FORT LAUDERDALE — The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show opened Thursday with the introduction of dozens of new boats (everything from center consoles to motoryachts to jetboats), a testament to the marine industry's vitality and continued developments in technology and boat design.
Groupe Beneteau brought a team of executives to its press conference to update the media on its worldwide growth, market share in North America and new models. The French builder has 32 new models and is investing $100 million in North American operations.
It has 7,000 employees worldwide, with 25 production sites in five countries. Powerboats account for 60 percent of its products, and sailboats account for 40 percent. The company offers 161 models of powerboats and 47 models of sailboats. North America now accounts for 31 percent of the group's revenue.
Eight of the company's 10 brands are on display here, including 10 new models. The company is introducing the Gran Turismo GT40 and GT46, stepped-hull boats with Volvo Penta IPS.
The Swift Trawler 30 is making its Fort Lauderdale debut here, too. The company's American-made brands are well represented, executives said, with the new Four Winns HD220 inboard and outboard versions and the Scarab 195 Open and Open Fish jetboats.
"This is a new boat for the millennials," Christophe Lavigne, vice president of engineering for the group’s American-made brands, said of the Scarab boats. "It's not so much about the boat, but what you do with it. It's the experience they're looking for."
With its new 280CC-X, World Cat introduces its next generation of power catamarans, which combines improved aesthetics and advanced features with its proven seakindly performance to lure monohull consumers to the brand and design.
"We don't want to just compete against other catamaran companies," said World Cat president Andrew Brown. "This boat is making a statement. We no longer want to be a niche. We want to go after anyone looking for an outboard-powered boat."
The new boat incorporates more shape into its sheer line and is designed with a reverse transom with tumblehome. The rub rail has also been moved higher to give it a sleeker profile. High-end features include C-Zone digital switching; the Optimus 360 System with electronic steering, SeaStation and joystick; an aerodynamic hardtop; and a through-hull bow anchor holder with an internally mounted windlass.
It was a big day for Formula, as the Indiana builder announced its first outboard-powered boats in decades — the 430 SSC (Super Sport Crossover) and 350 CBR (Crossover Bowrider). Standing in the cockpit just forward of four Mercury 400R outboards, Formula president Scott Porter and John Adams, Formula's exclusive designer, talked up the 430 SSC in front of about 75 media members.
"We think we've defined a whole new type of boat while also expanding the Formula DNA," said Adams.
The boat has an open bow and a flush deck with huge seating areas. The company used Facebook Live to allow its employees back in Decatur to watch the boat-show introduction of the 430 SSC.
"It was a team effort, and they deserved to be a part of this," Adams told me after the press event.
Tiara Yachts continues to develop its next generation of cruising yachts with the introduction of the F44 Flybridge, powered with Volvo Penta IPS. About 75 media members attended this introduction.
Regulator Marine has a new 31-footer that "hits the sweet spot between the 28 and 34,” company president Joan Maxwell said during a press conference.
The boat is a hardcore fishing machine that gives owners more space without sacrificing performance, and it has every amenity a boater needs for a day on the water with family and friends, said Maxwell.
Regulator has powered the new boat with twin Yamaha F300s on an Armstrong bracket, which allows for a transom with no engine cutout. Like the Regulator 41, the 31 is built with a starboard dive door and integrated forward seat backrests.
Maxwell also took the opportunity to announce that the builder has an exclusive electronics partnership with Garmin.
Center consoles are hot, but there is still a market segment that wants the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin in a fishing and cruising boat, said Ted Haigler, director of sales and marketing for Albemarle. The company's new 29 Express addresses that market, he said.
"People get tired of hanging on to the T-top [of center consoles] and want to sit in an air-conditioned enclosed space," said Haigler. Twin 300- or 350-hp Yamaha outboards power the ruggedly built boat. With the latter, it can cruise at more than 30 knots with a range of nearly 400 nautical miles.
Propulsion and electronics
Garmin, at its press conference, also announced the partnership with Regulator.
"We have seven or eight exclusive partnerships with OEMs, and we will continue to cultivate more relationships with OEMs," said David Dunn, Garmin senior manager of marine sales and marketing.
Dunn outlined several new products that Garmin is introducing, including radomes for its Fantom radar; its GPSMAP 7X2/9X2 and 7X2/9X2 XS touchscreen chart plotters and combos; its VHF 110/120 AIS marine radios and its Panoptix PS S1-TH FrontVu narrow-beam, forward-looking sonar for navigation.
"It is primarily for collision avoidance, but can be used secondarily for fishing," he said.
Volvo Penta introduced for the first time in the United States its joystick helm control system — Joystick Inboard — for conventional twin inboard-powered boats, along with another model of its Inboard Performance System.
The new IPS couples a new pod (IPS 15) and a new diesel, the D8, which is offered in 600- and 550-hp models. The IPS700 uses the 550-hp D8, and the IPS800 works with the 600-hp D8. The D8 is a new 8-liter, inline six-cylinder diesel that was put into production on Volvo trucks and buses in 2013. The IPS700/800 bridges the gap between the IPS600 (435 hp) and IPS950 (725 hp).
"The inboard joystick can be used across the entire diesel inboard range," said Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas.
The company also took the opportunity to highlight its strong OEM relationship with Cruisers Yachts. The Cruisers 54 Cantius was designed around the Volvo Penta D8 powerplant, said Mark Pedersen, president of KCS international, the parent company of Cruisers.
He called the Volvo Penta-Cruisers relationship "the ultimate partnership for superior customer satisfaction.”