A recent sales stat in Soundings Trade Only about the new-boat market caught my eye: "Aluminum boat sales are up." Maybe it was because we'd just launched our Tap Into Summer video contest, but for whatever reason, I started wondering why aluminum sales were bucking the trend of depressed new-boat sales. I contacted our Outboard Expert, Charles Plueddeman, who had just written a piece on two aluminum boat manufacturers ("Lund and Crestliner: Minnesota Nice") and asked him if he'd do a little research. Charles, who's based in Wisconsin, sent us the following report, which reminds us of the benefits of aluminum and also points out some marketplace factors that may be playing a role in this sales trend.
Charles Plueddeman writes:
Boat buyers are turning to tin, according to recent registration data. Sales of aluminum boats were up 9.1 percent for the month of June, while sales of fiberglass boats 14-to-30 feet dropped 21.3 percent, according to a report issued by Statistical Surveys — a provider of market data to the marine industry. The report compared new-boat registrations from June 2009 to those for June 2010 in 28 markets.
Why are buyers turning to aluminum boats? That’s a complicated question with a number of answers. Aarn Rosen, national marine sales manager for Statistical Surveys, points to improved consumer confidence in prime aluminum-boat sales states in the upper Midwest, due to the gradual recovery of the automobile industry. A number of aluminum builders also offered incentive programs this past spring to help dealers clear out excess inventory. Year-to-date, aluminum boats sales are still down 2.9 percent, according to Rosen. He adds that more than half of the gain in aluminum sales was in the pontoon segment, which he feels is taking business from the fiberglass market.
Growing interest in pontoon boats is a reaction to both the economy and a desire for families to go boating together, according to John Metcalf, vice president of marketing at Lowe Boats, which sells both aluminum fishing boats and pontoons.
“A pontoon boat can be a base for quality time for the entire family, “ says Metcalf. “Dad used to want a bass boat so he could get out fishing, and was sort of resigned to buying a pontoon. Now I think families are more interested in sticking together. And you can still fish from a pontoon.”
Metcalf also cites the lower average cost of an aluminum fishing boat compared to a similar fiberglass boat as a factor in the rebound in aluminum boat sales. And because the aluminum boat is also usually lighter in weight, it can be rigged with less outboard power on the transom, further reducing the purchase price.
The anglers who buy the majority of aluminum boats are also passionate about being on the water, even in a bad economy, according to marketing managers we spoke to at several boat brands. But even those customers are looking to stretch a dollar in this economy, and the aluminum builders are responding with new, no-frills models designed to be priced between $8,000 and $12,000.
Lowe will be jumping on this trend with its 2011 Skorpion, a 16-foot 1-inch mod-vee bass boat priced at $7,999 with a trailer and a 20-hp Mercury four-stroke outboard. That motor does not have power trim, but Metcalf says this lightweight hull – just 665 pounds – gets down the lake just fine with this thrifty motor. The Skorpion can be ordered with up to 50 hp, and comes with a MotorGuide trolling motor and 23-gallon livewell.