Honda Marine recently invited a group of boating journalists to Georgia’s Lake Oconee to try out the company’s full line of engines from 2.3 to 250 hp.
Although the company didn’t introduce any new models at the event, the company says there is more coming although details were sparse.
Boating Industry took the opportunity to talk to group manager Mark DiPietro about some of the trends the company is seeing and what’s coming down the pike.
Boating Industry: You didn’t introduce any new product this week, but I’m sure you’re working on some. What can you tell us about that?
DiPietro: We’re very keenly aware of what’s going on in the marketplace … the product that’s coming, what’s selling, what competitors are doing. Right now, what Honda Marine is focused on is generating more awareness of our current product. We have lots of stuff going on in the background. We’re very private about what we do on the R&D front.
We’re working on lots of new stuff, but we can’t really talk about schedule or timing.
Boating Industry: We’ve seen the whole industry impacted by the growth in popularity of pontoons. How has that affected Honda?
DiPietro: The pontoon market is a very good market for us. It’s one of the boat types that transcends the regionality of the boat business in the U.S. We think there’s still more continued growth, although it’s hard to say it’s going to continue at its current rate. It’s been very good for Honda. Our mid-range lineup – the 40 through 150 – really lines up exceptionally well with that.
Boating Industry: You really seem to be emphasizing Honda’s breadth of products, not just marine, but cars, jets, robotics, everything else. Why is that important?
DiPietro: We feel that what we have could be mutually beneficial [to the industry]. We want more people to come into boating and we know that’s been very difficult. The Honda name is the strongest brand name in the business. For people that wouldn’t normally consider boating, we want them to be more comfortable with boating.
The Honda name is recognized by people from their cars or they’re motorcycle enthusiasts or they have a Honda lawnmower. That’s why we want to tell people this is the same Honda, the same dedication we have to quality and reliability and durable products, we have that in the marine business, so you should buy a boat – with a Honda engine, of course!
We really think there’s a way to draw people into boating using the comfort of the Honda name.
Boating Industry: We talked about pontoons specifically, but what are some of the other trends you’re seeing affecting how boaters use your engines?
DiPietro: Everyone is seeing from the NMMA data that the larger horsepower segments are growing the most, so we’re investing more in updating the BF250 … to make it more beneficial for offshore applications and help us continue to ride that wave.
Boating Industry: What’s your outlook for the market for the rest of this year and in 2015?
DiPietro: The marine market in general, we see it having slow and continued growth. This year, when you have a market like the Great Lakes that was frozen over for the first three months of the year, it can be tough. You’re trying to squeeze in a lot of action in a much shorter time frame. We’re very optimistic that it is going to continue to grow at a steady rate.
As long as the U.S. economy is growing, we’ll be doing fine.
Boating Industry: What do you see as the biggest threats to continued growth for the industry?
DiPietro: Gasoline prices are the biggest thing right now. It seems like the U.S. economy has found a way to move forward. Nothing’s taking off like a rocket ship; it’s not a typical recovery from a recession.
What would make people hold off that in a position to buy a boat? Do you want to fill up a 200-gallon tank at $5 to $6 a gallon at a marina? You’ll be using your boat less and probably not happy about it when you use it.
Boating Industry: On the flipside, what are the things that make you optimistic about the market?
DiPietro: The resilience, that fact that it is a slow recovery, but everyone seems to be growing well. The mid-range product out there seems to be growing. Paddle sports are more popular than ever. It’s important to find ways to couple with those in some way or another.