Taking the ‘vehicle’ out of RVs

“RV” is shorthand for “recreational vehicle,” a point strongly emphasized by trade groups like the RV Industry Association–which represents RV manufacturers–any time someone begins confusing RVs with housing. Sure, a travel trailer or park model may look an awful lot like a single-wide house trailer, but they’re built to different standards and no one, for example, should expect to live year-round in an RV. “RV housing?” No such thing, regardless of what it might look like.

But once you’ve declared yourself to be either fish or fowl, you can end up in some pretty strange contortions trying to straddle the divide. Take the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, for example, which is embarrassing itself these days by claiming that the vehicles its members sell are, well, not just vehicles. Yes, the automobile industry sells vehicles, but those wheeled conveyances rolling down the nation’s highways are “standardized.” In the RV industry, on the other hand, “it is customary to prepare a vehicle before a customer is able to use the RV.”

See the difference? RVs are non-standard. They deserve non-standard regulatory treatment. Special treatment.

What’s got the RVDA all twisted up like that is a proposed new rule from the Federal Trade Commission that seeks to better protect consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous dealers. Specifically, “the proposed rule would prohibit motor vehicle dealers from making certain misrepresentations in the course of selling, leasing or arranging financing for motor vehicles.” Any RV buyer who has found himself with a 20-year loan for a rolling box that will have a resale value approaching zero in half that time will applaud the sentiment.

While the RVDA may insist that a Class B Sprinter RV is nothing at all like a Sprinter cargo van, both can be subject to the same high pressure sales tactics that the FTC wants to clamp down on: vaguely explained additional charges, deceptive pricing, reams of paperwork that serve as a graveyard of land mines for the rushed buyer. If adopted, the new rule “would significantly alter the way motor vehicles are sold, marketed and financed in the U.S.,” the RVDA laments on its website, “by adding additional disclosures on pricing, vehicle add-ons and onerous new recordkeeping requirements.” The horror, the horror!

Curiously, the RVDA website also states that the association on Sept. 12 had filed formal comments “highly critical” of the proposed rule, asserting that the proposal would “increase sales transaction times for customers and add to the cost of the RVs.” But while the RVDA thereby poses as a champion of the little guy, the supposed filing is nowhere to be found on the FTC’s very comprehensive online repository of comments. Indeed, of the 26,356 comments the FTC had received as of today, apparently only one came from the RVDA: an Aug. 2 request that the FTC extend its Sept. 12 deadline for comments. The FTC declined.

Anyone around this industry for any amount of time knows there’s a huge need to rein in the flim-flam artists–which is not to say that every RV dealer is a con man, but that there’s no easy way to separate the white hats from the black. Government oversight would go a long way toward leveling the playing field, in an industry that is selling the second-most–and sometimes the most–expensive things most people will ever buy. Moreover, adoption of this rule or something quite like it might set the stage for the next glaringly obvious regulatory need: a crack-down on the industry’s deplorable track record on after-sale warranties and repairs, so that newly sold RVs don’t spend their first year in and out of service bays.

Meanwhile, fish or fowl? If RVIA wants to assert that RVs are not housing, while the RVDA is similarly adamant that they’re not vehicles–at least in the conventional sense–then maybe it’s time for a whole new classification with a whole new set of rules. Perhaps RVs are modern society’s chimera, a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. But even a chimera needs rules to live by, for the protection of the rest of us.

SEPT. 18 UPDATE: Turns out that the RVDA submission to the FTC, although dated Sept. 12, took four days to make it into the online databank. To learn more about it, see the post that follows this one, probably late Sept. 18.

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Manchin, scorpions do what they do

Just a bit more than five weeks ago, the RV Industry Association demonstrated either its hypocrisy or its gullibility by presenting its “National Legislative Award” to Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The association justified this astonishing misstep by claiming that Manchin “recognizes that investments in outdoor recreation are vital to our economic, emotional and societal well-being,” those “investments” devoted largely to the “recreation” half of the “outdoor recreation” dyad.

The “outdoor” half? Not so much.

Indeed, as I posted June 10, Manchin arguably is the one person most directly responsible for torpedoing this country’s efforts to combat global warming and the calamitous climate change it is causing. That he would undermine any efforts at breaking our fealty to carbon-based energy sources is only to be expected, given the significant extent to which Manchin’s political and personal fortunes are tied to coal, gas and oil interests. No one playing with a scorpion should be surprised when it stings.

What is surprising is the cringe-inducing meekness with which the Democrats have tiptoed around Manchin’s constantly shifting rationale for being an obstructionist, avoiding confrontation for fear of giving offense, meekly giving up on one proposed initiative after another in a vain attempt to win an acquiescence that was never forthcoming.

Two days ago, Manchin abruptly made official what any objective observer would have concluded several months ago: he will not support any funding for climate or energy programs, nor support raising taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for such programs. As “explained” by a spokeswoman, “Senator Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, re-evaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.”

Instead, thanks to a man who represents a state of 1.8 million people in a country of 320 million who overwhelmingly support climate change policies, we’ll continue adding real fuel to the fire in the sky.

Texas is baking in a record heat wave that incidentally is producing the worst smog pollution in at least a decade, which makes “outdoor recreation” an oxymoron. The entire western expanse of the country is a tinder box, producing not only a bumper crop of wildland fires but further depleting already record-low water supplies in a process called aridification, a/k/a drought on steroids. And it’s not just the U.S. Glaciers are collapsing in Italy and Kyrgyzstan, Britain has issued its first-ever heat red alert for this coming Monday and Tuesday, and wildfires are breaking out across southern Europe, forcing thousands to evacuate.

Dealing with a crisis of such proportions is not a “political agenda,” as Manchin’s spokeswoman would have it–it’s a matter of life and death. That a member of what’s mistakenly been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” should ignore such a self-evident reality is tragic. That the RVIA and similar self-serving organizations would act as his cheerleaders is contemptible.

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RVIA honors the fox in the henhouse

Just in case anyone was wondering about the RV Industry Association’s priorities, all questions were dispelled yesterday, when it bestowed its “National Legislative Award” on Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. RVIA president Craig Kirby justified the trade group’s misfeasance by asserting that Manchin “recognizes that investments in outdoor recreation are vital to our economic, emotional and societal well-being” before adding, in an apparent non sequitur, that Manchin’s “home state sports stunning public lands that bring tourists from around the nation.”

While Manchin bears no responsibility for West Virginia’s stunning public lands, he very much shares responsibility for their ongoing degradation from coal mining. Despite being the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin continues to rake in the Senate’s largest campaign contributions from oil, gas and coal industries, and has a long history of serving their interests. He also has profited for decades from his stake in Enersystems, a supplier of “coal” to a highly polluting power plant near Fairmont, WV.

(Why the quotation marks around “coal”? Because the stuff Enersystems shovels into the Grant Town Power Plant is just one step above peat, a highly polluting mix of low grade coal, clay and rock contemptuously dismissed in the trade as “gob,” short for “garbage of bituminous.”)

But Manchin’s self-serving position in the Senate goes far, far beyond how he makes his money. It’s fair to say that no one person has done more to derail this country’s already fractious efforts at dealing with global warming than Manchin, who single-handedly blocked the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act and its $550 billion in proposed climate spending, much of it to phase out fossil fuels over the next decade. Yet despite his glaring conflicts of interest, the West Virginian justified his obstructionism by claiming a higher purpose, insisting that the nation would be better off if climate legislation had bipartisan support–and so he, Joe Manchin, would turn his energies toward winning that Republican buy-in.

And so there matters stood–the Build Back Better Act in suspended animation–for weeks on end, as the rest of the Democratic party tip-toed around Manchin and Manchin supposedly showed them how this legislating thing is supposed to work. Hands across the aisle and all that, even though the GOP has long made it abundantly clear that the only hand it’s going to show has its middle finger extended. Then again, that wasn’t really the issue, anyway.

It therefore came as no surprise that yesterday–yes, the same day that RVIA gave Manchin its “National Legislative Award”–was also the day that the Washington Times reported that the so-called bipartisan talks were finished. Six weeks and no deal. The Democrats’ self-imposed Memorial Day deadline to get some action on Build Back Better come and gone, with nothing to show for it. The chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had run out the clock, and even though the Democrats are now scrambling for a renewed effort and hoping they can get something done by August 1, they still have not come up with a way to get around the obdurate gob man.

Don’t expect RVIA to weigh in on that issue, however. It’s just happy that Manchin has been supporting much-needed maintenance on public lands–you know, roads and campgrounds for the RVs its members are manufacturing. For RVIA, “outdoor recreation” starts and ends with the wheels. The carbon dioxide-laced air we breathe, the forest fires caused by global warming, the increasingly turbulent moisture-laden atmosphere that produces cataclysmic rains, the years of drought that have sucked the West dry–all the consequences of fossil fuel burning that Manchin continues to protect are for someone else to worry about.

“Economic, emotional and societal well-being”? RVIA, you’ve got to be kidding.

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