New powerboat sales in 2014 grew for the fourth year in a row, including the strongest fourth quarter the industry has seen since 2008.
“All the signs are that we’re going into this next season pretty strong,” Info-Link Technologies managing director Jack Ellis said.
Including personal watercraft sales, the industry was up about 10 percent from last year. Excluding PWC, it was up slightly less than 8 percent, Ellis said, still outpacing the general industry projection that new-boat sales would grow between 5 and 7 percent in 2014.
“Not only are boat sales continuing to click along, the economy’s doing well, fuel prices are low and are expected to stay low,” Ellis told Trade Only Today. “In addition, we regularly monitor inventory levels. The last time we looked — just a few weeks ago — inventory levels were still really healthy. We haven’t seen a buildup in inventory that we typically see when things get ahead of themselves.”
The strong quarter is positive not because of its overall impact on sales, but for what it might indicate moving into the winter boat show season, Ellis said.
“Just looking at it in isolation, it’s not all that meaningful for the industry as a whole … because they still are not huge numbers,” Ellis said. “But the most encouraging thing is that we’re coming into 2015 with all this momentum and the hope is that this continues.”
Outboard engine sales were up about 9 percent, according to Info-Link data, and jetboat sales rose 15 percent — unsurprising with two newcomers to a segment that had only had one big player until last year.
The inboard market was up about 13 percent, driven in large part by towboats, Ellis said.
Sterndrives were down about 8 percent, dropping again, although that dip doesn’t affect the overall percentage much, Ellis said. “The sterndrive segment has gotten so small, it takes a much bigger change to move that needle.”
PWCs had “a heck of a year” with a 23 percent sales gain from 2013, Ellis said.
The strong final quarter might not mean much to dealers’ bottom lines, but the culmination of 2014 sales has them more optimistic, Ellis said.
“A lot of dealers say this is the best year they’ve ever had, and I think: ‘Ever? Really?’ because the market is still considerably smaller than it was seven or eight years ago,” Ellis said. “But then it dawned on me, back then we had upwards of twice as many dealers. If you take that into consideration, yes, we may be smaller as an industry, but fewer dealers are competing … so it’s perfectly conceivable that it’s the best year they’ve ever had.”