It isn't as well-known as his investments in Heinz or American Express, but Warren Buffett has a stake in the recreational vehicle industry. In 2005, Buffett made an offer to purchase Forest River, an RV manufacturer in Elkhart, Ind. over the telephone just one day after he first learned about the company. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (Fortune 500) has since been doubling down, purchasing Coachman in 2008 and Dynamax in 2011 and has singled out Forest River for praise. In his 2011 letter to shareholders, he wrote: "Forest River has 82 plants, and I have yet to visit one (or the home office, for that matter). There's no need; Pete Liegl, the company's CEO, runs a terrific operation." ,
Buffett's endorsement came as the RV industry was recovering from a once-in-a-generation slump. RV shipments climbed back up to 273,600 units in 2012, their highest level since 2007, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Survey Research Center. The market continued to gain ground in the first quarter of 2013 with total RV wholesale shipments rising 11.2% year over year.
That isn't peanuts. RV's are a $10 billion industry, with 80 manufacturers and 3,000 dealers. Thor industries, maker of the Airstream, and Buffett's Forest River control 65% of the business, which is getting a big demographic boost: More baby boomers are moving into retirement, and buying an RV is one of the ways they reward themselves when they do.
RVs fall into two general categories: towables, where the entry-level RV has no motor and must be pulled behind a car or truck; and motor homes, self-contained units where everything is within arm's reach of the driver's seat. Here's a look at what's out there:
These cars and trucks double as cabs, cargo vans, and everything in between.