By David Gee
While doing interviews for an upcoming Market Trends story on outboards, we caught up with Tracy Crocker, president, BRP Marine Group, at the Miami International Boat Show. The following is an unedited transcript of that interview.
Boating Industry: Retail sales for outboards increased for the eighth straight year in 2019, with unit sales reaching a 13-year high. The news is good for outboards right now.
Tracy Crocker: The outboard industry really created a value proposition for the boating consumer that I think has been hard to beat. Value, serviceability, and lots of R & D and innovations. The outboards on the market today are not incrementally better, they are exponentially better, than what you saw years ago. Quality, durability, performance, aesthetics, have all improved dramatically. Every outboard engine manufacturer has been investing in their products and I really think we have all made each other better.
BI: Are you surprised at the growth of outboards?
TC: Not really. Let’s take a look at what the average boater wants. They desire dependability, they want good price value, they want ease of service and so on. When you add all that up it doesn’t surprise me.
BI: What does the recreational boating industry need to do to get more young people interested in – and exposed to - the boating lifestyle?
TC: The more accessible and intuitive we can all make boating the better it will be for everyone. We want to get to the point where people can hop on just about any recreational boat, with any engine set-up, and feel comfortable and confident they can safely get away from the dock and get on the water and enjoy their experience.
It might be different ownership models that get younger people out on the water. I think we are going to continue to see innovative ways to provide more people with access to a boat. That could be a club, it could be subscription-based ownership or joint ownership, or something we haven’t even thought of yet.
BI: How have multi-unit applications changed things for the engine manufacturers?
TC: When you do multiples, even anything twins or beyond, basically any multi-unit, you have to do it in coordination with the boat builder. There has to be a working partnership there from the outset to take into account center of gravity, and certification of the boat and on and on, so there isn’t a scenario where anyone is just bolting four big engines on the back of the boat at the end and calling it good. So there is a lot more collaboration between boat builder and engine builder these days.
BI: Are you bullish about continued growth in the outboard space?
TC: There has probably been more innovation in the past four years than there was formerly in the previous 14. As we allocate our capital, we’re looking at the best ROC we can get obviously, and this segment is very attractive. And by the way, we kind of feel like we’re just getting started.
We are the only company that has direct injection technology across our entire line. We have a digital technology across our entire line. And then we are doing a better job of integrating the motor into the entire boat.
BI: Does that future include electric?
TC: Like every company, we are intrigued by the possibility of electric and the potential role it has to play. I do believe it has a role, we’re just not sure what or how big. There are some limitations right now versus internal combustion engines. But that’s right now. We don’t know what is going to happen with battery technology and that will be the game changer.
I honestly don’t know that we will ever see a day in this country where every recreation boat is electric-powered, but certainly the trajectory is taking us that direction. I think you are going to see a crawl/walk/run scenario, but I do think over time electric is going to be really great for lots of applications. It’s naïve to think that in a decade or so as we walk around a show like Miami that we won’t see lots of electric-powered boats.