The Covid-19 pandemic helped to drive 2020 sales in the PWC sector to heights not seen in decades, leading market leaders Yamaha and Sea-Doo to unveil new models and features targeting the shifting recreational marketplace, in addition to the racing marketplace.
“In April and May, first-time buyers were 28 percent of sales, but in August, that rose to 48 percent,” says Brian Seti, general manager of sales and marketing for Yamaha WaterCraft Group. “Previous buyer studies showed the average WaveRunner buyer was in their mid-50s, but the average age of the first-time buyer is now 43.”
Yamaha’s Big Reveal
For 2021, Yamaha introduced 11 new WaveRunner models, the most in the 35 years it has been in the PWC segment. The VX and GP series are new above the waterline and have wider, deeper, self-draining footwells, and roomier aft decks. Yamaha also debuted a stand-up PWC called the SuperJet and premiered the EX Limited, the flagship of the Rec-Lite line.
Several innovations in the GP Performance series focus on the racing segment. An industry-first auto-trim system relieves the driver of having to hit the trim button in a variety of situations. Launch Control is designed to set the bow’s trim automatically in the down position, reducing bow rise for faster starts. Corner Control senses the driver decelerating when approaching a turn and trims the bow down for better grip; as the rider hits the apex and starts accelerating, the bow trim goes up to reduce the amount of wetted surface for less drag and faster speeds.
There’s also a new, optional integrated 100-watt stereo system ($800) with a touchpad control below the handlebars. Storage in the PWC’s three compartments has increased by 3.8 gallons to 28.4 gallons.
Yamaha’s out-of-the-box racer, the GP1800R SVHO ($14,749) has a largest-in-class 1.8-liter supercharged 4-cylinder engine; the GP1800R HO ($12,549) has the same engine block without a supercharger. Each has a redesigned intake and a 160mm jet pump that allows water to flow with less turbulence for better efficiency. The 18.5-gallon fuel tank has been lowered and moved aft to create a lower center of gravity and better handling. The race-inspired seat has been redesigned to be narrower, giving the rider’s legs better grip — and to be more comfortable for smaller riders.
A new tilt handlebar allows a rider to dial in the ideal position quickly. This year’s model also has a 4.3-inch Connext touchscreen to starboard of the handlebars, to use such features as Drive Control, which engages the auto-trim system and can enable Slow Mode. (For novice riders, Slow Mode reduces the PWC’s 59-knot top speed and rate of acceleration.) A new Security Mode in Drive Control eliminates the need for a key fob to prevent unauthorized starts.
Meanwhile, Yamaha’s VX recreational series now has some of the features previously seen only on more expensive FX and GP models. In addition to the deck upgrades, the new VX lineup includes the 4.3-inch Connext LCD on most models. The integrated stereo is also available on all VX models, and storage on all models has increased from 24.6 to 30.1 gallons.
For those looking for a throwback thrill, Yamaha also redesigned its SuperJet ($9,499) stand-up PWC. It previously had a 2-stroke engine and was only available to those with licenses for closed-course racing. For 2021, the SuperJet has a more environmentally friendly 1-liter TR-1 4-stroke and is available to all.
Sea-Doo Takes Out the Trash
Sea-Doo also unveiled new features on its models for 2021. Most notably, to prevent intakes from sucking up debris such as weeds, small rocks, plastic bags and mud, Sea-Doo unveiled an Intelligent Debris Free (iDF) pump system, which clears clogged intakes with a touch of the button.
The iDF button switches gears on the shortened driveshaft to reverse the impeller pump, causing it to exhale rather than inhale. The iDF button also closes valves that could pump water into the engine compartment, so the water flow only exits through the intake. After debris is flushed out during 12-second bursts, the driver shuts down the PWC, then restarts it to resume normal operation.
The iDF feature will be included on the company’s Fish Pro model, the first PWC designed for fishing, when the rider might encounter weedy habitats that some fish prefer. This year, the Fish Pro has new angled rod holder mounts for easier trolling and a new LinQ cup holder. The Fish Pro LinQ cooler also has an extra 5-inch-tall extension for more capacity.
Also new this year is an update to Sea-Doo’s race-ready RXP-X 300 ($15,799), which shed 67 pounds from last year’s model and now promises a 2.9-second acceleration from zero to 43 knots. The inner liner was re-engineered, and Sea-Doo incorporated the same CM-Tec material from its RXT/GTX ST3 hulls to reduce weight without sacrificing strength. A new T3-R hull design has “shark gills” beneath to increase air flow and reduce drag, for more predictable cornering. These gills act as a relief valve on the hull to ensure it doesn’t bite into a turn unexpectedly, to give the rider more control at full speed.
Launching Products During a Pandemic
Brian Seti, General Manager of Sales and Marketing, Yamaha WaterCraft Group
We had to reinvent the way we did everything, and ironically, our 2021 launch was our largest in history, so there was a lot at stake to get it right. We spent a lot of time crafting our message and creating content that would be compelling enough for a virtual audience to consume, and find educational and inspiring. And we were amazed by our sales numbers, with dealers tuning in to everything we created, placing big orders for the new product. Consumer interest was two to three times greater than the same period last year. We felt the key was for the team to be open and willing to adapt, change and be creative.
Tim McKercher, President, Look Marketing (Sea-Doo)
While we did not produce a full-blown press event, we conducted individual press rides for select PWC media, powersports writers and boating business media. In place of the event gatherings, we focused on an on-water immersive experience with our new performance-focused RXP-X 300, with walkthroughs conducted at the boat ramp. It was key for us to reach the enthusiast media, since it is our most enthusiast-based model. Sales have been unreal. Sea-Doo had its best sales year since 1998, and that’s with 11 weeks of no production. Sea-Doo gained market share again, and I was talking to a dealer who has 40 preorders on 2021 units.
This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.