May 14, 2007 – Insiders weigh in on possible industry obstacles

While optimism about the PWC market seems obvious, and rightly so, industry insiders still admit to areas of concern, from remaining legislative battles to this summer’s anticipated repeat surge in gas prices.
Legislative Battles
While legislative concerns were front and center only a few short years ago, continued victories in the national park system and elsewhere have left industry insiders confidently optimistic about the future.
Consider the current situation in the country’s park system. Despite an early ban on the vehicles that generated a tremendous share of bad press, more and more parks continue to come back online, overturning their previous bans on the vehicles and once again opening their gates to personal watercraft enthusiasts.
In 2006, Curecanti National Recreation Area and Cape Lookout National Seashore both reopened to personal watercraft use, leaving only three remaining parks — Big Thicket National Preserve, Gateway National Recreation Area and Padre Island National Seashore — on the list of remaining holdouts.
“Finishing the rules and restoring personal watercraft access has been delayed far too long and in the meantime, millions of Americans have been denied access to their national parks, thousands of small businesses have suffered and thousands of jobs have been lost,” reiterated the Personal Watercraft Industry Association’s Maureen Healey. “This is not right. While the National Park Service originally relied on outdated science when it agreed to this ban, it has since shown in 15 separate studies that PWC should not be banned where other boats are allowed. It’s time PWC use is restored in all public places where other boats are welcome.”
While the national park situation appears to be a bright spot on the legislative horizon, less-publicized legislative battles continue to rage elsewhere. From potential helmet laws in New Jersey, to two-stroke bans being considered for both Massachusetts and Montana, to the hotly debated situation in California’s Monterey Bay, dealers and enthusiasts have been called on to continue to be proactive in the fight to maintain pwc owners’ right to ride.
“The concern is always legislation,” cautioned Sea-Doo’s Louis Levesque. “If the industry increases again, we must make sure that every PWC user is acting responsibly. OEMs and the specialized press must always reinforce this message. We just need one irresponsible PWC user on a lake to impact legislation.”
Still, the overall feeling toward legislation appears to be positive, with manufacturers feeling relatively secure in their ability to fight the good fight, rather than displaying the “back-against-the-wall” posture some might have felt at the height of the park service battle.
“We are always vigilant concerning all of these issues,” says Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog, “but we don't foresee any dramatic changes in the trends.”
Rising Fuel Prices
As to the very real possibility that fuel prices will once again soar this summer, industry officials seem to see the issue as almost a positive, rather than purely a negative.
“I don’t see a lot of issue with gas price,” Levesque said, “because at the end of the day, gas prices can even help PWC. People looking to buy a boat might decide to buy a PWC, which is cheaper to operate. The economy can always be an issue and we don’t have any control on this, but again, maybe people will buy a PWC because it is cheaper than a boat.”
That theory might, in fact, hold water. According to an article in Florida’s St. Petersburg Times, some existing boat owners might be turning to PWC because of the fact that they are cheaper at the gas pump, but also easier to launch, use and maintain. “I love the water, but owning a boat can get expensive in a hurry,” the paper quoted bass boat owner Howard Holley as saying in regard to his recent acquisition of a Kawasaki Jet Ski for him and his 15-year-old son. “This may end up being the perfect thing for my family. They’re fun and pretty cheap to operate.”
In the same article, the Times noted another family who had traded in a 20-foot runabout for a pair of PWC.
“Fuel efficiency is always a critical part of the total cost of ownership that buyers should not overlook,” said Yamaha’s Mark Speaks, whose company’s VX engines are touted as being the most fuel efficient in the industry.
Though no manufacturer currently has any fuel-related incentives in the works, Sea-Doo demonstrated last year the potential of a prepaid Visa card that could be used for up to $1,000 in free gas.
Similar incentives could quickly appear should escalating gas prices show signs of hurting this summer’s sales. psb

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