Stressful times for RV, boat sellers at California show

The 56th annual Sacramento Sports, Boat and RV Show kicks off its four-day run today at Cal Expo, showcasing the wares of two industries desperately seeking a silver lining amid the economic gloom.

The event is part of an annual nationwide outdoor recreation show blitz that anticipates the arrival of spring and months of outdoor activities. This year's attendees will see hundreds of recreational vehicles, powerboats, fishing boats, personal watercraft, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. But just how many will be buying is unknown.

Over the next four days, RV and boat dealers at Cal Expo will show discounted merchandise in an effort to give a shot in the arm to their respective industries, which have been hit hard by the recession.

According to the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, shipments of RVs to U.S. dealers last year totaled 237,000, a nearly 33 percent decline from 353,000 in 2007 and down 39.3 percent from 390,500 in 2006, which was the highest total since 1977.

Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, has projected 2009 shipments at 186,800, which would be the lowest total since 1991.

The boating industry has likewise suffered. The Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association said it's still compiling 2008 statistics, but it expects powerboat sales alone will be off 28 percent from a 2007 total of about 300,000.

NMMA said new-boat and boating-accessory sales in California fell 32 percent in 2007 – $820 million compared with $1.2 billion in 2006 – and 2008 totals are likewise expected to drop by double digits.

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