As more Chinese embrace automobile culture, foreign RV makers are expanding in China. Researcher 21RV.com estimates the number of motorhomes in China will surge from about 9,000 to 800,000 by 2022. The United States has about 9.6 million RVs on its roads, according to 21RV.
Winnebago Industries Inc., based in Forest City, Iowa, began working in 2011 with dealers in Beijing and several other cities. Thor Industries Inc., the Elkhart, Ind.-based owner of the Airstream brand, started selling its distinctive silver camping trailers from a Beijing dealership in March, reported Bloomberg News.
“High-end RVs are new symbols of status and success, like yachts and private jets,” said Surana Chen, president of Chinese operations for Germany’s Dethleffs.
Beijing Centech Investment Management Co. says it sold about 300 luxury motorhomes made by domestic manufacturer Zhongtian last year. Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, former Houston Rocket Yao Ming and tennis player Roger Federer have rented the vehicles.
One potential brake on sales is driving restrictions. In some provinces, a bus-driver’s license — among the toughest permits to get — is required to pilot an RV. In others, a standard passenger-car license is sufficient, according to Beijing Centech. Some areas make it illegal to tow a camping caravan trailer, the RV dealer said.
A further limiting factor is a lack of campgrounds. China has just 150 designated camping areas; the U.S. has 16,500, said 21RV.