Businesses fear rise in boat engine prices

November 06, 1994|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

New federal clean-air standards for marine engines that were proposed last week could sharply increase the prices of those engines and drive potential customers away from an industry just coming out of a slump, marine business operators said last week.

Moreover, the standards unfairly single out people who already are environmentally conscious, the businessmen said.

"The boaters are more conscious of emitting fuels and gas than people think they are," said Rick Gunther, service manager of Wilkins Yacht Sales. "The people are doing a damn good job on their own. I've been around boats all my life -- 30 years -- and people are more conscious than I've ever seen."

"I can understand the cars," said John Dillon, general manager of Hartley Marine, which sells and services outboard engines. "It doesn't make any sense for boats, but I guess the government has to do something."

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed last week emission standards that would force the boating industry to create cleaner-burning engines.

The EPA proposal, which would be phased in over nine years beginning in 1998, aims to reduce hydrocarbon emission in new outboard engines by 75 percent and nitrogen oxide emission from diesel engines by 37 percent.

Existing engines would not be affected. But the announcement comes as the boating industry is just crawling out of the recession and the effect of a 10 percent luxury tax passed by Congress in 1990 and repealed last year.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the combination battered the industry. Boat sales declined from $17.9 billion in 1988 to $11.3 billion last year, and employment in the industry dropped from 600,000 to 400,000 today.

The new standards would drive up the cost of outboard engines by 15 percent and the price of personal watercraft by 10 percent, industry experts said.

"The biggest thing it will do is scare a lot of people away," Mr. Gunther said. "You'll probably be looking at twice the price because we'll have to buy test equipment."

Watermen worried that they would feel the brunt of the regulations because they buy more engines than pleasure boaters do.

"Sounds like a bunch of bureaucrats who don't have anyone to pick on," said Bob Evans, president of the Anne Arundel County Waterman's Association. "It's just a joke."

Industry experts said the EPA announcement comes as no surprise.

"This is something that was not unexpected," said Beth Kahr, administrative director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland Inc. "The industry is pretty much up to speed on what needs to be done."

Engine manufacturers already have started working on designs for the new engines and may develop programs to trade in old engines for new ones to keep costs down, Ms. Kahr said.

"Any time there is this kind of imposed technology, there is always a sticker shock," she said.

Some boat engine dealers say the price increase might not be so bad after all because the new engines are more efficient and should reduce operating costs.

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