Higher gas prices = smaller cars & boats??

According to a recent news article, Americans are buying smaller cars as a result of the upwards of $4.00 per gallon for gas at the pump. In my Wisconsin market, two weeks ago we were paying as much as $4.25 a gallon for gas. Currently the pump price is a bit lower and we can now buy gas for $3.75 a gallon.

The autos and trucks that are getting a healthy boost in sales are those offering 35 miles per gallon or better, like the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. And many of these economical cars being sold are powered by very efficient four-cylinder engines that give excellent performance. Apparently, buyers are impressed not only with the better economy of the smaller cars; they like what the auto companies have done with styling and amenities to make them much more than just cheap, economical cars.

Another news article talked about how prices at the gas pumps are painful for 4 in 10 Americans. And many Americans have said that the high gas prices have caused them some hardship. And regardless of the pump prices at gas stations, boaters have always experienced even higher gas prices at marina pumps.

This all leads me to think that now, more than ever, it is time for boat companies to offer smaller boats with lower horsepower engines. Boats that will give good performance while burning less fuel. One of the family vacations that my three kids loved and remember was when we trailed a 15 or 16-foot company boat powered with a Johnson 40 hp outboard to a beautiful lake in Michigan. (In my opinion, BRP made a huge mistake when they dropped the popular Johnson brand – but that is another story for another time.) We cruised around the lake, fished from the boat, and had fun water skiing. And all with a 40 hp outboard. It appears to me that many boat companies for years have focused on larger boats loaded with amenities and high horsepower engines, often dual engines, that have resulted in huge price tags.

In an NMMA press release dated April 26, 2011, it was reported that, “New power and sail boat unit sales totaled 188,230 in 2010, a decrease of ten percent compared to 2009’s decrease in unit sales of 35 percent, signaling that the rate of decline for new boat sales is slowing – a welcome sign for the industry.” One interesting point made in the article was, “In the new boat market, outboard boats, often small fishing or water sports boats fared best, declining just four percent compared to 2009. There were 112,800 new outboard boats sold in 2010.”

Some boat companies and many dealers are very aware that sales of small outboard-powered fishing and water sports boats are doing well and recognize the need to offer more boats for the small boat market. I was pleased to learn that Glastron, now under new ownership and management, intends to focus on the brand’s roots in the small boat market. And Bayliner and a few other brands are on the same path. Lets hope more builders join these ranks and build smaller boats that are not powered by humongous hp engines. Like the smaller cars with smaller engines have done in the auto business, smaller boats with smaller outboards can boost marine industry sales and attract more first time buyers.

About Ben H. Sherwood

Ben H. Sherwood is a marine industry veteran and a marketing consultant who operates Sherwood Marine Marketing in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. For more info, click About on the main menu.

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