Significant market potential for sector driven by low base, wanderlust
Vacationers enjoy their time at a recreational vehicle (RV) campsite outside the city of Yichang, Hubei province, in May 2021. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Last May Day holiday, Ji Ping drove a Class B motorhome, a popular type of recreational vehicle, to the Haba Lake eco-tourism area in Wuzhong, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, in Northwest China. The spot, with overall utilities, campsites and an ideal field for stargazing, attracts many RV enthusiasts.
"After retirement, I bought a motorhome worth about 300,000 yuan ($47,100) to travel with my wife and grandson. We had been to scores of cities in China and went to Laos and Vietnam. Traveling by RV has become a new lifestyle, especially for us seniors, since we have more time," Ji said.
Another vacationer Li Jian recently drove his motorhome to the RV campsite in Baishamen Park, Haikou, Hainan province. "I paid 60 yuan for parking every day, and it also covered water and electricity, so the price is totally affordable. And my stay there was very convenient and relaxing because the campsite is surrounded by markets and a beautiful beach."
Such scenes have become increasingly common across China as the RV market booms amid a growing motorhome culture and expanding integration of campsites and scenic spots.
Against the backdrop of consumption stimulation and the lingering pandemic, China's RV market put forth stable growth in 2021, said the China Automobile Dealers Association.
Data from the 2021 annual report released by CADA showed that, by region, RVs sold well in developed provinces like Jiangsu, Shandong and Zhejiang. Jiangsu held the highest market share at over 10 percent. The cities of Beijing and Suzhou sold 500 plus RVs in 2021, followed by Shanghai and Chengdu.
Generally speaking, market demand rose in spring, summer and year-end, indicating a relatively uneven development.
By type, the RV market is divided into motorhomes－whose sales in China amounted to 12,582 units in 2021 with a year-on-year rise of 43.2 percent－and towable RVs, whose sales reached 3,543 units.
The association added that although towable RVs, led by traditional trailers, cannot dominate the market in the near term, they share strengths such as lower prices, spaciousness and strong practicability that cannot be overlooked.
Motorhomes are further segmented into three types: the largest being Class A, midsized Class C, and the tiny Class B, which only accommodates two to three people. Accordingly, 8,991 orders of Class Cs with bunk over cabs and 3,493 orders of Class Bs were made in 2021, a performance quite the opposite to 2018 when Class Bs outperformed the other. Now, Class C motorhomes are expected to be redhot products in the next half-decade, CADA said.
"Class Cs and Bs are the main products in the market, and our Class B motorhomes topped the market share in the first two months this year," said SAIC Maxus Automotive Co Ltd, China's major RV provider. In 2021, Maxus sold 1,362 RVs, ranking first, followed by Yutong Group Co Ltd, which sold 1,311 RVs.
Visitors flock to the booth of SAIC Maxus during an automobile expo in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in November. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Maxus, also the largest manufacturer of RVs in Asia, boasts an intelligent factory producing a wide range of RVs, thus creating a new ecology for domestic vehicle manufacturing. A Maxus representative said, "Reliable quality, comprehensive services and intelligent technologies are our keys to gaining the trust of customers."
Given the reasons for such progress in the RV industry, the representative said that China's economic growth is the fundamental driver. The third consumption upgrade supported by information technology, an aging population and personalized consumption help spur advances as well.
Experts said that alongside GDP growth and increased consumption capacity, China's RV market has a short history and thus a small market base, which can help contribute to rapid growth.
Moreover, the rising tourism industry supported by encouraging policies serves as a large growth engine, boosting market demand and consumption. In turn, the growing market could expand employment and augment fiscal revenues of local governments, helping achieve common development, said Zhang Xiang, a researcher at the Institute of Automobile Enterprise Management and Innovation of the North China University of Technology.
However, there is still a gap between the domestic and Western markets, experts said.
According to Global Market Insight, the global RV market exceeded $70 billion in 2021 and is dominated by North America and Europe.
As the top player, the North American RV market accounted for $25 billion in 2021, with over 600,000 units of RVs sold. Europe came second in market value, with Germany selling the most－106,138 units last year, said the European Caravan Federation.
The two markets also spearheaded ownership, covering 90 percent of global sales (20-24 million units) in 2020, said Beijing-based Intelligence Research Group. RV ownership per thousand people in North America and Europe stands at about 30 and 15, respectively, while that for China is less than 0.2, which suggests significant market growth potential.
It is, in part, because foreign countries like the US have a lower population density which drives the industry, and it is also cheaper for their citizens to travel by RV rather than living in hotels, Zhang said.
Still, more efforts are needed to solve the problems and improve the domestic market.
According to Maxus, challenges include the country's varied landscapes, environments and climates that put greater demand on RV performance.
An immature after-sales service system and insufficient campsite infrastructure also need to be addressed.
Therefore, suggestions include diversifying products, integrating campsites with scenic spots, and building more retail stores.
Moreover, traffic restrictions based on license plate numbers and height limitations also hinder development, experts added.
Yet this problem is beginning to be addressed with supportive policies. The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for the development of cultural and tourism sectors mentioned self-driving trips several times, and urged the industry to advance in different facets by creating an overall RV-centric tourism industrial chain, building new campsites and tourist centers, and enhancing related manufacturing technologies.
The plan also called for the Ministry of National Resources and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to support campsite establishment and facility production, respectively.
Against such a favorable backdrop, companies, be they big or small, could inject new energy into the market as they grow, said CADA.
In short, the industry needs to promote van life culture, infrastructure, industrial policies, production and marketing in sync to achieve sustainable growth, said Bai Wenxi, chief economist at IPG China.
Looking forward, CADA said China's RV market will embrace great opportunities to develop into a larger and industrialized sector, as demand is unleashed and the industry is given continuous support.
"The market is promising thanks to positive trends unfolding in many fields. Youngsters, especially Gen Z, will dominate consumption. Products will be diversified and the supply chain improved. The new energy vehicle market will provide opportunities for RV market growth. And Internet+ will promote van life culture more deeply and quickly," said the Maxus representative.
Kaifusai Julaiti contributed to this story.