By Troy Kehoeof wsbt.com
Story Updated: Dec 10, 2009 at 1:01 PM EST
LOUISVILLE, KY — Innovation. Experts say it's the big key to a turnaround for the hard-hit RV industry. This year, many of those production shifts revolve around one word: "green."
It's more than just improving gas mileage. From fuel economy to fuel cells, solar panels to wind power, green technology is driving the RV industry.
Brian Brawdy is a nationally recognized conservationist who actually prefers the term "eco-nut."
One look at his home office shows why.
"I hear people all the time talk about home offices. I have a home that's towed by my office," he said, referring to his RV.
It's equipped with solar panels, satellite dishes and wind turbines. There's even a basin to catch rain water for drinking, all with one goal in mind: "To be able to survive off the energy of the sun and the wind."
Brawdy admits not everything in his RV is practical for the typical traveler.
"I don't know if everything as a package is practical. I'm a little Type A, (but) bits and pieces. 25 percent of the RVs manufactured now have solar panels," he said.
That number is increasing every day, but there are also plenty of green ideas taking hold that people can't see.
Manufacturers are using lighter weight composite materials. New pressure sensitive, flexible fabric weighs just a few ounces, but holds up like steel.
Dow Automotive contractor Mark Formentini says that helps cut down on fuel consumption.
New lines of Class A and C motor homes are already using the technology.
"It makes them as much as 2,500 pounds lighter," said Ron Fenech, Keystone RV president and CEO.
It's also helping them get upwards of 20 miles to the gallon.
Some Class D motor homes now run on bio-diesel, and almost all are using lighter weight materials inside the cabin, on everything from cabinets to flooring.
"If you take the weight out, you keep the price down," said Bob Tiffin, president of Tiffin Motor Homes.
In addition to helping the environment, it's also attracting a new group of potential buyers.
"I think more and more companies are going, 'OK, great! What can we do, holistically, to help the planet?' But what can we do to help the RV community as well and cut back on some fuel costs?" Brawdy said.
The question now is how to pay for it. The answer will likely determine the RV industry's short-term fate.
If credit becomes more readily available, inventory will likely continue to move off dealer lots. If frozen credit lines don't thaw, it could be a while before these green innovations actually hit the road.