Cobalt developing an express cruiser line

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Saltwater models beyond 36 feet allow owners to move up while staying in the Cobalt family

Saltwater models beyond 36 feet allow owners to move up while staying in the Cobalt family

High-end small-boat builder Cobalt Boats has announced its entrance into the express cruiser market with a new venture called Cobalt Yachts.

The Neodesha, Kan.-based manufacturer of runabouts and sport cruisers will build the larger boats, for the 2007 model year, at a site to be determined. The decision to build larger vessels comes in response to several years of customer demand, and the recent success of a 36-foot model, the company says.

“We’ve been seeing customers defect from our brand once we run out of size,” says Constantinos (Cos) Constantinou, who will head the new division.

“We have consistently over the last several years [been] getting requests from Cobalt owners who’ve grown up in the line,” says Cobalt founder Pack St. Clair. “You spend a lot of effort, money and resources getting that customer the first time. What we’re finding is we’re losing our customers as they get up in size range.”

This has caused Cobalt frustration, he says.

“So we’re pretty excited about being able to offer our customers a boat in that larger size,” says St. Clair.

The largest model previously on offer, the Cobalt 360, is a narrow-beam boat with sterndrive power, while the new express cruisers are described as wide-beam cruising boats. The line is expected to range in size up to 50 feet; a final decision on propulsion has not been made.

“As we developed our 36 some years ago, we saw the resources of our company being tapped and straining our bread and butter, which is our 20-footers,” says St. Clair.

At press time the company was near closing a contract on a factory in the Southeast. Cobalt chose the region for its proximity to a majority of the target market and the availability of skilled labor.

The 360 will be deleted from the Cobalt line for the 2006 model year.

Boats in the Cobalt Yachts line will be larger than 36 feet, Constantinou says, though he declined to be specific.

“They will certainly be built for saltwater use in open waters,” says the Cobalt Yachts president.

In general, Cobalt management feels the market has enough express cruisers, St. Clair says. “This is not a competitive strategy, this is a Cobalt growth strategy,” he says. “We want to offer something for the discriminating buyer who wants to buy something outside the mainstream.”

Boaters in this segment have the buying power and want to own something special, and shy away from the ubiquity of the most popular brands, he reasons.

Another consideration was continuity of design within the Cobalt Boats line.

“We wanted to make sure the design DNA of our smaller boats carried over to our larger boats — not only on paper, but from a distance,” Constantinou says.

An “accomplished professional designer” is working in conjunction with an internal team of Cobalt engineers on the project, he says.

Constantinou says buyers can expect the new Cobalt flagship to be priced somewhat higher than the mainstream, but feature the same quality, fit and finish Cobalt has earned a reputation for with its small boats.

Cobalt also brings with it a strong dealer network.

“We’ve always felt we’ve needed to be in that market, and our dealers are well aware of the opportunities and lost opportunities,” says St. Clair.

The ball got rolling from the moment Constantinou arrived on the scene. Pack St. Clair and his son Paxson — current president of Cobalt Boats — met with Constantinou over dinner to discuss running the sales department at Cobalt Boats. After spending a couple days with Constantinou, Pack St. Clair says, it became apparent that this could be the opportunity to put together a team to get the new division off the ground.

“Cos has a great background in big boats,” says St. Clair. Constantinou served in a number of management positions at Knoxville, Tenn.-based Sea Ray Boats for a decade. “It was the inspiration of Cos joining the company that we felt comfortable going ahead with the new venture.”

Constantinou was brought on board as Cobalt Boats’ senior vice president of sales and marketing, and immersed in the company culture in Neodesha.

“Cos is full-time now working on developing new products and putting together a team,” says St. Clair. “I’m going to work with Cos as Paxson spends time running our Cobalt [Boats] operation.”

The work is well under way, not just finding a suitable plant site, but attracting skilled employees.

“We’re in full interviewing, recruiting and hiring mode,” says Constantinou. The company is expected to launch Cobalt Yachts with a relatively small work force, then expand as the division grows.

Though the task ahead is challenging, Constantinou admits, he and St. Clair are laying the groundwork in a very methodical manner.

“We are quite far down the road in terms of our first two models,” says St. Clair. www.cobaltboats.com