Yamaha’s Steve Lawler Stand-ups set for rebound?

Within the PWC industry, perhaps no single individual is more of a stand-up enthusiast than Yamaha’s Steve Lawler. He can ride, he can race, and he’s never shy about sharing his enthusiasm for the solo craft.
With stand-up personal watercraft potentially enjoying a comeback, Powersports Business turned to Lawler for his thoughts, both personally and professionally, on the current status of the market, and the possibilities for future growth.
Powersports Business: There’s been a lot of talk as of late about a rejuvenated stand-up market. Polaris, and now Kawasaki, have introduced new boats in the past two seasons. Does Yamaha see potential in the market, and is there a possibility of a new SuperJet in the works?
Steve Lawler: Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about the SuperJet. I think the reality, though, is that for the amount of SuperJets that we build, obviously the tooling is paid for, so on and so forth. So even though we make a lot of them, we’re able to still stay in business with the minimum number that we make. Whereas if you invest a bunch of money in new tooling and a new boat, then obviously you’ve got to be able to offset that investment with selling a bunch of units.
I, for one, am interested in seeing what happens to Kawasaki, because I think they have a desire, and I hope that what they’re hoping for actually happens, that a bunch of people decide to get on a stand-up, ride stand-ups, and ultimately they do well with that product. Because I believe if that is the case, then without question that would stimulate Yamaha to then reinvest in the stand-up market and build a new boat.

PSB: So you’re actually hoping for a competitor’s success…
SL: That’s kind of a weird way to answer the question, but that’s the truth. We love stand-ups, it’s just that right now we don’t sell enough stand-ups to justify spending a bunch of money in redeveloping a new model.
If Kawasaki is successful in their attempt to kind of rejuvenate that stand-up market with this all-new stand-up with a great entry-level price, and that turns out to be something that ends up taking place and happening, then definitely without question I think that would create a huge stimulus for Yamaha and probably would be what it would take to see us go ahead and invest in a next-generation SuperJet.

PSB: This latest generation of stand-up seems to have focused on larger, more stable hull designs. Do you think that’s the direction the market has to go in order to thrive once again?
SL: Here’s the big question for me, the $900 question. Will the big boats be what people prefer? Everybody’s kind of hoping, I think Kawasaki’s hoping and I believe Polaris thought the same thing, that a bigger, more stable boat is more appealing to more people, and therefore has the potential to bring more people into the industry as a stand-up rider.
I don’t know if that is the case yet. If the big boat theory is supposed to bring more people into the sport, I don’t think so far it has.
I’m not really capping on Polaris, but I don’t think that — if in fact their idea was to bring more people into the stand-up world — I don’t think charging $8000 for the thing and making it more like a mod boat was the way to go.
I think Kawasaki has got the perfect formula — a cheap price and the boat can turn.
PSB: It sounds like, overall, you think there’s more potential in a user-friendly direction, than targeting experienced riders with a faster, more powerful boat.
SL: I don’t think their (Kawasaki’s) feeling is that the growth of the stand-up market is going to be from experienced riders. I think that they believe that the growth is in these people who in the past would have been runabout riders; or maybe they’re motocrossers and they tried to ride a stand-up and they couldn’t do it because of the physical abilities that it took, so they figured screw this, I’ll just buy another motorcycle.
I’m kind of old school. I compare it to playing tennis. I learned how to play tennis with a wooden tennis racket. Once we started playing with all these super high-end tennis rackets, I was like, wow, you can hardly miss with these things. It’s like (Jeff) Jacobs and those guys that rode the 440s. Those guys got on SuperJets and they totally resisted that boat. They were like ‘this thing is never going to be competitive, blah, blah, blah.’
What happened is they were so much easier to ride that people were just able to go faster on them with less talent.

PSB: So where is Yamaha at? Will we see a new, cheaper, bigger SuperJet?
SL: The reality of the situation for us would be to take a kind of wait-and-see position and see what happens with Kawasaki’s effort. And then, if in fact it looks like something that’s got potential, I’m certain that our engineers would love to build another stand-up.
Stand-ups are a passionate product. For us, I think we build a lot of products that we’re really excited and passionate about, but stand-ups are one of those products where everyone involved in the project is a hard-core enthusiast, and it tends to be a little more exciting to develop than the next three-seater.

PSB: One of those people being yourself?
SL: I just love the old days when we all just drove pickup trucks with these things in the back, and we’d back up to the water and toss ‘em in. Two people could throw them in the back of the truck and off you went.
These rigs that we’re racing around on now, they require a lot of people, and take up a lot of space!

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