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J.D. Power and Associates Reports: Customer Satisfaction among New Boat Owners Increases across Most Segments.

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. -- Bass Cat, Bennington, Cobalt, Correct Craft, Crownline, Chaparral, Grady-White and Sea Ray Rank Highest in Overall Satisfaction in Their Respective Boat Segments

Customer satisfaction with the product, and the sales and service experiences among new-boat owners increases as the boating industry continues to make strides in building better boats and improving the overall ownership experience, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Boat Competitive Information Study(SM) released today.

"There is still much to be done in the marine industry, but the positive trends are certainly encouraging," said Eric Sorensen, director of the marine practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "We're especially pleased to see substantial customer satisfaction and product quality improvements among a number of boat brands as they increasingly put the voice of the customer to work within their operations."

The study measures customer satisfaction among owners who have purchased a new boat across seven boat segments and some 70 boat brands. Overall customer satisfaction has improved compared to the 2003 study(1) with the bass, ski/wakeboard, coastal fishing and pontoon segments showing the greatest improvements overall.

"Among the three key components of the boating experience, satisfaction with service has improved the most since 2003, followed by satisfaction with the sales experience, and then the actual boat itself," said Sorensen. "We see a substantial improvement in overall engine satisfaction, and a good deal of that progress is due to the increasing percentage of high-technology engines, especially electronic fuel injected (EFI) four-stroke outboards, direct injected (DI) two-stroke outboards, EFI sterndrives and EFI inboards."

The study finds that not only are owners reporting fewer problems with their new boats than in previous years, but they are also experiencing fewer problems than they expected.

"Over the past four years, we have consistently seen a correlation among product quality, overall satisfaction with the boat and loyalty to the boat builder," said Sorensen. "Among the comparable problems reported in the 2003 study, there has been a decline of .42 problems per boat, and this higher product quality certainly helps explain the increase in customer satisfaction in 2005. Customer-reported problems have dropped most in the bass boat, coastal fishing and pontoon segments compared to 2003."

Consistency among brands is also a clear hallmark of the study, as most of the 2005 highest-ranked boat brands also achieved top rankings in earlier studies. Among brands receiving a J.D. Power and Associates award for customer satisfaction, six repeat as the highest-ranked brand in their segments, with Cobalt (large runabout) and Grady-White (coastal fishing) leading their respective segments for the fourth consecutive time. Correct Craft (ski/wakeboard), Bennington (pontoon) and Sea Ray (express cruiser) rank highest for the third consecutive time. Crownline ties with Chaparral for the highest ranking in the small runabout segment, with each brand ranking highest once previously. Bass Cat, which is included in the study for the first time, ranks highest in the bass boat segment.

"Boat manufacturers that truly listen to the voice of the customer and make improvements to keep up with the constantly rising expectations of their customers are rewarded with consistently high satisfaction scores and, ultimately, customer loyalty to the brand," said Sorensen. "It's more apparent than ever that merely staying at the same level of product quality and customer satisfaction is not enough to remain competitive."

The study includes seven segments: fiberglass bass boats, small runabouts (16-19 feet), large runabouts (20-29 feet), express cruisers (24-33 feet), coastal fishing (17-28 feet), pontoons and ski/wakeboard boats. Overall customer satisfaction index scores are based on performance in nine categories: cabin; engine; ride/handling; helm/instrument panel; design/styling; sound system; maintenance; water sports; and fishing(2).

Fiberglass bass boat segment

Bass Cat, included in the study for the first time, outranks previous awardee Ranger by a close margin in the fiberglass bass boat segment, with high ratings from customers for ride/handling, engine performance and maintenance. Skeeter and Triton, respectively, follow Bass Cat and Ranger in the segment rankings.

Coastal fishing boat segment (17 to 28 feet)

Grady-White ranks highest in the coastal fishing boat segment, receiving the highest ratings in eight of nine satisfaction factors. Following Grady-White in the rankings are Triton, Scout, Key West and Boston Whaler, respectively.

Express cruiser boat segment (24 to 33 feet)

Sea Ray ranks highest among express cruiser boats, receiving particularly high ratings from its owners in cabin, maintenance and sound system. Rinker follows Sea Ray in the rankings.

Pontoon boat segment

Bennington ranks highest in the pontoon boat segment, with particularly high ratings for ride/handling, maintenance and sound system. Aqua Patio, Harris FloteBote, Premier and Manitou, respectively, follow Bennington in the rankings.

Small runabout segment (16 to 19 feet)

Crownline and Chaparral rank highest in a tie in the small runabout boat segment. Crownline receives strong ratings for the boat's exterior and ride/handling, while Chaparral performs particularly well in engine performance. Four Winns and Sea Ray, respectively, follow in the segment rankings.

Large runabout segment (20 to 29 feet)

Cobalt ranks highest in the large runabout segment, outperforming other brands in the segment in all factors, with particularly high marks for design/styling and ride/handling. Regal, Sea Ray and Crownline, respectively, follow Cobalt in the segment rankings.

Ski/wakeboard segment

Correct Craft ranks highest in the ski/wakeboard segment, with particularly high ratings in engine satisfaction and design/styling. Correct Craft is followed in the segment rankings by Malibu and MasterCraft, respectively.

The 2005 Boat Competitive Information Study is based on responses from 12,530 owners who registered a new boat between March 2003 and May 2004.

A more comprehensive listing of results by boat brand can be found online at the J.D. Power Consumer Center at http://www.jdpower.com/cc/boats/boatratings.jsp

Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is an ISO 9001-registered global marketing information services firm operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. Media e-mail contact: michael.greywitt@jdpa.com or john.tews@jdpa.com

No advertising or other promotional use can be made of the information in this release without the express prior written consent of J.D. Power and Associates. www.jdpower.com

(1) Due to a change in the surveying period of new-boat owners, a 2004 study was not issued.

(2) Not all segments include every factor.
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Date:Feb 17, 2005
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