Our Outboard Expert, Charles Plueddeman, lives in Wisconsin, and has been keeping track of some recent boat-company movements. Here's his report on the long-standing Glastron brand, which crossed a state line or two from Minnesota and began production again in June.
Charles Plueddeman writes: They are building Glastron boats in Michigan now. A DS 205 deck boat was the first Glastron to roll off an assembly line in Cadillac, where the brand formerly built in Minnesota now shares a production facility with Four Winns and Wellcraft. The three brands make up the Recreational Boat Group division of Project Boat Holdings, which also acquired Ranger, Champion, and Stratos in the wake of the bankruptcy last year of Genmar.
An industry veteran, Roch Lambert, will lead the operation in Cadillac. Lambert, age 47, spent 16 years working at the Canadian firm Bombardier and its spin-off, BRP, managing at various times Sea-Doo sport boats, Sea-Doo watercraft, and perhaps most notably reviving the Evinrude brand. He left BRP in Oct. 2009.
We recently had a chance to ask Lambert about the challenge of moving Glastron and the future of pleasure boating.
Do you plan to make any changes to the Glastron brand as its manufacturing moves to Michigan?
“We won’t be using the Genmar VEC (closed molding) process, so we’ve had to make new molds for all of the Glastron boats,” said Lambert. “This gave us the opportunity to make some improvements, for example to get better gel coat and a smoother finish in storage areas. There will be no changes in the model line, but we may add some value with new packages. Glastron’s position in the market will stay the same.”
How will the process of shopping for a boat be different in the future?
"The role of the Internet will continue to grow as a tool for consumer research," said Lambert. "By the time a consumer comes to a dealership or a boat show today, he or she is only shopping for a few models, so as a company and as dealers, we need have an engaging website. Because it’s now difficult for dealers to stock the larger boats offered by Four Winns, we are looking at setting up demo opportunities with company-owned boats in several locations around the country, where the customer can see and test drive the cruisers, even in the winter in some locations. We may fly a qualified customer to the demo site."
What changes do you see ahead for boating in the future?
"A big change that’s just around the corner will come when we can no longer sell entry-level boats powered by affordable sterndrive engines with carburetors," said Lambert. "This is coming in 2011, when we will have to start building all of these boats with engines equipped with fuel injection and exhaust catalysts, which will add $4,000 to $4,500 to the retail cost of the boat, which is huge on a 17-foot runabout. When that happens, I think a used boat becomes the new entry-level boat until all the good used boats are gone. The alternative is to switch to outboard power on these smaller family boats. With an outboard, you can get the same performance with less power. We need to convince the customer that’s OK, and to design new runabouts that handle and perform well with a smaller outboard."