ELKHART — Ball State economist Michael Hicks worries that the September slowdown in RV shipments could be a sign that the proverbial canary in the coal mine is showing signs of weakness.
The RV Industry Association reported that shipments of all RVs dropped 29 percent to 30,969 units in September from 43,598 units in the same month last year. Shipment totals also fell off in August and June, but remain 0.2 percent ahead of last year’s pace.
Any slowdown in the industry — which employs tens of thousands in the Elkhart County region — still has not resulted in any mass layoffs. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in the county was 2.4 percent in September, still among the lowest in the state.
Dealers have reported that sales were still up through August compared to the first eight months of 2017, suggesting that manufacturers were simply producing RVs at too fast a pace and that the pipeline is clogged with inventory.
Though he’s worried about the impact of steel and aluminum tariffs, Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder believes the current decline in shipments has more to do with overproduction at the front end of the year, rather than a decline in demand.
Yoder said he knows of two plants that were built and are currently not being used, and the industry is mostly dealing with the need to better balance supply with demand with shorter workweeks for employees.