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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Million-Dollar Motorhomes

Other than a crater on Mars or the interior of Mr. Met’s mascot outfit, there are few spaces I’d ever considered myself less likely to occupy than the driver’s seat of a 43-foot-one-inch-long, 12-foot-10-inch-high, 450-horsepower, diesel-engined recreational vehicle.
But that’s where I sat briefly last week, while examining the interior of a $437,444 Entegra Anthem motorhome, parked at one of the most imposing vehicle emporiums on the planet—theLazydays supercenter in Seffner, Fla., five miles east of Tampa.
The mission: Glimpse the allure of upscale RVs.
Source: Jayco
The cabin of Entegra Coach’s Anthem
These vehicles have it all: huge wraparound windshields that provide panoramic views; fine wood cabinetry; quartz countertops; plush bathrooms; electric fireplaces, and standard-size fridges to keep that 1999 Dom Perignon chilled. And most have at least one side that can slide out when the vehicle is parked, expanding the interior. Two slides provide a space bigger than some New York studio apartments; four, enough room for Octomom’s brood.
The Anthem, built by the Entegra Coachdivision of privately held RV maker Jayco, features an electrically operated outside awning, beneath which sits a 32-inch TV, attached to the vehicle’s side. (When not in use, it’s protected by a flip-down cover.) Toss in a Direct TV receiver and a couple of lawn chairs, and you, o rugged pioneer, could enjoy the evening air somewhere in the Rockies while watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians  or Mob Wives .
Who said American ingenuity is dead?
Penta’s audience as a whole might sneer at the idea of a recreational vehicle as a second or third home, but they certainly have the right wealth demographics for this high-end, rolling-home market. Such vehicles start around $200,000 but can go much higher, depending on the customization, luxury, and size desired.
Those who like to heap on the extras can turn to companies such as Quebec-based Prevost or Oklahoma-headquartered Newell Coach for motorhomes approaching $2 million. The spec sheet for Newell Coach No. 1466  notes that this 45-foot beauty, which lists for $1,740,200,  features, among many other things, 1 ½ bathrooms, two Dish Network receivers for its three LCD TVs, four slide-out sections, and a radar detector (as if someone would speed with this behemoth, even though it has a 600-hp diesel engine.)
If you don’t want to shell out $1.7 mil, there are, of course, used superRVs, priced hundreds of thousands lower. And lesser new motorhomes that still could get an RVer’s heart pounding. Charlie Adcock, of Searcy, Ark., can attest to that. He has a 45-foot American Eaglemotorhome  that he bought for $675,000, even though he and his wife, Gloria, “already had a perfectly good RV. But then we went to an RV show and fell in love with this one. The big attraction for my wife was that it has a walk-in closet.” Adcock, 66, says RVs are “an investment in your health. It’s helped me deal with all the stress I had when I had my auto-collision-repair business. And it lets you meet all kinds of great people. I don’t regret one penny I’ve spent on it.” His name for the new rig: “Gloria’s Closet.”
Still, a lot of people don’t see the logic of buying an RV that costs as much as a nice second house. Just 16,225 $200,000-plus motorhomes were sold from 2007 through 2011, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, a mere 1.3% of the 1,250,700 RVs shipped in that span.  (The group tracks wholesale, not retail, sales.)
And where do you go with a $500,000 or $1 million RV? The amenities at Lazydays, where the Ensignia Anthem RV I checked out was parked, are legend in the RV world. Wood-paneled clubhouse, dining room, and bar? Check. Sparkling  grounds, gated and guarded entryway, cheerful employees? Sure. Concierge service for top-end customers, so that they can park their  luxe motorhomes on the premises and have them  driven away for service, while their owners frolic in Lazydays’ swimming pool or drive into town in the BMW they’ve been towing  behind their rig? Mais oui.
Granted, this lifestyle might not be for everyone. But it’s a far cry from the stereotype of mass RVing: chubby tattooed guys in their skivvies, guzzling Buds and belching. Some upper-end RVers prefer to stay at only top camps, like the Bay Lake Motorcoach Resort in Polk City, Fla., which accepts only premium Class A motorhomes and sells lots on which owners can build “casitas”—little houses with bathroom, cooking and storage facilities. Similar facilities are offered by companies such as Outdoor Resorts of America,  which has campsites in nine locations, including Lake Toxaway, N.C.; Hilton Head Island, S.C., and  Aguana, Calif.
But other RVers don’t care much about such exclusivity or amenities for their pricey chariots; they like the back-slapping socializing of traditional camping sites.
Rick Hahn, 62, is a retired veterinarian from Fort Wayne, Ind., who owns a $500,000 American Tradition RV, made by American Coach, a unit of Fleetwood RV. “The big attraction for me is the camaraderie,” says Hahn, who was attending an RV rally in Anderson, Ind., when Penta spoke with him. He adds that “the RV community is a unique group—patriotic, God-fearing, industrious, friendly. It’s nice to think those values haven’t been lost.”  He and his wife, Sandra have spent winters in Florida in their RV. “It really doesn’t make a difference what level [of campsite] you stay in. We’ve stayed in very nice places and some that weren’t as good; it’s the people who make it fun.”
Caveat: Judged on the economics alone, high-end RVing might not make much sense. Recreational vehicles depreciate quickly; drive off the lot and their value drops by up to 25%-30%. Then, there’s insurance, storage, fuel and upkeep. One benefit: If a loan used to finance the purchase  is secured by the vehicle, the interest usually  is deductible, as it would be for a second home.
But what argues most strongly against owning an RV outright, says Tim Palmer, head ofCoachShare,  a San Diego company that offers fractional ownership of motorhomes, is that many high-end RVers sell their rigs after three or four years, and, according to a University of Michigan study, use their RVs just 23 days a year. Palmer’s company splits up ownership among, typically, 10 people, each of whom can use the RV two or four weeks a year, for two to three years. Combining aspects of condo time-share plans and auto leasing, his system, he says, saves members up to $75,000 over that period on his priciest vehicles, and “we even deliver the RV to your home and pick it up after you’re back from your trip.”
On the other hand, for those who care about their status in RV society, there ain’t much bragging rights in saying you own just 1/10th of a motorhome for only two or three years.

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