Gone But Not Forgotten- The Boat Brands We Loved That Are No More (Part 9)
The Motoryacht Movement with Maxum, Meridian, Carver & Marquis
In my over forty years in the pleasure boat industry, there have been literally thousands of boat companies and brand names of boats in North America.
Some of these were and are strictly regional brands not known or recognized in the rest of the continent but many were national and even international brands known to most of us diehard boaters.
It is those well known and recognized brands that are no longer with us that I look forward to examining in this series. These brand names may still be corporately held in reserve but are not known to currently be in production.
* * * * *
In 1986, the Boat Group division of Brunswick Corporation, makers of Mercury outboard motors and MerCruiser sterndrive engines, purchased Sea Ray boats. They quickly followed up in the same year with the purchase of Bayliner. Both Sea Ray and Bayliner had been vying back and forth for a few years as to which was the largest pleasure boat manufacturer in the world. Now Brunswick would undoubtedly be number one.
Sea Ray and Bayliner had also been perceived, rightly or wrongly by the boating industry, and more importantly by the boating public, as representing not necessarily the extremes, but relative opposite ends of the pleasure boat market in terms of desirability, price point, and quality. It was akin in those days to the positioning of General Motors and the Buick vs. Chevrolet argument.
Based on this market perception, Brunswick thought there may be room for a boat brand positioned between Sea Ray and Bayliner, just as General Motors had Pontiac and Oldsmobile positioned between its other two brands. Just two years after the acquisition of Sea Ray and Bayliner, in 1988 Brunswick created the Maxum brand for exactly that purpose.
Building out of a Bayliner facility in Pipestone, Minnesota, in 1989 Maxum Marine offered eight models from 16-23 feet. Growth as well as market acceptance of Maxum was slow, as many Maxum hulls were the same as Bayliner hulls but with different decks and inner liners. The public was confused. As Maxum offerings grew in size to include mid-cabin express cruisers and eventually full cruisers, production facilities were added in Salisbury, Maryland.
In 1999, ten years after its formation, Maxum was offering 18 models from 18-46 feet. This was a prelude to a 2000 news conference when Maxum introduced its all new “curvy and sexy-looking” 3500 SCR cruiser, the first Maxum to be designed independently from Bayliner with a distinct brand identity and independence.
In that news conference, Dave Heiss, Maxum’s Manager of Advertising and Marketing, said, "Now we can grow each brand's personality independent of the other." Production was extended to include facilities in Valdosta, Georgia and Miami, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, it seems that maybe the 10 years of public perception and confusion between brands had solidified in the marketplace because Maxum did not perform as anticipated. In 2001, the Valdosta facilities were sold and the Miami, Oklahoma facility closed down as the events of 9/11 resulted in a severe downturn in the pleasure boat industry.
Maxum announced a re-invigoration of its lineup in 2002 but it was too little, too late. By 2009, it had cut back its product offerings to 12 models from 18-37 feet. But damage had also been done by the horrendous financial downturn of 2008 and, after a 20-plus year run, Maxum boats were discontinued in 2009.
* * * * *
The downturn in Maxum sales in 2001 was reflected in almost the entire industry, including almost across the board in the Brunswick Boat Group. Bayliner was building over 50 models in five series of boats and its sales were hit hard. It was also building larger and larger boats up to almost 60 feet and not paying enough attention to the smaller boats in its lineup that had always been its winning formula.
2002 was the final year for Bayliner Motoryachts. In 2003, Brunswick launched its Meridian line of yachts out of Bayliner’s old yacht and former headquarters location in Arlington, Washington. Meridian started with the old Bayliner lineup of seven models of sedans, flybridges, and pilothouse motoryachts from 34-58 feet, with the direction and intention of gradually re-tooling the lineup.
This would include not only new and more aggressive designs but also new materials and hardware to bring the Meridian brand closer to Sea Ray and its perception quality. All Meridian models were equipped with Brunswick’s new Docking on Command™ system of utilizing bow and stern thrusters under a single control.
Sales rebounded under the new direction but the financial downturn of 2008 caused more rationalization of Brunswick’s facilities, including the closing of the Arlington plant and all Meridian production moving to Florida. In 2011, it was claimed that Meridian had the best selling sedan and flybridge cruisers in the United States for the past five years.
It was not enough, though, and by 2018 Brunswick Corp. announced the end of not only Meridian Yachts but also the yacht and sport yacht models of Sea Ray. It must be noted here that both Bayliner and Sea Ray continue to this day both as major manufacturers of pleasure boats.
As a post-script, while we are dealing with Bayliner and its many changes in product lines over the years, there are a couple of series (at least) that have come and gone over the years – series that many boaters will remember with fondness.
One series is the Avanti series of more upscale mid-cabin express cruisers and flybridge boats from 29-40 feet from the years 1987 to 1999. The second series is a personal favourite of mine and one that has attracted almost a cult-like following from long-range cruisers. That series is the Pilothouse Motoryacht models 4588, 4788, 5288, and 5788 built in various of those lengths between 1985 and 2002, and of course continued under Meridian in 2003 and until model changes were made.
* * * * *
It is difficult for me to believe that Carver Yachts, one of the most popular and recognizable motor yacht brands found almost everywhere for decades might no longer be with us. It was said to have closed its doors permanently in mid-2021. Its huge production facilities in Pulaski, Wisconsin, which it shared with Marquis Yachts, was almost simultaneously purchased by KCS International, parent company of Cruisers Yachts of nearby Oconto, Wisconsin.
Charlie Carter and George Verhagen put the three first letters of each of their last names together to create the “Carver” name in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1954. Their first designs were mahogany planked runabouts. As sales grew, in 1956 they moved operations to Pulaski, a short distance northwest of Green Bay.
In the 1960’s, Carver recognized the growing consumer demand for “family-sized” overnighters and built roomy boats to satisfy that market. It recognized the growing demand for flybridge models as well. By 1971, Carver was offering seven models from 21-31 feet, all of which were built from wood.
By the mid-70's, Carver introduced fiberglass hulls but still with wooden superstructures. It first introduced its Mariner series at this time, one of the roomiest boats on the market with loads of indoor living space all on one level. It also came with a huge flybridge which had the only helm control station. The Carver 33-Mariner of the 1970’s satisfied both consumer boating needs and was a huge sales success. The Mariner series expanded over the years while keeping its original successful design philosophies.
By the 1980’s, Carver had grown worldwide into a major builder of what became referred to as motor yachts. The 32 and 36 flybridge aft cabin motor yachts became synonymous with Carver as boat owners enjoyed the privacy of an aft cabin stateroom with a private head compartment, while guests slept at the extreme other end of the boat in the bow.
In 1985, Carver was purchased by Miramar Marine Corp which soon added another production facility in North Carolina. Carver then started building Miramar’s new acquisition of Californian Yachts and offering them through its vast worldwide dealer network. In 1990, Carver offered a substantial lineup of 30 models from 22-55 feet including six Californian models. Sales topped out over $200 million.
The federal luxury tax of early 1991 along with an economic turndown almost crippled Carver. Buyout specialist Irwin Jacobs worked his magic and by the end of the year had assembled Miramar along with Carver into his Genmar Industries. A few years later, this became Genmar Holdings, Inc. which evolved into one of the world’s largest pleasure boat manufacturers.
In 1992, Genmar purchased Trojan Yachts of Pennsylvania and moved the tooling and molds to Pulaski to build the yachts there. Trojan’s lineup ranged from 30-46 foot express and sport cruisers, but unfortunately it did not last long. California Yachts was sold. Meanwhile, Carver started to rebound under new management and with the repeal of the luxury tax a year later.
The late-90's saw consumer demand wanting luxurious interior accommodations and Carver was happy to oblige. By the end of the 1990’s it introduced its ultra-luxurious 53 and 57 Voyager Pilothouse motor yachts with their ”skylounge” helm station with powered Captain’s chair, huge flybridge, solid finished cherrywood cabinetry throughout, leatherette furniture, and plush carpeting.
Following this success, Carver saw the need for even more luxury and better sales in European and offshore markets. In 2002, it started working with the Italian design team of Nuvolari & Lenard. This resulted in Carver building new upscale European designed Nuvari yachts from a new facility in Fano, Italy. With this background, in 2004, Carver created Marquis Yachts as an even more upscale line with European influences built in the Pulaski facilities. Originally, Marquis offered two models, the 59-foot and 65-foot motor yachts, and their success led to a full line from 42-72 feet.
In the same year, 2004, the Genmar Holdings, Inc. portfolio included 18 boat brands, but the financial crisis of 2008 had a devastating cumulative effect resulting in its bankruptcy. At the subsequent auction in 2010, Platinum Equity Group purchased the bulk of the brands, while Irwin Jacobs and a partner purchased Carver and Marquis Yachts. Shortly thereafter they added the Larson group to form the Marquis-Larson Boat Group consisting of six brands: Marquis, Carver, Larson, Larson FX, Larson Escape, and Striper.
After all of these changes, Carver tried to revitalize itself with some striking new designs which didn’t catch on with the market. In 2019, Larson, FX, Escape, and Striper were sold to the Polaris Group. For 2021, Carver was offering only six models from 34-52 feet, none of which had any resemblance to the Carver models which had excelled in the marketplace in the past.
Carver and Marquis were closed in summer of 2021. The extensive Pulaski manufacturing facilities were purchased by KCS International of nearby Oconto, the parent company of Cruisers Yachts, builders of 16 models from 33-60 feet. This company was then almost immediately purchased by MarineMax, the largest recreational boat dealership company with a hundred locations worldwide. Cruisers Yachts continues to excel.