Polaris to build sport boat

Alliance with Mercury, Baja could produce
boat by spring

Polaris Industries plans to enter the jet-powered, sport boat market, a move that will put the Minnesota-based manufacturer in direct competition with its already established rivals from the PWC market, Sea-Doo and Yamaha. The product, which the company says should be available by spring, will be marketed exclusively through select Polaris Sport Boat dealers.
The boat, a 21-foot runabout dubbed the EX2100, will be produced through a strategic partnership Polaris has assembled with established boating industry heavyweights Mercury Marine and Baja Marine, both divisions of Brunswick Corporation.
A choice of Mercury’s 240hp EFI or 250hp OptiMax jet drives will be used exclusively in the boat, while Baja will build the final product under contract from Polaris.
While industry insiders expressed mixed levels of surprise that Polaris would enter the market, the real question appeared to be Why go outside the company for help? While Bombardier also ultimately turned to Mercury for power in its own sport boat line, many note that Polaris certainly has the capability to build the entire boat, both in terms of hull construction and power. In fact, the company has provided PWC engines to Sugar Sand Marine for the company’s Rio line of sport boats.
“Certainly we had the capability to do either,” agreed Ron Bills, general manager for Polaris Watercraft, during an exclusive interview with Powersports Business.
“But when you look around the world, finding the best at a particular business is kind of the key to success. What it allowed us to do was take our expertise in styling and design and development, and then develop a strategic alliance with the best in the business in boat construction.
“Rather than us starting a whole new factory and hiring people, we’re able to go in with a company that already is the world’s biggest boat manufacturer, Brunswick. To utilize the technology that they’ve developed, rather than creating our own, allows us to be much more competitively priced, with a much better product than our competition in this category.”
According to Bills, Polaris is particularly excited about the high-end method of construction used by Baja. The EX2100 will be built to the same construction standards as Baja’s offshore race boats, including the use of balsa-cored hulls and vacuum-assisted, closed-molding processes that precisely control the glass-to-resin ratio to maximize hull strength without adding unnecessary weight.
Like Baja’s recently introduced Outlaw 20, the EX2100 will use a fiberglass, foam-filled stringer system.
As to the decision to go with Mercury power, rather than use the company’s own PWC powerplants, Polaris seems to share the same strategy as Sea-Doo, which went almost exclusively to Mercury jet drives in 1999.
“We do have power that’s perfectly capable,” acknowledged Bills, “but to get to these horsepower levels would require two of those. Who puts two engines in a car to get the horsepower they want?
“We really felt that partnering with the largest marine engine manufacturer in the world made a whole lot of sense. We could have the advantages of Mercury power, and it just made a whole lot of sense for the marine business. Watercraft, we want to use our own engines — they’re great, they’re awesome engines. But as you move into a 21-foot boat, it’s a little different.”
Like its competition in the jet-powered market, Polaris will be touting the advantages of jet propulsion — namely superior handling ability, shallow water capability, and the inherent safety of a jet pump versus a propeller. And like that competition, Polaris wants jet propulsion to be considered just one more alternative choice of power in a market dominated by inboard-outboard and outboard power choices.
“If you look at the evolution of jet boats, sport boats with jet power, it’s another alternative in power in about an 80,000-unit market, in the 18-23 foot runabout range,” explained Bills.
“What this allows us to do is broaden our line with our dealers, and provide an exceptional product in the channel to compete effectively with our competition who already has a line of sport boats, Yamaha and Bombardier. I think this market has evolved quite a bit in the last 10 years from what used to be tiny, toy jet boats to true runabout, jet-drive alternatives to stern-drive products, with more of an upscale-styled image.”
According to Bills, the styling of the EX2100 will further “define” the new Polaris image, a makeover that had begun with the 2003 introduction of the MSX personal watercraft line. “If you look at an MSX, and you look at this sport boat side-by-side, you’ll see the heritage lines. It’s the big brother. You’ll see the resemblance of the MSX, some of the styling characteristics carried forward into the sport boat line.”
As to how the boat will be different than the competition, Bills says that an abundance of small touches will add up to a departure from the current norm, including a stylish full windshield, innovative interior layout and storage placement, and an emphasis on creature comforts in the cockpit, including hand-stitched upholstery.
Polaris also plans to avoid the often “plastic” look of many jet-powered sport boats. All stainless steel fittings will be used; even grab handles will be stainless, a trait no doubt inspired by Baja. “There are no cheap plastic parts that are going to break or fade or wear,” claimed Bills. “If you compare the construction standards of this boat to its competition, there is no comparison.”
The decision to go outside the company for help also allowed Polaris to turn the sport boat project around in record time. According to Bills, the idea went from conception to actual product in only 14 months. “It was pretty quick. We went from sketches to real product in record time, but we’ve had some great help and capability there, both internal to Polaris as well as external with Baja.”
With the boat already well underway, the final portion of the equation seems to be the establishment of a dealer network. Bills would not commit to a build number, but would only say the company planned to build as many boats as demand dictates. Instead of quantity, the goal for the first year appears to be establishing a strong distribution line, which the company hopes will compliment the existing line of PWC.
The Watercraft GM also would not commit to whether the sport boat line would be headed only to existing Polaris PWC dealers, or whether marine dealerships that took on the sport boat line would be required to carry PWC as well.
“It really is a dealer by dealer decision,” said Bills. “This is an ability for us to widen our line, and offer an additional product offering to those bigger, stronger dealers, and attract new dealers that are in the marine business today and want to expand their line with sport boats and watercraft.”
As to the question of whether the EX2100 is just the first in a series of sport boats coming from Polaris, Bills couldn’t help but answer with his typical flair. “You bet there is,” he promised. “This isn’t just a one-hit wonder. We want to provide an expanded product line to our dealers to help them be more and more successful in the market.”
A retail price for the EX2100was not available at press time, although it is expected to be in line with competitive offerings from Sea-Doo and Yamaha.

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