As a slight departure from our usual fare of “Vicious Rumors and Vile Gossip” wherein we relay whisperings or try to slap some flesh on otherwise bare bones chatter throughout the personal watercraft industry, today’s edition will focus on some pretty sound and some not-so-sound predictions for the personal watercraft industry for 2014. It won’t be terribly in depth, as our crystal ball didn’t come in high definition. So again, don’t kill the messenger.
That being said, we at The Watercraft Journal are pretty enthusiastic for this new year. With all three manufacturers producing products that are not only unique to the industry but also to themselves, it will be very interesting to see how the new 365 days unfold. A great deal of politics (both within and outside of the industry) play a part as they directly effect both the economy and people’s willingness to make substantial purchases.
Understanding these factors and weighing the impact of the products being offered to an already highly competitive environment, it’s commendable that we participate in an industry that is so vibrant. It’s a testament to the passion of those who occupy our industry that PWC have survived through the fall of monumental highs to abysmal lows (both in sales and public opinion) only to begin to rise yet again.
Clearly, the company with the most riding on the line is Sea-Doo. The watercraft division of BRP has undergone some rather drastic changes in recent years. From unveiling innovations like brakes, fly-by-wire throttle control and computer-controlled suspension (iBR, iTC and iS, respectively), to terminating its sport boat line to the recent launch of the Spark, the company has been nothing less than daring – and if history teaches us anything – fortune favors the brave.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the Spark will revolutionize the industry…at least his year. Despite the advertising imagery of hipsters driving their Toyota Prius to the lake with a Spark in tow, we predict the leading demographic of Spark purchasers to be (and have already shown to be) long-time PWC owners. The Spark’s appeal as a “throwback” to earlier days is core to watercraft enthusiasts and we’ll see more established enthusiasts picking up Sparks more than virgin buyers.
Ironically, we see Spark sales transcending brand loyalty. Yamaha, Kawasaki and even those remaining Honda loyalists will fall for the Spark’s old school appeal. Standup riders too will fall for the newcomer and much of Sea-Doo’s initial advertising will need to course-correct to reflect accordingly. It will be the established PWC owners who will actually assist Sea-Doo most in its drive to welcome in new buyers – as a burgeoning community of Spark owners will create clubs and communities to which new customers will find fellowship.
Although the brand with the tuning forks hadn’t gone anywhere, 2014 will be hailed as “The Year of Yamaha’s Comeback.” The online chatter and media hype over the much-improved SVHO-series watercraft will finally be venerated on the race course. Be it the closed course or on the dragstrip, the Yamahas will walk away with more class wins in 2014 than in recent years.
This will be attributed to an influx of racers defecting from other brands as they gravitate towards Stock and Limited classes mainly for budgetary reasons, also contributing to a decline in racer attendance for this year – with exception of a couple key venues. With less racers on the water and a greater percentage of them aboard Yamahas, it will definitely be a good year for the brand.
The migration of so many riders can be traced to high performance enthusiasts taking full advantage of Yamaha’s buyback and leasing programs to trade-in their older SHOs (as well as a few Sea-Doos and Kawasakis) for the 260-horsepower SVHO vehicles.
We misspoke when we said that Sea-Doo had “the most riding on the line.” With only a few variations of two platforms, Kawasaki has more riding on less. Thankfully, all questions as to the worthiness of improvements made to the Eaton-blown 1.5-liter four-stroke will will be resolved as the Kawasaki’s 310-horsepower entry will lengthen the distance between it and the competition. The Ultra 310 – in all of its variations – will sweep all offshore/endurance races in 2014. Literally, all of them.
Almost comically, the success of the Ultra in the world’s most extreme conditions will almost become so expected it’ll be taken for granted. With it’s participation with MAV TV’s “Dangerous Waters” series, and its domination in open water combat, Kawasaki will launch a mid-year viral video campaign highlighting the vehicle’s toughness and all-water-terrain mastery, showcasing it as the Land Rover or Jeep of PWC.
The company’s original efforts to present brand as an “exclusive” product will fare no better or worse than other marketing campaigns as Kawasaki buyers are some of the most loyal in the PWC industry. The supercharged Ultra will unfortunately remain too far out of reach of mainstream budget-minded buyer who will find deals elsewhere, encouraging the company to expedite the launch of the completely redesigned STX platform for 2015.