The classic aluminum travel trailers enchant a new generation — and Airstreams still are being made.
LOS ANGELES — Kate Pierson of the B-52s fell so hard for her first Airstream that she ended up owning enough of the travel trailers to open an all-Airstream hotel in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Fans of the retro-chic silver bullets spend up to $200 a night to sleep in vintage trailers at Kate’s Lazy Meadow. With names such as “Lava,” “Tiki” and “Planet Air,” each is decorated with posters and memorabilia of the famed “Love Shack” rock group.
“It’s a magical place,” Pierson said recently. “Six Airstreams on a sand dune!”
But 100 miles west, at Los Angeles’ largest Airstream dealer, a sign on the door says, “Yes, we’re still making them.”
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Now owned by recreational vehicle giant Thor Industries, Airstream has been building its signature riveted aluminum travel trailers since 1931. The company says that 65 percent of all Airstreams ever built are still on the road. So fans of the iconic vacation capsules are surprised to learn the Airstreams on the road aren’t all vintage units.
“We get asked that question more than I would like,” sighed Bob Wheeler, Airstream president and chief executive. “A lot of people don’t even know we’re still in business.”
Apparently, people are finding out. Last year was the best in Airstream’s history. Sales for 2014 were up 26 percent over 2013, while sales for the RV industry as a whole rose only 11 percent, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
Thor Industries stock is trading around $63, more than double its value five years ago.
The product is pricey. An entry-level, 16-foot Sport trailer starts at $42,000. A top of the line, 28-foot Land Yacht starts at $146,000. In between are Flying Clouds, Classics and Internationals.
There’s also a line of 24-foot Touring Coaches — built on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter platforms — that cost $134,000 to $151,000.
The combination of high price tag and timeless Americana has attracted more chic clientele, NASA and the U.S. Air Force use them. Tom Hanks has owned several. Other fans have included Sean Penn, Johnny Depp and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Matthew McConaughey owns two. He keeps one in Austin, Texas, except when it’s with him on a movie location, and another parked at his home in Malibu.
Patrick Dempsey also owns two. One is a vintage 1950s classic that he uses as a guesthouse. The other is a modern version that functions as his home when he’s on location shooting “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“It’s a beautifully made camper with a great legacy to it,” the actor said. “It’s a great space to spend time between shots.”
Despite owners like McConaughey and Dempsey, the average age of the average buyer is still pretty high.
But as baby boomers age into Airstream territory, Humphreys sees that as a positive.
“The No. 1 age for RV buyers is 65, and 10,000 people will turn that age every day for the next 19 years,” he said. “So, we’re expanding.”