It's been a challenging year for the RV business. What many are calling a new global energy "crisis" has propelled fuel-producing stocks like Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO), while flattening the tire of RV manufacturers like Fleetwood (NYSE:FLE). And while rising interest rates, along with general economic uncertainties, have put an extra shine on gold-related investments such as streetTRACKSGold (NYSE:GLD) ETF, Winnebago (NYSE:WGO) has definitely been feeling the pinch of lower consumer confidence.

Higher energy costs, rising interest rates, and lower consumer confidence have been the tune that RV manufacturers have been playing all year, and Winnebago once again reiterates similar sentiments in its first-quarter 2006 earnings report. But don't let the negatives fool you -- this company has been receiving some Wall Street love the past couple months.

My Foolish colleague Stephen Simpson checked Winnebago out in mid-October while its stock was languishing at 52-week lows. In his analysis, he noted that despite the above-mentioned challenges, there's enough appeal to this well-run enterprise for investors to consider getting a piece of the action. Someone was listening -- since the publication, the company's stock has risen over 30%.

The renewed optimism stems partly from Winnebago's ability to surprise analysts. With doom and gloom engulfing the RV industry, investment analysts have been expecting the worst. Although Winnebago continues to face tough market conditions, its operational efficiencies have done enough to exceed Wall Street's expectations. In October, the company beat analyst estimates by $0.04 per share, and in its latest quarterly report, it once again exceeded consensus expectations -- this time by $0.02 per share to $0.44.

Aside from earnings, the company is finding love for another reason, as well. Yes, net revenues are down once again -- this time by 17.7% -- and its cost of goods as percentage of sales moved a notch higher to 86.6% from its year-ago level of 85%. But despite these challenges, Winnebago continues to do a solid job of producing free cash flow. As a result, its cash and marketable securities balance of $135.8 million is 20.6% higher than it was this time last year, with the company still holding no long-term debt.

Winnebago's strong cash position enables it to benefit shareholders through its share buyback program. In its most recent quarter, the company bought back 192,000 shares at an average price of just over $27 -- right around its 52-week low. And it still has another $24.8 million slated for more potential repurchases.

Beyond share repurchases, this cash, amounting to $4.09 per diluted share, will aid Winnebago in riding out the current energy storm in anticipation of the industry's boom years. Whatever strain Social Security may feel from the ballooning of eligible retirees in the next few years should be good news to RV manufacturers. So if you're looking to diversify your portfolio into this market, Winnebago's 18% market share and healthy balance sheet make it well positioned to benefit from the next wave of cross-country RV cruisers.

Here's more RV-related Foolishness for the road:

Fools, now is the time to open your hearts and wallets to worthy causes! Please support our five Foolish charities at .

Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy does not own shares of any companies mentioned.