Last year, Yamaha set the PWC market on its ear with the introduction of two value-priced four-stroke models. For 2006, the company has chosen to hold off on any earth-shattering new models, but to instead refine the existing lineup. Powersports Business was treated to a sneak peak at the 2006 line. Here's what manufacturer embargo dates now allow us to reveal, both about what to expect from Yamaha on the showroom floor, as well as what to expect from the company in overall philosophy.
According to company PWC head Mark Speaks, Yamaha is responsible for almost all of the industry growth in 2005, holding down a total of six out of the top 12 best-selling models. Leading the way were the company's dynamic duo of low-priced four-strokes, the VX110 Sport and VX110 Deluxe. Both priced below $7500, the VX series was an obvious home run for the company in '05, proving that if a manufacturer was to indeed built a competitively priced, entry-level four-stroke the buyers would come. Discussing the company's customer base, Speaks revealed that
the majority (an impressive 56%) were newcomers to the personal watercraft market. Yamaha also had great success in converting aging rental fleets, comprised mostly of XL700 two-strokes, to the cost-effective VX four-stroke platform.
Turning his attention to 2006, Speaks indicated that Yamaha would continue to focus its efforts on designs that attract new customers, as the company does not believe that it can rely on the existing hardcore enthusiast for any increase in sales numbers. The company's main impetus will be to discover ways to break down the barriers that keep would-be boaters from opting for a personal watercraft. The product line will continue to display a family-oriented focus, with value defined by “peace of mind, value, versatility, and ease of use.” Yamaha will likely continue to avoid any of its previous performance or racing focus, deeming it a marketing failure.
“DRIVE, NOT RIDE”
One phrase that was repeatedly used throughout the introduction was the idea that prospective customers want to “drive, not ride” their craft. Yamaha's goal is to make personal watercraft less intimidating to the consumer, more of a boat that a rider can ride “in” rather than a vehicle they sit “on.” Semantics? Possibly, but the company's changes for 2006 reflect those beliefs.
The most prominent change to an existing lineup occurs with the flagship FX Cruiser series featuring a new deck design and new, automotive-inspired dash. According to Yamaha, the look is patterned after a “world-class touring sports car.” Mirrors flow into the cowl, and the aforementioned dash features an integrated beverage holder as well as watertight storage. Then there's Yamaha's “three-point contact system” ergonomics, which combine swept-back, tilt-steering handlebars with raised foot chocks and the cushy, molded-to-the-back Cruiser seat. The FX Cruiser line boasts three vessels for '06. Returning are the 160-hp FX Cruiser High Output ($10,299) and 140-hp FX Cruiser ($10,399), both powered by variations on the company's familiar MR-1 engine. All new is a Limited Edition 50th Anniversary model available in a unique silver/blue paint scheme ($11,499). All feature newly redesigned boarding ladders, black hulls (molded completely from black SMC to alleviated worries of scratching through the black surface coat), and an industry first, pop-up cleats. The High Output will also feature another industry first, a built-in fuel-flow meter. The more sport-oriented FX Series also receives the new automotive-inspired dash and overall styling, trading the Cruiser's laid-back ergonomics for a more aggressive, rider-oriented approach.
Yamaha's VX series may sit at the opposite end of the food chain, but the two-model lineup holds most of the credit for the company's 2005 success. Still in the $7,199-$7,899 range, both the base VX110 and slightly more appointed VX110 Deluxe are impressive buys for four-stroke PWC. As you would expect from a just-released line, changes are minimal for '06. The Deluxe will be available in either an aqua blue or red, with the Sport offering the single aqua blue scheme. Like the FX series, hulls will be black. Power is still provided by the 110-hp MR-1.
Completely unchanged for 2006 is the SuperJet ($6,499). The GP1300R ($9,299) is identical to 2005, but has received the prerequisite bold new graphics.
- Jeff Hemmel