Q&A with Ben Speciale, President, Yamaha Marine

Over the last several years, Yamaha Marine has rolled out several innovations from its Helm Master integrated boat control system to a variety of new engines.

But even as the company has developed a wave of new products Yamaha has also been one of the biggest industry advocates, lobbying for the industry at the state and national level on a variety of issues.

Leading the team during this most recent period of innovation has been Ben Speciale, who took over as president five years ago this month following the retirement of Phil Dyskow. Before that, Speciale held a number of positions with Yamaha, starting with the company in 1987.

Boating Industry talked to Speciale about some of the trends in outboards, why advocacy is so important for the company and more.


Boating Industry: We’ve been hearing a lot of good early reports so far this year. What are you hearing from your dealers and what are you seeing out there?

Yamaha increased its presence at boats shows, expanding into the Midwest market. So we have been paying careful attention to the results. Though it’s not true of every show, it is safe to say the trend is positive: traffic, leads and sales are all improved compared to last year. Our dealers are telling us the same thing.


Boating Industry: What’s your outlook for the industry for the rest 2015?

Generally, there will be a moderate increase in outboard-powered boat sales this year. It will be single-digit growth unless there is a big move upward in the GDP. But that’s not likely. Saltwater will outpace freshwater in growth.


Boating Industry: Yamaha is obviously in a number of different market segments from pontoons to fishing boats and more. What segments are you most optimistic about?

We see growth in the saltwater categories, mostly because boat builders have invested a lot of resources in redesigning their saltwater lines, and consumers are responding. That trend is clear from recent boat shows, particularly Miami. For us, this will really drive the sale of larger outboards, such as the Yamaha F200 and our line of 4.2-liter V6 Offshore outboards, and Helm Master.

As for the freshwater markets, consumers will continue to buy up. They want products that are feature rich. While that may not drive segment volume much higher, it will mean higher profitability for the dealers and boat builders.


Boating Industry: Outboard sales continue to outpace the sterndrive segment. Why do you think we’ve seen such a stronger recovery on the outboard side? 

Outboards tend to be purchased by the more serious boaters. As the market is still in a recovery phase since the Great Recession, these are the consumers who are stepping back in and buying new today, versus first-time new boat buyers.

The more serious consumers understand features that add value to the experience. Outboard designs have continued to advance, and this is exciting to serious uses of the products. Features such as four valves per cylinder, dual overhead cams, and variable camshaft timing appeal to knowledgeable boat owners. Yamaha will continue to expand the features in our products that add value for the serious boater.


Boating Industry: Do you expect that trend to continue? Why?

We expect the trend to continue. Consumers always want more, not fewer, features in their new products that add real value to their experience.


Boating Industry: In your opinion, what are potential obstacles to continued growth this year for the industry?

I do not see a lot of obstacles to growth this year, other than weather or localized economic challenges. Dealers who provide a stepped up level of service for their existing customers and have good knowledge of product features and benefits should see positive growth.


Boating Industry: Yamaha has always been very involved in government and regulatory issues. Why is that important to the company?

In your earlier question, you asked about obstacles to growth for this year. An obstacle to growth for the next five to 20 years is regulation and the unanticipated results of legislation. We manage that by being involved in government and regulatory issues now. Our reasoning is pretty simple: if we don’t participate in the political process, we will slowly but surely lose our industry. Legislators need to know about our marine issues. We all have to engage to protect our wonderful industry.


Boating Industry: What are some of the key issues you’re focused on this year?

Seventy percent of those who boat also fish. That statistic is important, and everyone should understand it. If our customers can’t fish, they won’t be buying many boats. Therefore, fisheries issues are at the top of our legislative agenda, particularly the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act.

Another issue that affects us is ethanol. We need to win the battle to cap ethanol at 10 percent. All 10 million marine motors currently in use will be damaged by E15. We can’t let E15 become the predominate fuel.

Finally, we made great progress as an industry working together on current engine emission regulations. We need to be sure future emission regulations are sensible and logical.

These are the major issues. More important is that we need to make sure others in the marine industry get involved. That’s why we developed Yamaha Marine Advocacy, a system that allows our dealers and boat builders to send e-mails to their elected officials making them aware of the industry’s position on these issues.


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