Big Outboard Sales Expected to Soar

Even on pontoon boats, engines rated at 200 hp or higher are the hot ticket.
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The trend toward higher outboard power is continuing, and most dealers expect to see horsepower continue to increase.

Exactly 70 percent of dealers who responded to a joint survey with Baird Research, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Trade Only Today said they expected horsepower to move significantly or moderately higher. None of the dealers who responded thought horsepower would trend lower.

“Everyone wants more power,” one dealer said. (Respondents remain anonymous, so they can comment freely.) “They just don’t spend the extra cheese to get it when times are tight. We will see more people upgrade their engines over the next few years as they have more money and feel good about spending it on fun things.”

Thirty-eight percent of dealers who responded said they foresaw horsepower getting significantly higher. Another 32 percent said they thought it would grow moderately, and 30 percent forecasted horsepower to stay roughly flat. “It’s no secret: 150 hp has become the base, and 200-plus hp is what’s hot, at least on pontoons,” one dealer said.

Several said outboards 200 hp and higher were increasingly powering pontoons. One dealer said: “150-hp and 200-hp was the norm; now 300 and 350 hp is more popular on tri-toons.” Another dealer said pontoons were seeing younger buyers as a result of larger engines, which make pontoons more versatile.

Several dealers also cited Yamaha’s supply shortage of 200- and higher-horsepower motors as a problem, with one saying it had a “huge impact” and several listing the shortage as the major thing that was not working for their business. They also listed sterndrive-powered boats as something that was not working, with one saying: “Sterndrive is dead; we sell what we have and no more.”

Dealer sentiment rose to an all-time high in January, increasing to 82 versus 76 last month, and 79 last year. Dealers measure sentiment on a 0-100 scale, with 50 providing a neutral outlook.

The three- to five-year outlook also increased, to 81 versus 74 last month, and is consistent with last year.

New boat retail growth improved modesty in January, as 48 percent of retailers reported growth while 21 percent reported a decline. Used boat retail trends in January also improved slightly, as 32 percent of retailers reported growth versus 19 percent that reported a decline.


Dealers cited weather as the biggest deterrent to new boat sales, and said trade-in activity made a slightly negative impact.

The economy was cited as the single largest driver of new boat sales, with many dealers saying tax cuts had helped spur consumer confidence. That was in January, when the stock market was hitting all-time highs, before a 10 percent loss in February.

Dealers also said that OEM promotions were working, with some citing Evinrude’s promotions as an impetus for sales.

Retailers reported that new boat inventory remains relatively balanced, and inventory comfort improved modestly. In January, more dealers — 31 percent — considered inventory too high, and 17 percent thought it was too low. Baird said inventory levels were within normal range but acknowledged that recent trends warranted monitoring.

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.


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