SOUTH BEND — Volatile gasoline prices could hamper the recreational vehicle industry’s attempts to recover from a deep downturn caused by the recession because sales of the big ticket items are so dependent on consumer confidence, industry executives and analysts say.

“High fuel prices and rapid fluctuation of fuel prices are not good for consumer confidence,” said Mark Bowersox, Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council executive director. “When you see fuel go up 10 or 15 cents a week or 50 cents in six weeks, that’s a concern.”

Morningstar analyst David Whiston, who focuses on Winnebago, said uncertainty in fuel costs, not the actual cost, is the biggest concern.

“I think it’s more the volatility that would cause consumers to stay out of the showroom than the level itself,” he said.

He points to the fact that high gas prices don’t keep people from buying RVs in Europe, where gas prices are higher.

Phil Ingrassia, vice president for communications for the RV Dealers Association, said it’s too early to say whether gas prices will have an impact on RV sales because it’s impossible to predict how long gas prices will stay erratic. He said he isn’t aware of any change in the forecast in RV sales, but said stability would help.

“When people feel secure about their jobs that bodes well. As the economy improves, so do RV sales,” he said.

Bowersox said because recreational vehicles are a discretionary purchase, people look for stability before making such a large purchase. He said gas prices are more likely to change how people use their RVs.

“People might take fewer trips or stay closer to home, but the demand is still there for the product and they will adjust,” he said. “If gas prices stabilize, the market should look real good into April, May and June. If they bounce around like a yo-yo, then that’s a cause for concern going forward.”

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