OEMs continue strong presence at world’s largest consumer boat show
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Visitors to the Miami Boat Show typically are looking up in awe at the majestic cruisers occupying much of the convention’s floor and dock space; but, in 2003, personal watercraft manufacturers brought eyes closer to ground level.
All five major PWC makers attended the show, and nearly all were celebrating some rather big news, be it exciting new introductions or recently captured awards. The result was another positive outlook leaving the show, with Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Sea-Doo and Yamaha all looking forward to possibly the end of the drought that has plagued the PWC market for much of the last 10 years.
Yamaha Takes Innovation Award
One of the most eagerly anticipated events in Miami is the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Innovation Awards, recognition of the most innovative, cutting-edge products currently being brought to market. This year’s winners included Yamaha’s SR230 sport boat, which made news by winning not in a jetboat-only segment, but in the mainstream runabout division, which includes names like Sea Ray, Cobalt, and Regal.
“We’ve been fighting hard to get our jet-powered sport boats compared to conventional runabouts,” explained Yamaha’s Steve Lawler, “no matter what the type of power. It’s been a struggle because a lot of boating writers, boating manufacturers, have been segmenting them for so many years; it’s kind of hard for them to get past the type of propulsion. We were able to convince them that this was a legitimate boat in that category.”
While the SR230’s use of twin Yamaha four-stroke PWC engines is certainly innovative in its own right, judges singled out the boat primarily for its design, the most innovative feature of which was an open swim platform, which featured a transom walkthrough, padded seating area, even a removable table for eating munchies at anchor. In the official announcement from the NMMA, judges even questioned why other boat manufacturers had yet to follow suit.
“We chose it because of the innovative transom design,” said Michael Verdon, president of Boating Writers International, whose members made up the judging panel. “It includes a table, semi-circular seating space, extended swim platform, and unique transom walkthrough. Our only question in judging this product is why another boat manufacturer didn’t come up with this before.
“It is a very innovative transom design that opens the boat to new possibilities.” Verdon also made note of the fact that the SR230 is the first twin-powered, four-stroke jetboat.
“It’s a huge boost for us,” said Lawler. “We so much had wanted to get into that runabout segment, which is like a 75-80,000 unit segment. To not only get in, but also ultimately win the segment is amazing.”
No personal watercraft took innovation titles. In a twist that is still not fully understood, PWC were lumped in with inflatables for the innovation awards, leaving an inflatable to ultimately receive the recognition.
“The reason we chose it was because it would have much wider sales applications on a worldwide basis than a personal watercraft,” explained Verdon. “We figured it would sell tens of thousands of units.”
Sea-Doo goes Skating, Polaris shows jetBoat
Away from the convention center, Sea-Doo took advantage of the warm Miami weather to host an invitation-only introduction to their Vans Triple Crown-edition Sea-Doo GTX 4-TEC. A tow-ready version of the existing GTX 4-TEC, the Vans Edition is the result of a licensing deal with Vans.
Aside from graphics sporting the Vans Triple Crown logo, the craft features an extended, removable tow pylon; unique grab handles for the spotter; and a custom storage and towing cover. According to riders, the four-stroke engine also holds wakeboarding and wakeskating speeds, typically between 18-22 mph, better than a peakier two-stroke engine.
“Sea-Doo has really put together a great boat with that four-stroke,” said Thomas Horrell, a professional wakeskater on hand for the introduction. “It’s just awesome. It’s exactly what we need for obstacles and sliders. There are so many pluses it’s just amazing.”
Journalists from several major boating magazines were invited to try the newest trend in watersports — wakeskating. Like skateboarding on the water or wakeboarding without bindings, wakeskating is growing fast, and riders often prefer a small, agile, and much less expensive PWC to traditional ski boats.
Speaking of boats, Polaris displayed its much-anticipated sportboat, a 21-foot craft powered by a Mercury jet drive engine and a hull built by Baja Marine (detailed in the last issue of Powersports Business).
The sleek white hull drew plenty of attention throughout the course of the show, with many consumers noting the prominent Mercury logo on the hull. Polaris officials continued to explain the boat’s distribution method, indicating that the stronger watercraft dealerships would be offered the sport boat starting in April. Strong hints also continued to be tossed around about the potential of more boats coming down the pipe.
As to the MSX watercraft line, it also drew interest. Innovation award judges alluded to the fact that the MSX was being strongly considered for an innovation title on two fronts — its compact four-stroke engine and the boat’s innovative styling.
Kawasaki was celebrating its 30th anniversary during the show, showcasing the company’s latest offerings, including the 1200STX-F, the only four-stroke PWC to have earned a coveted CARB Three Star rating.
The company’s roots were also on display, with a vintage green 1973 Jet Ski occupying center stage. Press members were invited to a reception on the show’s opening day, while consumers just couldn’t miss the attractive booth, which, as always, was located in a prominent position on the convention center floor.
Honda is low-key
Honda also continued to have a presence at the show, showcasing its three-boat line in the outside display area adjacent to the convention center. Though the company’s presence seemed more restrained when compared to the other four manufacturers, consumers continued to show serious interest in the company joining the PWC market.
The new-for-2003 R-12X was front and center in the booth, although company officials acknowledged a retail price has still not been set for the aggressively styled craft.