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Industry panel: don’t count out sterndrives yet

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Despite a steady decline in sales, a panel of industry leaders says the sterndrive will remain a viable propulsion choice for consumers.

"Our sterndrive sales the last two years have been going down each year and the outboard sales are going up,” said Premier Marine president Bob Menne, one of five executives participating in a Q&A session at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. “I talked to a [dealer] the other day who told me he used to be 75 percent sterndrives and 25 percent outboards. Last year, he was completely the opposite. So there is a swing happening.”

That swing is attributable, in part, to improvements in outboard technology. ”The outboard manufacturers have done a great job these last few years in product development with designs and weight and fuel economy,” Menne said. In addition, outboards are generally less expensive and easier to service than sterndrives, the panel members said.

Sales of sterndrive boats continued to decline through October, sliding about 7.5 percent from last year on a rolling 12-month basis, according to bellwether state data collected by Info-Link.

“This is not new,” Info-Link’s Jack Ellis said in a Nov. 20 Trade Only Today report. “The segment has been in decline for years.”

But the panel members said they think sterndrives are here to stay.

"I wouldn't … short the market,” Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers said.

“At the end of the day customers are going to choose — as long as you have both horses, you'll be fine. But from everything we see and what technology is coming down the road, we think that [the sterndrive] is going to be a propulsion system that's going to be around 20 years from now,” Mercury Marine president Mark Schwabero said.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “The outboards of today are a lot different from those in the past, but we don’t think there’s a wholesale shift going on.”

MarineMax CEO Bill McGill pointed out that each propulsion system comes with its pluses and minuses.

“I love outboards,” he said. “Don't take this the wrong way, but they're in the way — whether you have one, two, three or four engines hanging on the back, they're in the way. So there's advantages to sterndrives that solve that problem.”

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