Silver bullet: Back in demand

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“Airstreams? They still make those?”

Not only are the retro-looking “silver bullet” travel trailers still being built by hand at the same western Ohio site that has produced them for more than 60 years, but the company can’t roll them out of there fast enough to meet the demand these days.

The instantly recognizable silver bubble design — inspired by airplane fuselages — hasn’t been tweaked much since the first Airstreams took to the open road in the 1930s on the way to becoming an American icon.

The polished campers have appeared in Hollywood movies and were used to quarantine the Apollo 11 astronauts when they got back from the moon. They have also inspired devotees who socialize with one another at Airstream caravans and rallies all over the world, including an annual Ohio jamboree known as “Alumapalooza.”

Airstream builds 50 travel-trailers every week at the plant in Jackson Center, all gleaming and aerodynamic and riveted by hand. The backlog is about three months, and ground has been broken on a major expansion at the factory about 75 miles north of Dayton that eventually will increase production capacity by 50 percent.

The RV industry was dealt a body blow by the Great Recession but has rebounded with gusto. Shipments in 2014 are expected to be up more than 8 percent, after the best October in the industry in nearly 40 years. Production next year is expected to return to levels seen before the economy tanked.

Airstream — owned by the larger Indiana-based RV maker Thor Industries — is riding the wave, surging with three record years in a row. Wheeler says shipments have increased to about twice what they were during the best days before the recession.

Besides a better economy, Airstream is benefiting from a big bubble of baby boomers, many now choosing not to wait until their 60s to buy one, and a new wave of desire for the classic designs of America’s yesteryear, even though they command top dollar. New Airstreams run $42,000 to $140,000. – Associated Press