J.D. Power and Associates ranks boats on satisfying new boat owners

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. – Bass Cat, Correct Craft, Cobalt, Grady-White, Manitou, Regal and Sea Ray rank highest in customer satisfaction in the seven boat segments included in the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Boat Competitive Information Study released yesterday.

The study, now in its fifth year, measures owner satisfaction with new boats among 78 boat brands in seven segments: ski/wakeboard, fiberglass bass boats, small runabouts (16 to 19 feet), large runabouts (20 to 29 feet), coastal fishing (17 to 28 feet), pontoons and express cruisers (24 to 33 feet). Overall customer satisfaction index scores are based on performance in nine categories: cabin, engine, ride/handling, helm/instrument panel, design/styling, sound system, maintenance, water sports, and fishing.

The study finds that as expectations among new boat owners increase, overall customer satisfaction has declined in five of the seven boat segments. All of the boat segments decline in product satisfaction, with the exception of large runabouts and express cruisers, which improve slightly from 2005. However, a positive trend with dealer performance continues as customers rate their experiences higher than in past years.

“This is the first dip in product satisfaction that we’ve seen in five years,” said Eric Sorensen, director of the marine practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “This drop is driven in part by an increase in the number of reported problems per boat. In particular, we see a substantial decline in quality in the pontoon and bass boat segments. On a positive note, it appears some of the industry initiatives to improve dealer satisfaction are working, with trending continuously improving over the past four years. The dealership is a crucial component of the boat manufacturer’s success. However, less than one-half of the dealers are offering their customers a test ride, which is a simple way to improve overall sales and product satisfaction.”

While marine sales and service is improving, it still lags behind other industries, including automotive. One of the reasons is a frequent inability to fix the boat right the first time it is brought to the dealer for service. The study finds that service is done correctly 77 percent of the time. Customers who get their boats fixed right the first time are 60 percent more satisfied with their dealers and boats overall.

While the industry is making efforts to grow boating, there has been a decline in the percentage of first-time buyers, falling from 28 percent of all respondents in 2003 to 26 percent in 2006.

“We are seeing a lot of success in the ski/wakeboard segment in attracting new boaters, while pontoons have declined substantially in this area,” Sorensen said.

Six boat brands have been added to the study for 2006: Sailfish, Parker and Sea Boss are included in the coastal fishing segment; Champion in the bass boat segment; and Sunchaser and Bentley in the pontoon segment.

Bass boat segment
For a second consecutive year, Bass Cat ranks highest in the bass boat segment. Ranger, Champion and Triton, respectively, follow Bass Cat in the segment rankings. Bass Cat, Ranger and Champion all received a boost from using high-technology, high-horsepower engines.

Coastal fishing segment (17 to 28 feet)
Grady-White ranks highest in the coastal fishing segment for a fifth consecutive time, receiving the highest segment ratings in the areas of engine and ride/handling, as well as sales satisfaction. Following Grady-White in the rankings are Triton, Parker, Scout and Sailfish, respectively.

Express cruiser segment (24 to 33 feet)
With particularly high ratings in product quality, owner loyalty and dealer sales and service, Sea Ray ranks highest among express cruiser boats for a fourth consecutive time. Regal, with substantial gains from 2005, and Rinker follow Sea Ray in the rankings, respectively.

Pontoon segment
With year-over-year gains in customer satisfaction, Manitou receives its first award, ranking highest in the pontoon boat segment. Bennington, Premier, Harris FloteBote and Aqua Patio, respectively, follow Manitou in the rankings.

Small runabout segment (16 to 19 feet)
Regal ranks highest in the small runabout boat segment with the strongest performance yet seen in this segment, improving substantially in satisfaction and quality from 2005. Four Winns, Crownline, Sea Ray and Glastron, respectively, follow Regal in the segment rankings.

Large runabout segment (20 to 29 feet)
Cobalt ranks highest in the large runabout segment for a fifth consecutive time. Cobalt leads the segment by a wide margin, receiving the highest ratings in all seven feature categories. Regal, Crownline, Sea Ray and Chaparral, respectively, follow Cobalt.

Ski/wakeboard segment
Correct Craft ranks highest in the ski/wakeboard segment for a fourth consecutive time, receiving the highest ratings in five of the seven feature categories. Correct Craft is followed in the segment rankings by MasterCraft, which records considerable improvements in overall satisfaction from 2005.

The 2006 Boat Competitive Information Study is based on responses from 12,255 owners who registered a new boat between June 2004 and May 2005.

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