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Industry as a whole sees scores decline

Industry as a whole sees scores decline

Customer satisfaction among new-boat owners has slipped, according to J.D. Power and Associates’ annual Boat Competitive Information Study. But while consumers might not be as happy with their boats, survey respondents rated their dealer experience higher than in years past.

“This is the first dip in product satisfaction that we’ve seen in five years,” says Eric Sorensen, director of J.D. Power’s marine practice. He says a combination of higher customer expectations and declining quality — manifested in problems reported per boat — has driven the decline.

Overall customer satisfaction dipped in five of the study’s seven boat segments, with large runabouts and express cruisers the exceptions. And while sales and service are improving, the marine industry lags behind the automotive and motorcycle industries in that respect.

The study found that service is performed correctly just 77 percent of the time. Customers whose boats are fixed properly the first time are 60 percent more satisfied with their dealers and boats overall. Sorensen also suggests more dealers should offer sea trials.

The builders that score highest on product quality typically also score on top in sales and service. “It’s virtually impossible to do well overall, and not do well on sales and service,” says Sorensen. “Some of the reasons these brands like Grady-White, Cobalt and Correct Craft do well is because they have very strong dealer organizations.”

The engines that power those new boats fared well in the survey, with boat owners reporting fewer engine-related problems when compared to the 2005 study. Electronic fuel-injection engines rank highest in satisfaction, with EFI inboards just edging out EFI 4-stroke outboards for the No. 1 rank. Direct injection 2-stroke engines aren’t far behind the EFI inboards and 4-strokes. Carbureted 2-stroke outboards are lagging behind, and the gap between EFI and carbureted 4-stroke outboards continues to widen, according to J.D. Power.

The new supercharged 4-stroke Mercury Verado outboards will have a large enough sample size to make the 2007 study, says Todd Markusic, director of powersports research at J.D. Power. So far Verado’s satisfaction and quality scores are up there with the best in its class, Markusic says.

Here are the winners of J.D. Power’s 2006 Boat Competitive Information Study and Marine Engine Competitive Information Study.

BOATS

• Bass boat: Bass Cat Boats, Mountain Home, Ark. Phone: (870) 481-5135. www.basscat.com

• Coastal fishing: Grady-White Boats, Greenville, N.C. Phone: (252) 752-2111. www.gradywhite.com

• Express cruiser (24 to 33 feet): Sea Ray Boats, Knoxville, Tenn. Phone: (865) 522-4181. www.searay.com

• Pontoon: Manitou Pontoon Boats, Lansing, Mich. Phone: (517) 322-3822. www.manitouboats.com

• Small runabout (16 to 19 feet): Regal Marine Industries, Orlando, Fla. Phone: (407) 851-4360. www.regalboats.com

• Large runabout (20 to 29 feet): Cobalt Boats, Neodesha, Kan. Phone: (620) 325-2653. www.cobaltboats.com

• Ski/wakeboard: Correct Craft, Orlando, Fla. Phone: (407) 855-4141. www.correctcraft.com

ENGINES

• EFI inboard: Pleasurecraft Marine Engine Group, Little Mountain, S.C. Phone: (803) 345-1337.

www.pleasurecraft.com

• EFI sterndrive: Mercury MerCruiser, Stillwater, Okla. Phone: (405) 743-6566. www.mercurymarine.com

• 4-stroke EFI outboard: Honda Marine, Alpharetta, Ga. Phone: (678) 339-2600. www.honda-marine.com

• 2-stroke DI outboard: Mercury Marine, Fond du Lac, Wis. Phone: (920) 929-5040. www.mercurymarine.com