Kawasaki goes back to its roots

Kelly discusses stand-up plans

In the last issue of Powersports Business magazine, Yamaha’s Steve Lawler spoke very candidly about the possibility of growth in the stand-up market, and in particular, the potential of Kawasaki’s new 800 SX-R in spurring some of that potential increase. This issue, we turn to Kawasaki’s Patrick Kelly for his thoughts on why Kawasaki returned once again to its stand-up roots, and just where his company sees the solo craft in the overall big picture of the PWC market.

Powersports Business: There is plenty of talk about stand-ups being a dwindling market. Yet, with the introduction of a brand new boat at an aggressive price, your company has definitely gone against the current. What prompted Kawasaki to go back to its roots?
PK: Like you said, a stand-up is our roots. When you look at the stand-up market, yes it has shrunk considerably and gotten smaller over time; people have flocked to the runabout craft.
And for a while, the runabout class was growing so fast, manufacturers could care less about the standup market: “We’re selling all the sit-down models we can build, so the heck with it.” Of course, that hasn’t been the case for the last six or seven years. The runabout market has shrunk for that time period, and now the entire runabout market is pretty small. And of course, the stand-up market continued to shrink all that time as well.
But there really hadn’t been any new product developed. So we felt like, gosh, 30 years after we first introduced it, when we looked at the demographic trends, and looked at the population that tends to be the most enthusiastic about a stand-up craft, those population segments were going to start growing again, and are going to start getting bigger in the future. And we looked at other rider active sports — motocross, off-road motorcycle riding, wakeboarding, snowboarding — and all these things that were really very popular, and thought, “Gosh, why not the stand-up.”
The things that made the stand-up good 30 years ago, and the things that made it take off, those are still around today. They still have some advantages in terms of initial cost, in terms of transportation, in terms of where you have to store the thing. Those things are all still good.
In some ways, with the runabout craft, we’ve been pricing some of the younger people out of the market — in terms of the initial price of the craft. And not only that, but now they’ve got to have a pretty good size truck to tow the thing, they’ve got to have the trailer, and usually they’re going to want more than one of them.
The stand-up is more of an individual craft. A guy can take it out, his buddy has got one too, and so it’s got a lot of good things going for it still.
We just felt like the time was right to reintroduce the stand-up, and our goal was to move the needle so to speak, to make these things grow again. So our production was designed along those lines, with that goal in mind. Lower the cost and just get the word out again.

PSB: Is there potential for a big rebound?
PK: We’re not believing that the stand-up market is ever going to become huge again. We just feel like there is some market there that has been ignored. We want to see how big that market is. To take advantage of it. We don’t expect it to be 10% of the market, or probably even 5%. Right now the stand-up market is less than 2% of the total market, so if we can get even 3-4% of the market, that would be amazing.
We looked, too, at why people didn’t ride a stand-up. For years, you know the image has been that a stand-up was just too hard to ride. They’ve been stereotyped that, “Gosh, a stand-up, that’s not what I want, because that is too difficult to ride.”
So, our goal was to make one that could be easier to ride, but still offer enough of a challenge that people wouldn’t get bored with it.

PSB: That’s a pretty tall order. Kawasaki seems to have succeeded, however, with a boat that is easier to operate than ever before, but also one of the best turning craft now on the market. Was it difficult combining both ends of the spectrum?
PK: It is the opposite ends of the spectrum, definitely. But the goals of both the novice and expert rider are really the same — more stability. The experts wanted more stability for when the water gets rough, they’re not having to work as hard to keep it under control. So they were looking for more stability. The beginning rider was also looking for more stability. We messed around with the bottom and different designs to get the right balance. Building a more stable stand-up, that’s actually pretty easy to do. The hard part is to get it to where it’s still fun to ride, and still corners like a stand-up instead of a runabout.

PSB: Last issue, Yamaha’s Steve Lawler commented that he thought Kawasaki might be on to something, not only with an aggressive boat that’s still easy to ride, but offering it at a price point far below the norm. Obviously you agree.
PK: Absolutely. We realized that the customer base for this product is a lower income demographic, so one of the goals in building the craft was to get it in at a price that offered value, with a good starting point.
The expert level rider always wants more, and wishes he had more, but our goal was to introduce it at a price that was low. We actually lowered the price on a boat that was all new. That just doesn’t happen very often. It was a significant reduction, and yet it was still all new.
That was one of our objectives. It would have been nice to lower it even further, but we have to get back some return on our investment. We feel like the beginning rider can get into one of these cheap; and the existing runabout rider, maybe he’s already got a couple of runabouts, but he can throw one of these on his trailer, too. It’s not a lot more money, and it’s another thing for his family to get out there and have fun on and ride.
On the other hand, the expert rider has saved a lot of money. He can go out and get the performance parts, and still be under the price of some other boats.

PSB: How does it feel to know that, in many ways, your competition is almost looking at you guys as a test case, to see what happens?
PK: I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment. We like that. We’ve been able to bring out a product that does bring a little focus on Kawasaki watercraft. We didn’t have to bring out some very expensive, high-powered runabout to do it.
We were able to get the spotlight, and even get a little bit of interest from our competitors watching us. I’m not sure that we expected that, it was a little bit of a surprise. But yes, anytime you get your competitors interested in what you’re doing, that makes you feel pretty good.

PSB: Can Kawasaki make the stand-up, for lack of a better phrase, cool again?
PK: That would be the ideal goal. If we can make it the cool thing to do again, then we’ll see some growth.

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