When you think of the typical RV owner, what’s the first image that comes to mind? The older retirees who spend their winter in Florida, away from the snow cover in the northeast. Or maybe it’s the family with kids, heading out for an adventure at the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore.
Not matter what image you have of the “typical” RV enthusiast chances are it’s not someone in China, exploring the Chinese countryside. But it’s true—the Chinese are the fastest growing segment of RV buyers. In fact, some experts predict that more than half a million RVs will be sold in China over the next 20 years—more than are actually on the road in the Asian country now.
Of course, since most RV sales come from American manufacturers, the Chinese enthusiasm for RV culture is a boon to American business—and many manufacturers and dealers like Arbogast RVs are looking to capitalize on this growing trend.
Chinese RV Sales
While the number of RVs sold in China is small compared to the U.S.—only about 1,000 were sold in 2011, as opposed to 250,000 in the U.S.—the number is growing. This is especially impressive considering that China does not have many regulations regarding RVs, the roads aren’t always designed for large vehicles and there are a limited number of campgrounds or RV parks with adequate resources.
Despite these limitations, the Chinese are embracing RV culture, quickly purchasing any RV for sale, ranging from Winnebagos to Keystone travel trailers. And Chinese manufacturers have gotten on the RV bandwagon as well. In fact, domestic RVs account for more than half of those sold in China.
Why the Chinese Love RVs
In the past, the Chinese did not travel much, since traveling requires both time and money—and most only had one or the other. However, as the Chinese economy has changed, and the Chinese people have more free time and disposable income, traveling has become a more realistic option. While many people still fly to their vacation destinations, the idea of hitting the open road and exploring the diverse regions of China has become more appealing and popular.
Another reason for the explosion in RV popularity in China is that the country is starting to see the first wave of modern businesses people retiring from the workforce with extra income. Much like American retirees, who take to recreational vehicles to escape to warmer climates or simply explore the U.S., Chinese retirees are looking at the RV lifestyle as a viable option for their retirement.
In fact, it’s that desire to emulate the Western lifestyle that also contributes to the motorhome’s popularity in Asia. Some Chinese drivers see the freedom and fun that goes along with the RV lifestyle—and the chance to get back to nature and relax with friends and family—as being a quintessentially American experience, and they want to capture some of that for themselves. And since the vast majority of China’s population lives in urban areas, owning an RV provides the opportunity to get out of the city and experience fresh air and natural beauty that isn’t a part of their everyday existence.
Benefits to the U.S.
The growing popularity of recreational vehicles in China has benefits beyond the borders of that country. Since about 40 percent of the Chinese RV market is based around American models, this represents a great opportunity for U.S. manufacturers to boost their sales numbers. And since the number of RVs sold in the U.S. decreased after the economic collapse of 2008 (although the numbers are creeping up again) a boost from Chinese buyers is more than welcome. However, since the costs to export the vehicles from the U.S. are so high, American models are significantly more expensive in China—often double their U.S. prices—so some experts predict that in the coming years, the percentage of sales will decrease somewhat in favor of less expensive Chinese models.
There’s no denying the RV lifestyle has a lot of appealing benefits—freedom, comfort and flexibility chief among them—so it’s no surprise that this quintessentially American pastime has made it overseas. Only time will tell how the Chinese market will grow, but there’s no denying that the Chinese have caught the RV bug.
Jed Adams is an RV enthusiast and travel blogger. In his professional life he is an IT consultant, but when the work week is over he hits the road.