FLIPPIN, Ark. (AP) -- A venture by Ranger Boats into the aluminum boat market marches on with a roll-out scheduled next month for two V-hull models.
Ranger Boats President Randy Hopper says most of 370 boat dealers in the Fishing Holdings LLC organization have taken quickly to the new aluminum models manufactured here.
The new Ranger VS Series will come in 16.8- and 17.8-foot lengths, with the larger boat powered by a 115-horsepower outboard motor and the smaller powered by a 75-hp motor. The ready-to-fish models are expected to retail slightly less than $25,000 for the larger boat and just under $21,000 for the smaller version.
The VS Series will be an addition to 14 variations of aluminum bass and hunting boats that make up the Tournament Aluminum Series under Triton and Ranger brand names. The TA Series is built on the modified V-hull pattern.
The new aluminum business is a point of pride, says Hopper, for the Ranger employees who created the famous Ranger fiberglass models and hadn't ventured into construction with aluminum before December 2012.
"There's a certain amount of pride and excitement that comes with creating something from the ground up," Hopper said recently. "I think it's a testament to our area — that we have people who can make this happen."
Fishing Holdings LLC added major new engineering expertise in aluminum with the acquisition in 2010 of Triton Boats, one of Ranger's top competitors, that had long been engaged in aluminum boat building. Product developers idled in The Great Recession joined the Tournament Aluminum effort. On Tuesday, Hopper said the Ranger-Triton aluminum plant employed 70, up from a construction crew of six when the plant turned out the first boats in the TA Series in December 2012.
Six months ago the TA Series plant produced about 100 boats and trailers a month. On Tuesday, the pace was 270 a month, The Baxter Bulletin reported (http://bit.ly/16TM5SQ).
The deep V-hull boat pattern, long a favorite with anglers in northern states, is expected to bring aluminum boats made in Flippin to all Ranger and Triton showrooms, Hopper said. The deep V-hull pattern is a growth category.
"We are starting to see a migration south with these models," Hopper said. "It may be a northern influence showing up down here, but lots of fishermen like these boats."
The flagship fiberglass plant, located about a mile away from the aluminum plant, continues to produce about 20 boats and trailers a day in any one of dozens of Ranger, Triton and Stratus models.
The two operations together employed about 850 workers, which brings the Flippin operations back to pre-recession levels as an employer.
Hopper said he likes the prospects for aluminum boats built in Flippin going forward. The aluminum market is four times bigger than the fiberglass market where Fishing Holdings LLC, with Ranger, Triton and Stratus brands, owns 47 percent of the market.
"We're not on the radar screen with aluminum yet, but we have a distribution and dealer network that will take us there," he said.
Last week, a fourth painting room was being added to accommodate the new V-hull models. A new pressurized delivery plant to push floatation foam to production areas throughout the plant is complete. A construction area is being assembled to support V-hull finishing. The aluminum operation also has purchased a tract adjoining the center-city plant site to make way for employee parking, which in turn will make way for plant expansion.
Hopper said political uncertainties most recently manifested in a partial government shutdown and iffy health care reform places "the federal government in the way" of growth in manufacturing sectors. He said a recent report from a regional officer of the U.S. Federal Reserve shows that $4.1 trillion that could become venture capital is now idle because potential investors are wary of the federal government and restrictive regulations.
Information from: The Baxter Bulletin, http://www.baxterbulletin.com