Vicious Rumors and Vile Gossip: Honda is Positioning to Strike Back Big


“It was a weird request,” the salesman admitted, slumping back comfortably in his desk chair, the vinyl-wrapped cushions squeaking. “But $1,000 bucks just to have two skis on display for a couple hours? ‘Yeah,’ I told the guy. ‘We could do that.'” The phone call to the dealership had come out of the blue, but the dealer (who asked to remain nameless) recognized the Honda representative on the other line from years ago. “All he wanted was a pair of supercharged three-seaters; a Sea-Doo RXT-X and a Yamaha FX Cruiser SVHO. They needed them – with rolling stands – delivered to the back of a hotel nearby. We unloaded and wheeled them into the conference room.”

“My driver was told what time to return that afternoon to pick up the units.” The Honda representative promised the skis wouldn’t be ridden, put in the water or even have people climbing all over them. They were merely for display purposes only. Because there wasn’t a boat show happening nearby, the request felt all the more unusual. “I figured they were doing some market research as we’ve all heard rumors that Honda was getting back into the [PWC] game.” When the time came around to pick up the two units, the driver showed up a bit too early. “No, he was on time,” the salesman continued. “They were running late. So my guy just sat in the back and waited.”

The few minutes the driver sat and listened in on were all that was needed. Next to the Yamaha and Sea-Doo was parked an entirely new machine – unlike anything the long-time employee had seen before. Not unlike the other two machines, a tell-tale left hand-side trigger hinted at an on-water braking system competitive with Sea-Doo’s iBR and Yamaha’s RiDE. The mystery machine was long, with a tiered bench for three passengers. The styling was uniquely Honda, reminiscent of the F-12X and larger F-15X. It clearly was designed to challenge the two performance-bred full-sized runabouts.

Bold-faced letters spelled out “Turbo” on the side, and various bits of information regarding the powertrain were projected against the large screen above. The final iteration of the Aquatrax, the F-15X, was powered by a 160-ish horsepower DOHC 4-cylinder 4-stroke displacing 1470cc’s. While no horsepower number was revealed, the mention of Sea-Doo’s 300-ponies was of some interest to the presenter; audible gasps from some members of the crowd revealed their astonishment at hearing that people would even want that much power from a PWC.

While details were thin, we did our research into Honda’s latest engine offerings. Last year marked the release of Honda’s all-new 2.0-liter engine, said to both weigh less and have reduced internal friction than that of the outgoing 1.8-liter, all while producing an additional 15 horsepower and 9 lb-ft of torque. That totals a naturally-aspirated 158 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 138 lb-ft at 4200 rpm (with a jaunty 6700 rpm redline). While that might not set the world on fire, Honda’s current turbocharged 1.5-liter spools up to 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. Frankly put, if Honda is looking to compete with Yamaha and Sea-Doo (and Kawasaki’s 310-horsepower), they’re going to need to step up big time.

The last time we chatted about Honda, it was late in 2013. Many of our readers mocked us for even doing so. And since that time, little has changed. Honda Motorsports’ Timmonsville, South Carolina, manufacturing facility still has all of the original molds, tooling and equipment necessary to rekindle production in short time. Clearly, Honda is strongly considering a return to the water, but how? Historically, Honda PWC were sold explicitly through select Powerhouse Honda dealers in only four countries: Canada, USA, New Zealand, and Australia. No Central or South America, no European continent. No Asia. Frankly put, Honda got in its own way and the answer has yet to be resolved.

“Finally, the guy noticed my driver and shooed him out,” the salesman concluded. By the time they came and got the driver back, the people had shuffled out having been sworn to secrecy, and the prototype was whisked away out through another set of doors. All that remained were some empty chairs and the two watercraft resting on their carts. It’s doubtful that Honda will return in time for 2018 given how slow they have been since terminating production in 2011. Of course, both Sea-Doo and Yamaha are reporting record-breaking increases in sales just in this first fiscal quarter alone, with expectations for easily the best year in PWC sales in a decade. If this continues, it’s very plausible we could see a return of Honda to the PWC market soon.

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

4 comments

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  1. Cory Martin 17 March, 2017 at 11:19 Reply

    “…record breaking increases in sales” We are still a long ways off from the sales volume of the late 90s. It’s easy to have huge increases from rock bottom.

  2. GeorgeB. 17 March, 2017 at 16:03 Reply

    It’s better for honda to attack the low/mid segment first (Spark, EX) than trying to convince riders that they have a reliable 250+ hp machine at their first shot.

    The only cool thing from honda is the Jet, they don’t like radical industrial designers, something that on this market it’s a must. Their anemic and slow to react.

  3. Jeff 17 March, 2017 at 22:26 Reply

    Word with the people that sell multi-brand outboard engines is that Honda will be exiting the outboard market soon. There is no reason for them to get back into water anything in the future as they don’t invest enough to compete. It would be really dumb for them to compare their stuff to the high end performance skis from Sea Doo or Yamaha. They were known for fairly reliable family cruisers, very vanilla skis. Their only hope would be to come back in with that philosophy with modest. Who would sell them? They burned all the dealers that used to sell them. A lot of those dealers were also outboard engine dealers. With Honda already on their way out of that market, how many dealers will take on the line??

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