As the affordable, versatile pontoon gains in popularity, are some OEMs setting themselves up to fail?
Anybody involved in the marine industry knows how hot pontoon sales have been. Some companies are having difficulty keeping up with demand, and the category has become the brightest spot in a marine industry that’s still waiting for its roaring recovery.
There’s no mistaking the appeal of pontoons, whether for casual family fun, empty nester wine-and-cheese cruising or even entry-level water sports activities. With more powerful outboards and the advent of better handling triple toons, manufacturers have done a great job broadening the category and adding compelling features.
As I’m setting out to conduct interviews for an upcoming long-form article on the pontoon category, I have to wonder how much of the pontoon popularity is based on the affordability that remains within the category’s lower echelons.
The way I see it, even when pontoons are capable for towable sports, wouldn’t you rather have a sport-specific boat that looks the part? You can certainly do better for a fishing boat, as well. But then again, no other craft is such a generalist, able to be OK at many things, and great at bringing a crowd on a leisurely cruise — or a fast cruise, for that matter, with the right engine.
It’s easy for an industry to overreact when something is popular. When the Scion xB (that ugly, boxy toaster-like thing that was all over the roads in the early 2000s), so many manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon thinking they were the key to success with a “young, active demographic.” As it turns out, they primarily appealed to retirees who liked the smart packing, taller-than-a-car ride height and cargo space. Many stepped to the plate with knockoffs (Nissan Cube, anyone?) but have since been axed from their respective lineups.
My question with pontoons, one I hope to answer with my story, is if their success is a reaction of people to high prices and at risk of becoming a fading fad, or if their utility and versatility has truly taken off and the high sales figures are here to stay.