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Is there an RV Culture in Europe? Australia?

Guest BJM

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I work for a major national banking company as a Legal Processor. I have been asked to assist the Repossessions department with a large influx of Voluntary Surrenders of recreational vehicles.

My bank stopped writing these loans - which were done through dealerships as indirect loans in early 2008. What this meant is the RV dealerships had permission to basically give loans to customers on our behalf. We took about whatever was handed us due to market conditions - the competitive search for more ledger monies. At some point management realized this was a bad business model and virtually every loan was for 100% or 120% of invoice. Nobody was putting money down or the over-under was just being added to the new loans.

What I am seeing is a lot of glutany, over-valued loans. 15 to 20 year loans given to 72 year olds and other abuses that came from that free lending period of the recent past.

I could go on and on, but it got me thinking about the CULTURE that creates the demand for billions of dollars in R.V. sales, especially in the past 25 years as long suffering boomers who put in years of toil rebuilding America feel they wanted to be part of the "me too" America of home equity loans used for vacations and muscle cars, among other non essentials.

Personally, at age 45, I have little interest in owning an RV. Last year my wife, daughter and I went to an RV show in the middle of February (winter) just for escapism and I enjoyed it. I can see their appeal BUT I can't picture myself really owning one.

If I had to pick, it would get a Ford V10 based 30 footer with an open cab. But seriously, I wouldn't be able to use it that much, even now at $1.80 gas. The idea that I need to drain the bathroom water, add fresh water, have electricity sources for the appliances, etc - to me negates the supposed freedom these R.V.'s are supposed to allow.

In America we have great stretches where I suppose an RV is a nice amenity. Great western state parks and eastern roads. Southern jaunts and New England falls.

But why did so many Americans pay so much for these RV's? Every week our unit processes hundreds of these loans, repossessing RV's with loan values from lows of $40,000 to well into the $100,000 range. It's not uncommon to process Voluntary Repossessions on COACHES with loan written values of $190,000!

Who has the money for a $190,000 coach???? The explanations I receive, typically unsolicited, are that "it seemed like a good deal at the time" or "We had plenty of money from savings, and now our savings are wiped out"

Loans were written purely on 401k and pension values.

So, is this a strangely unique American past time? Or do R.V.'s exist in other parts of the world? Europe? Australia?

Is the R.V. culture unique to America, going back to the Airstreams and born from the Greyhound bus and it's ability to take America anywhere?

Why did so many Americans get sucked into buying billions of dollars of now worthless R.V.'s in the past 20 years and is this alternative lifestyle finally seeing it's zenith?

For those snowbirders with R.V.'s is this preferable then other alternatives? I mean I doubt they have snowbird parks in the Riviera of France.

My inquiring mind would like to explore this subject. Forgive me for it not being 100% about old cars.

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RVs are very popular in France (though they are called Caravans in French). The difference is that the largest is a VW van. Most are small pop-up campers that can be towed behind 4 cylinder FWD cars.

Why do Americans need 6000 sq ft McMansions? It's all to show off. Let them get foreclosed on.

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I think Joe has it right. RV's are second homes for a lot of people and the decision to buy one, for a lot of folks, is no different, then buying a second home. "Perceived "easy money" and "I gotta have one of those" attitude is the problem that got us into this mess, and I do not like bailing out the lenders or the borrowers, but now we are all stuck. Or trying to spend more then you have, or earn.

I think the Europeans were and are a bit more careful with their spending, and I would guess per capita there are likely fewer RVs then here, but there are quite a few Caravans in use. Most are smaller then here.


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The term"RV"in Australia seems mostly to refer to 4 wheel drives, many of which could better be decribed as "Fatmobiles";

too wide, too high, and too wasteful for most practical purposes they might be expected to fulfill. Often it seems that sales are promoted to people with slightly impaired spacial ability, which is a problem for other motorists when they are parked. Nobody has stated any analysis here, but they can cause horrific damage and trauma in collision with smaller vehicles, and they also suffer from rollovers due to high centre of gravity. They nevertheless seem to be pretty indispensible for people who tow horse floats: I guess Henry Ford might have said that was a revenge of the horse on the motoring public. Caravans we have here in plenty; but often people who plan to be occupational tourists will fit out a superannuated bus for the purpose you describe, maybe with a boat mounted upside down on top, and a trailer with a small car or a motor cycle for cheaper mobility. Ivan Saxton

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Australia has a huge RV Culture although we refer to these vehicles a mobile homes ( large such as Winnebago etc ) Camper vans ( smaller European/Japanese based vehicles ) and of course a huge number of caravans ( the sort of trailer built in the US by people like Airstream? ) towed by anything from family sedans to heavy duty 4 X 4's.

Probably for the last 30 to 40 years retirement meant hitting the road for vast numbers of " Grey Nomads. " These retirees would buy a rig and head off around Australia, maybe being away from their base for 2 or 3 years.

I notice a growing popularity with the 5th wheeler of Gooseneck type caravan.

Up to this point the only slowing of the culture here was the high fuel prices but with the dramatic drop in the price of this commodity I see a lot of mobile homes and caravans of all shapes and sizes on the move again. To date the price of used ones hasn't dropped and it still seems to be business as usual.

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To bring it back to the antique car realm... there were trailers and custom built motor homes practically as soon as there were cars, certainly before WW1.

But the trailer boom did not get going until 1932. At that time there were almost no trailers. Then the trailer market just exploded. By 1937 there were 300,000 of them on the roads and in the campgrounds. Noted economic expert Roger Babson predicted at that time that half the population of the US would be living in trailers in 10 years.

To answer your question, who has the money for a $190,000 RV, you have the paper in front of you. The borrower's name should be on it. Apparently it was your bank's money, or your depositor's money. Why you made such a loan it beyond me but apparently it was in pursuit of more ledger monies whatever they are. I'm glad your bank came to before it was too late.

I hope you now have the good sense to sell those white elephants for whatever you can get. Then you will know what they are really worth to a cash buyer parting with his own money.

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Another thought occurs. If someone blows $190,000 on an RV by borrowing against his retirement fund I would say he fell in love and went a little bit Nutz.

But the banker who approved the loan in cold blood was TOTALLY NUTZ.

The tone of the original post is of someone coming to giving his head a shake and going what the heck just happened?

This is an important question and one I would like to hear the answer to. But if no one at the bank knows what they were thinking that itself is kind of scary.

I always thought the bankers were laughing like hell as they shoveled the money out of the vaults, thinking "we'll take the profit and leave someone else holding the bag. Between the government guarantees and the derivatives market this whole crock of sh*t will be somebody else's funeral".

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There is EQUAL blame to the company (my company) and the buyer. You can not simply blame the bank. BUT this kind of loose oversight infected the home equity loans market and people rail about that - they say equally 'why would someone take out a home equity loan for non home purchase?' [some of those included these motorhomes]

I had an elderly gentleman tell me this week when he called in to check on how much we auctioned his RV for - "you know I am to blame for this but so is the bank, you guys should have never lended me this much money" (exact quote)

He had a six figure RV and we sold it at auction for 30 cents on the dollar. Leaving him with a deficiency of $70,000. He sounded like he was 70 + years old. He wanted to start paying back in small increments. This is where I tell him don't bother. I don't want it on my conscience. He was flabbergasted. I told him look, there will be a strike on your credit report but so what? Why would I recommend youpay my company back if it's not in your best interest.

This brings me full circle to my original question or concept. What's the unique appeal of this lifestyle that seems tailor-made to Americans? These frikin' RV's I see sit unused for months in storage facilities they never seem to move.

We occasionally see images of snowbird parks in Arizona or Texas with hundreds of these things. Jeesh.

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Chacun a son gout said the Frenchman eating snails. They hate fast food over there.

In other words there is no accounting for taste.

Did you take a look at the Airstream site? It might give you some insight into the RV fan although, you will not find anyone who blew his life savings on an RV. Quite the opposite, there are a lot more posters restoring old units they bought cheap, or agonizing over doing the right thing with every dollar they spend.

Maybe you can answer me something. What are ledger monies?

Also it sounds to me like the banks got caught up in a rat race to make the most loans at all costs but never even thought about how they were going to collect on them. This seems careless to me. Am I missing something or are bankers that dumb?

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Guest ken bogren

I saw an interesting "Kamper" at the Model T event in Richmond, Indiana last summer.

The Kampers home towm was listed as being in NSW, Australia.



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Can't resist posting these RV photos to help the conversation along.

Last year a mate and I travelled from Perth Western Australia to Queensland to attend the Buick Nationals. We hauled his Buick on the back of his flat bed truck and mine on a tri axle trailer behind. We just slept in our swags in truck bays etc over and back. The first day we covered about 1000kms and camped. The next morning we were invited over for a " cuppa " with this group who had travelled right around Australia ( no mean feat, Aus is almost as big as the USA ).

I know there were several Americans travelling with this group but they were back in the last town ( Norseman ) having some repairs done.

They were having a great time as well as fund raising for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.





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And I guess I should show you our RV.

You'll see a canvas roll in front of the red toolbox on the truck tray. Well that's the swag, you would probably call it a bedroll, Heavy duty canvas, thin mattress and a blanket or two inside. Just roll that out beside the truck, no need for the big bank loan to travel in style down here!!!



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A part of my living is made writing about these things in Australia...

I write for two magazines from the same publisher, one devoted to fifthwheelers (the only such magazine in Australia) and one for everything else. Camper trailers (fold out tents on box trailers equipped with kitchen, bed etc), caravans, campervans and motorhomes.

It's not exactly true that the high fuel prices dampened the spirit of these people over the past few years. They simply didn't travel as far, they camped for a couple of days in each place instead of just one day and saw more of the locality in which they stopped.

But there is a sales slump on now as the recession bites. Still plenty on the roads, but not so many new ones.

Many, as Ivan said, convert old coaches. Or smaller buses like Toymotor Coasters etc. But there are people spending up big on the things... Denning's had two under construction when I was there a few years ago... a MAN-based all wheel drive unit with drive-in garage at the rear that housed the car when travelling and became the bedroom when camped; and another with a lower deck garage between the axles into which the Jeep was loaded sideways. Both sold for over $600,000.

I've seen caravans sold for well over the $100,000 mark and fifthwheelers up into the $200,000+ mark. Recently, however, I did a story about a fifthwheeler that was owner-built (for surprisingly little money) and towed behind a 1940 Dodge utility. Which incidentally had a late model 318 V8 and Torqueflite fitted.

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Thanks to the Aussies-all.

It occurs to me that Australia is similar to USA in the wide open spacing and size and may be more apt to have an RV culture. Part of the appeal (I guess) is the ability to take your home amenities with you and set up wherever you like.

Europe seems a different story in that it "seems" more compact and populated without the wide roads and long stretches. But that's my perception.

From the one photo of a typical European RV above, they are smaller. In my opinion, there is a "right" size of an RV, even in America. Even if I won the lottery and could afford a COACH, (i.e. bus) there is NO WAY I would want that thing or feel comfortable driving it around. Do you guys ike these things?

Like houses I would prefer a smaller but better equipped RV, maybe 30 feet long max. Well appointed. But again, my preference is no RV and I seem tobe in the minority among baby boomers.

Remember in America (and this DOES tie in to the AACA website/club) that automobile advertisements romanticized and glamorized the west for decades - going back to JORDAN's ad "Somewhere West of Laramie" and continuing through 1950's ads featuring western landscapes and palm filled California highway scenes.

Meanwhile long suffering boomers who did the right thing, raising their kids, working the 9 to 5's day dreamed of getting an RV to take them to these western landscpaes. I don't have an issue with that but the latest "at all costs" financing hopefully will never be repeated...

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