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Feb. 9, 2009 – Searching for a GPS direction

By Jeff Hemmel
Contributing writer
Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) technology has proven a boon for the marine market, as boaters are now able to pinpoint their position and safely navigate with stunning accuracy. With more customers taking to touring, the inclusion of GPS into PWC models seemed like the next logical step. But after several years of effort on the part of two manufacturers, GPS seems to have lost its footing in 2009.
Is there a future for GPS technology in the PWC market? And if so, what is the best approach? We recently took a closer look.

Integrated Systems
For a brief period, it seemed like building a GPS into the existing display, or at least incorporating a handheld model into the existing PWC console, was the wave of the future. Honda’s GPScape models were literally built around the concept. A basic GPS system was made part of the existing display and let you set waypoints, which could then be navigated by a simple directional arrow. No, the system did not include maps or even a basic “bread-crumb” trail, but it was relatively simple to use once you learned the steps. As part of the display, it also avoided the shortcomings of many handhelds — limited battery life.
“Integrated GPS systems have some inherent benefits giving them the advantage over handhelds,” said Honda’s Tim Patnode. “Namely, they can’t be lost overboard or run out of battery power.”
Both problems potentially affected the other PWC entry into the GPS arena, Sea-Doo’s former GTX Limited. Unlike the Honda approach, Sea-Doo opted for a popular handheld model, Garmin’s GPSMAP 76C, and built a storage slot into the glovebox lid to accommodate it. The Garmin’s advantage is that it was relatively full-featured, including maps, which have become almost a must on GPS systems. You also could use it off the boat, as the unit easily unclipped. The primary downside, of course, has already been mentioned. Unless you were careful to always remember to turn it off, the batteries would die, and die quicker than most consumers would expect.
Which solution would survive? The 2009 model year suggests an answer.

Gone Baby Gone
That answer just might be none. Though Honda officials suggest GPS is still desirable, the company opted not to produce an ’09 version of the GPScape due to lower than expected demand. “We are forecasting our supply of 2008 F-15X GPScape models will meet demand in the short term,” said Patnode. Still, he sees potential for the future. “Integrated GPScape will continue to be a desirable feature for customers who adventure travel or live next to large bodies of water.”
Sea-Doo, however, has chosen to get out of the GPS business all together, electing not to include the handheld Garmin unit in the redesigned GTX Limited iS.
“After looking at everything, BRP decided that it was better if the owner bought a GPS themselves,” said Tim McKercher on the company’s behalf. “BRP didn’t get much of a discount as quantity wasn’t that high, and with the overhead of shipping, stocking and installing it didn’t offer that much added value, if any, for the end user. This way the customer can have that money to buy a GPS themselves, or a tube, board, etc.
“As for an integrated GPS, those are very expensive for an integrated unit. On a car it is usually a $1,000-$2,000 upgrade and on a boat $2,000-$4,000. So right now at the quantity of the GTX Limited it is cost prohibitive. So bottom line for the cost, BRP lets the owner decide which way to go.”
Yamaha appears to share that line of thinking.
“We don”t put features on a WaveRunner unless we have the research to support that the customer sees the value in them,” said Andrew Cullen, Yamaha’s marketing communications manager. “In the case of GPS, consumers most often ride on a lake or waterway they are familiar with, thus no demand and certainly no additional expenses required by the consumer. When we do decide to add a feature, we conduct exhaustive research and customer surveying to determine if the cost to add that additional feature equals or exceeds the value the customer receives from it and is willing to pay for. From what customers have told us, we know that GPS is at the opposite side of the spectrum and that’s the reason why we have never forced consumers to pay more for a unit that has it.”

Dealer Benefit?
Is the upside to this lack of GPS support by the OEMs a potential plus for the dealer? According to Garmin reps, revenue from the overall marine market was $171 million through the first three quarters of 2008, with models like the MAP76, previously featured on the GTX Limited, proving their worth. “The GPSMAP 76CSx has proven to be a popular marine handheld as it’s rugged and waterproof,” said Garmin media rep Carly Baltes.
Several dealers report the devices are more popular with the jet boat crowd than their PWC counterparts.
Offering the devices to customers, however, has few downsides. In fact, GPS has become the de facto standard with the growing ranks of recreational performance enthusiasts, who use GPS readings to verify improvements, as well as share with others in various performance forums.
“When our customers do want GPS, it is often to get accurate speed readings from their PWC and any modifications they may have added,” confirmed RIVA Motorsports General Manager Joe Bamdas. “We do not stock the units as we can pretty much get one in next day should a customer request it.”

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