Kevin Shaw: Marketplace Environmentalism


In 2011, Kawasaki Motor Corp. USA quietly announced that the SX-R 800, the progeny of the original JS400 and subsequent genealogical line of two-stroke stand-up JetSkis, would be phased out after that model year. From 2003 until that final year, the 8-year run of the SX-R was hailed with significant fanfare. The JetSki featured the widest tray of any Kawasaki before it. The hull was the direct result of decades of racing experience, incorporating several key design features to better allow the unit to rise to plane quickly, turn sharply and allow the rider to lean into said corners with confidence. The 800cc inline twin-cylinder was equally tried-and-true, bolstered by a deep well of aftermarket support.

So why did Kawasaki kill the stand-up JetSki? The quick answer is a rising trend in outlawing marine craft with two-stroke engines from lakes and rivers throughout the United States at the time. The groundswell of legislation quickly put the manufacturer under the ecological microscope, and combined with an underlying public distaste for “jet skiers” (primarily among older boating enthusiasts and private waterfront property owners stemming from decades of unmitigated bad judgement on behalf of early PWC enthusiasts), made outlawing the machines an easy target. But was that truly the central cause for Kawasaki to end a near 40-year-run of the stand-up JetSki? Sadly, the answer is no. It’s our fault.


Yes, jet ski enthusiasts could’ve written their congressional representatives strongly-worded letters. Yes, we could’ve voiced our arguments before local and municipal legislation. Yes, we could’ve filed private and class action lawsuits to stymie these bills. And yes, some of us did do such things. But the real fault that we as a community carry is that Kawasaki simply didn’t sell enough of them. The cost of production weighed against the number of units sold compacted by the growing vilification by an uneducated public made the ski’s demise a budgetary line item, not a decision of passion. So then, the query emerges: why did Yamaha continue (and continues today) to offer the SuperJet? They weren’t selling that many more SuperJets over SX-Rs. Simply put, their production costs were less and sales sightly higher.

Those two factors were enough to buoy the SuperJet through the economic storm of these past seven years; and Yamaha’s perseverance has paid in fold. SuperJet sales have increased year-to-year since 2013, so much so that demand has called for yearly increases in production. Spurring demand, Yamaha has also boldly incentivized sales, offering heavily-reduced monthly payment programs that price the two-stroke to nearly the cost of an average cellular data plan. Fatefully, the future of the SuperJet leans strongly at the introduction of a new hull design and modern 4-stroke plant to boot, while sources within Kawasaki have revealed little to no genuine interest in resurrecting the stand-up JetSki any time soon.


So, it could be argued that as our community let the Kawasaki JetSki slip into the mists of history, our collective support of the SuperJet may quite possibly reward us with a new 50-state emissions-legal stand-up. This, for all of you who forgot their high school economics class, is meant by a “free-market”  – the Longman British maxim, “voting with your wallet” has never been so apropos. We, being a capitalist society, support the companies, products and venues best when we patronize them (a fact sadly lost on so many racers), and the free market allows those companies who do not garner equal support to fall by the wayside. Naturalist Herbert Spencer observed it as “survival of the fittest.”

But what if, as Darwin hypothesized, the environment – or in this example, the marketplace – fails to sustain enough life; enough for larger, more advanced predators thrive? (Because where there are several forms of predators, there is a successful ecosystem.) The African Serengeti teams with life from all links of the food chain, from pasturing impala and giraffe grazing from the billows, to packs of African wild dogs, caracal, mongoose, lions, cheetahs and pythons preying upon the first. Yet conversely, the lowest depths of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, located just east of the Philippines, can only sustain mainly soft shelled foraminifera living in the silty bed floor, feeding on particulates and bacteria. The almost extraterrestrial temperatures and crushing pressures make the environment seemingly inhospitable.


To best understand where I’m going with this, consider the motocross industry as the African plains: the environment is lush in resources (the total US motorcycle manufacturing industry is valued at over $4 billion dollars), is rich in competition (an estimated half billion in aftermarket and correlated brands), and rife with life (a total 115,510 off-road/dual motorcycles were sold in 2014 alone). Compared to that of the personal watercraft industry (an estimated 55 million in total combined OE and aftermarket annual sales, and just over 30,000 new units sold in 2014), we start to come to terms with the hostility of our environment towards new life (ie. shops, vendors, dealers, manufacturers, media).

As is with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, new life is often small, parasitic and nearly translucent – except for one: the angler fish. This terrifying creature is an unchallenged predator, deviously evolved to its environment and faced with no natural threat. Its bio-luminescent toggle hanging from above its enormous crescent-shaped mouth filled with sharp, cagey teeth is the solitary source of light in the blackness of the inky ocean. This is the best living example of being a “big fish in a small pond.” And like the crushing depths of the ocean, there are few predators within the PWC industry who have proven that can not only survive in this hostile environment but thrive. As new unit sales continue to increase, so will the aftermarket and consequently the industry as a whole. The way to grow the industry, and thereby make the environment more friendly towards new life, is to support those who support the sport.

Go Get Wet,

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – 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.

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