Dec. 3, 2007 – Kawasaki makes big market share gains

By Jeff Hemmel
PWC Editor
Early analysis of 2007 retail sales information indicates a shift might be under way in the PWC sales hierarchy.
While perennial sales leader Sea-Doo continues to place itself atop the pack, the numbers — collected from retail registrations through the first half of 2007 — show the company’s lead might be slipping, according to data provided by Statistical Surveys, a leading provider of market data solutions for the marine, manufactured housing and RV industries.
That data shows upward strides are being registered by Yamaha and Kawasaki, the former, which continues to methodically gain ground on the market leader, and the latter, which enjoyed a surge in 2007.

Measure Of Success
While data indicates Sea-Doo has indeed lost a portion of its industry dominance, the manufacturer still remains at the summit. According to Statistical Surveys, the Sea-Doo brand cornered nearly 42 percent of the market through the first half of the year. That places them a solid 10 percentage points above Yamaha, the nearest competitor.
“There are always many factors to success and failure, but the success for the Sea-Doo watercraft brand stems back 20 years,” said Tim McKercher on behalf of Sea-Doo, who contends the original 1988 model began a revolution of the PWC that continues to this day. “That model was the first with a V-hull, first with oil injection, first true two-seater. Then in 1990 with the GT, it was the first three-seater, first with reverse. Then in 1991 with the XP and the invention of the musclecraft. That’s a lot of firsts.
“It was that type of innovative product design that took BRP to the leadership position in 1993. BRP’s CEO Jose Boisjoli lives by the mantra that ‘product is king,’ and over the span of 20 years of the modern Sea-Doo product, innovation has been at the forefront of the success of the brand.”
Yamaha, however, continues to build momentum. Though the sales increase through June 30 displayed only the slightest of gains overall (31.8 percent to 30.9 percent), that number is significant, as Yamaha carried over basically the same product line from 2006 to ’07. The company’s VX Cruiser was the best seller in the industry in 2006. Yamaha also placed two others in the top five, the VX Deluxe and FX High Output.
“They were well thought-out products based on what our customers told us they were looking for, and they were well built and at the right price point,” explained Yamaha watercraft head Mark Speaks. “We do a lot of consumer research here and utilize that when we are developing new product concepts. We try to stay true to the original plan as we develop the products, and I think we’ve been pretty successful at getting it right the last several years. Boats like the VX models continue to be strong performers because they were right.”
Along with continual minor tweaks below the surface and constant color and graphic upgrades, Yamaha has been able to keep those products in the top five, despite not being thought of as brand new.
“They deliver what people are looking for,” Speaks continued. “Even though we might not have revolutionary new product introductions every year, every year the product gets better. We have a very strong brand in the personal watercraft industry. If you buy a Yamaha, you know it’s going to be right; you know that it works; it’s fun, and it’s something you can count on.
“That’s how you win; if you do a better job, you get more customers. For us, market share isn’t the objective, it’s the result.”
Together, Sea-Doo and Yamaha dominate. Using those same June 30 sales figures, the two manufacturers’ combined force has captured nearly 74 percent of the total
PWC market.
Kawasaki Climbs
While Kawasaki Motors Corp. might say a share only in the teens, the Jet Ski manufacturer boasted the largest percentage gain through the first half of ’07, growing their existing market share to 16.8 percent. Credit much of that success to the Ultra 250, another model to crack that top five, and a boat that marked the company’s return to the elite performance market. The Ultra was so popular that many dealers indicate they could have nearly doubled their sales of the craft had more been available.
“It met all of our goals and performed as planned,” stated Kawasaki’s Patrick Kelley in typical conservative fashion. “The competition has some good models, but the Ultra 250X offered a new innovative hull, powerful motor and features that add up to a successful product. Kawasaki built what the market wanted — high performance and innovative hull design, and our sales numbers give proof to it.”
Kawasaki’s gain is fairly close in number to Sea-Doo’s decline, an interesting parallel as Sea-Doo offered the previous high-horsepower king. PSB pointed this fact out to Kelley for his reaction.
“Our numbers certainly grew this year, both in sales volume and market share,” he continued. “It is possible it came from Sea-Doo — with the market fairly flat, this increase had to take a bite out of someone’s part.”
As to whether Kawasaki will ratchet up production to take advantage of what appears to still be pent-up demand for the model, the company will say only that it is “producing the numbers needed to meet market demand.” Of course, the Ultra also will have some increased competition in 2008, as Sea-Doo, Yamaha and eventually Honda will all have new, high horsepower models ready to eat away at the Ultra’s share of the pie.
“It should do OK,” Kelley said of the Ultra’s chances. “It is a proven PWC with an established performance record and rough water capability, and three color options. So we already have some momentum that enables the 250 to surge ahead, while the new models prove themselves.”
Where Kawasaki might surprise the industry, however, is actually on the low end of the market. Competitors have already privately noted the STX-15F, now drastically reduced to only $8,099, will be a formidable competitor for the entry-level contenders. “The STX-15F is a strong model, and it gives the customer top-level performance at an entry-level price,” responded Kelley. “So yes, we think it should do very well in 2008 against the competition in its league.”
As to Honda, the company appears to be finishing in a relative dead heat to its previous year, with market share hovering around the 9.3 percent mark. Look for that figure to potentially change in 2008 should the company find success with its new F-15X models.

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