who invented the rv
  • 1930s rv
  • history of travel trailers
  • modern motorhomes