Trolling Motors: Big Changes in 2020 for Dealers and Consumers

If you’re selling trolling motors, big changes are afoot that customers will be asking about during spring and summer 2020.

Trolling Motors: Big Changes in 2020 for Dealers and Consumers

The Lowrance Ghost links only to Lowrance chartplotters, allowing anglers to plot tracks, establish and lock onto waypoints or hold position if anchored.

For decades, the trolling motor category was a two-horse race: Minn Kota and MotorGuide.

That changed at the 2019 ICAST trade show when Garmin and Lowrance introduced their first trolling motors. That these two sonar giants should enter the trolling motor market was natural, an outgrowth of the trend to integrated systems of electronics for serious fishermen.

That’s not to say that Minn Kota and MotorGuide let the newcomers hog all the attention; both companies added new top-of-the-line products. In the past, other companies have tried to break into the trolling motor market — Coleman was one — yet none have stayed the course or had an impact.

That will not be the case with Garmin and Lowrance. Garmin’s Force and the Lowrance Ghost trolling motors will have an impact for some time because the companies opted to use brushless motors, a first for the trolling motor market. That’s big news.

Why? Brushless motors are more efficient, run longer on the same charge and do not interfere with sonar imagery, which are all things serious fishermen want in a trolling motor.

New trolling motors are put through the wringer in the on-water testing phase in a variety of conditions.
New trolling motors are put through the wringer in the on-water testing phase in a variety of conditions.

Garmin

Garmin undoubtedly decided to build trolling motors as an outgrowth of its line of sonar/chartplotters. As many freshwater tournament fishermen were integrating their sonar units with trolling motors, it seems a natural fit.

“The trolling motor is one of the most critical pieces of equipment on a freshwater fishing boat,” said Garmin’s director of marine sales, Dave Dunn. “With most of our professional bass fishing team already partnered (with trolling motor companies), we decided that the best route for our customers was to build and sell our own.”

Garmin has “put a major focus on being a top player in the freshwater fishing industry” and used their pro team to provide guidance on what is required for a new motor: dependable, quiet, sturdy and fast.

The result is the Force, which Garmin describes as, “The most powerful and the most efficient trolling motor that the freshwater market has ever seen.” It was voted  “Best of Show” at the 2019 ICAST.

Starting the design from scratch, Garmin developed wireless controls that included a wireless foot pedal and a remote that enable fishermen to run a variety of functions from anchor lock to track plotting. Both work from anywhere in the boat, and that speaks to the needs of walleye and crappie fishermen or others who use trolling techniques to fish.

While Garmin sonars and chartplotters will integrate with other companies’ trolling motors, the Force links only to Garmin units.

Garmin decided it was time to build its own trolling motor and combine its capabilities with those of its sonar units. Garmin’s Force trolling motor uses a brushless motor, which are more efficient, run longer  on the same charge and do not interfere with sonar imaging.
Garmin decided it was time to build its own trolling motor and combine its capabilities with those of its sonar units. Garmin’s Force trolling motor uses a brushless motor, which are more efficient, run longer on the same charge and do not interfere with sonar imaging.

Lowrance

The Ghost from Lowrance also uses a brushless motor. According to Gordon Sprouse, America’s marketing director for parent company Navico, the Ghost has “45 percent longer run time and 25 percent more thrust” than competitors’ comparable brushed motors.

“We saw this as our opportunity to offer serious anglers the complete fishing system,” he said.

The Ghost trolling motor links to Lowrance chartplotters only, and it enables anglers to plot tracks, establish and lock onto waypoints, or hold position as if anchored. Because of the way brushless motors work, it can operate off either a 24- or 36-volt system in the same unit, providing up to 120 pounds of thrust at 36 volts.

While the last may sound confusing, it isn’t. Because of the way brushless motors work, applying more energy (within limits) means more power. In this case, the Ghost gets the most power from three 12-volt batteries, but it works well with two. However, with two batteries, it produces less thrust. It will not function with one 12-volt battery.

The Lowrance Ghost reportedly has a 45 percent longer run time on one charge along with 25 percent more thrust.
The Lowrance Ghost reportedly has a 45 percent longer run time on one charge along with 25 percent more thrust.

Minn Kota

This company has been building electric trolling motors since 1934, according to Brad Henry, brand manager for Minn Kota. He said the company “is responsible for and will continue to be responsible for every meaningful trolling motor innovation.”

A partial list of Minn Kota’s innovations include:

  • electric trolling motor (1934)
  • foot-operated, electric-steer remote-control trolling motor (1968)
  • fiberglass composite shaft (1991)
  • microprocessor-controlled, self-steering trolling motor (1991)
  • breakaway bow-mount system (1995)
  • integrated and universal sonar transducer mounted in the motor housing (2002)
  • wireless remote control (2003)
  • wireless control with GPS connectivity (2010)
  • GPS-controlled navigation system that links to a fish-finder (2013)
  • Spot-Lock anchoring (2017)

While Minn Kota does not currently offer a brushless motor, “Brushless motors have been around for 50-plus years,” said Henry, and the company “will continue to assess their merit and value.” For this year, it added a Side Imaging function to its built-in MEGA-Down Imaging sonar. Minn Kota also added an 87-inch shaft for larger boats. It continues to offer saltwater and 12-volt motors in bow mount and transom-mount versions.

It’s no exaggeration to say the Minn Kota Ultrex, which won the 2016 ICAST Best of Show award, was a tidal shift in terms of trolling motor technology and performance. It blended the feel and control of a traditional cable steer motor with the tremendously popular i-Pilot features such as Spot-Lock.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Minn Kota Ultrex, which won the 2016 ICAST Best of Show award, was a tidal shift in terms of trolling motor technology and performance. It blended the feel and control of a traditional cable steer motor with the tremendously popular i-Pilot features such as Spot-Lock.

MotorGuide

MotorGuide, a Brunswick company, recently “rebranded” itself. “The product we had wasn’t holding to the standard of our customers,” said Tori Paul, MotorGuide marketing associate.

“With many rumors of new competition entering the trolling motor market,” Paul said, “it was the perfect time to refocus our brand and bring it back to its roots — the most durable, reliable and easy-to-use trolling motor.”

The result is a product line and marketing effort that intends to connect with all fishermen, and not just elite tournament anglers.This can be seen in the company’s traditional line of 12-volt and transom-mount motors for both fresh- and saltwater. Considering the increasing interest in rigging smaller boats for maximum performance (think Tiny Boat Nation), the continuation of the 12-volt motor series makes sense. MotorGuide will continue to work with Lowrance to integrate its top-of-the-line Tour Pro series with the appropriate Lowrance chartplotter units (along with Simrad and Mercury’s VesselView). Garmin, Humminbird and RayMarine sonars will link to MotorGuide motors, but that does not extend to chartplotters.

MotorGuide rebranded itself and is focusing on connecting with all anglers instead of the elite tournament pros. MotorGuide will continue working with Lowrance on integration with  the Lowrance chartplotter units.
MotorGuide rebranded itself and is focusing on connecting with all anglers instead of the elite tournament pros. MotorGuide will continue working with Lowrance on integration with the Lowrance chartplotter units.

The Sell

Folk wisdom tells us that competition is good for the consumer — and in this case, the retailer. It certainly will force changes in the marketing of trolling motors. Given that Lowrance received buy orders shortly after the 2019 ICAST show, there is a strong interest in upper-end motors, and the two new brands will be seeing most of it.

When asked about marketing plans, all four companies gave nods to online and social media as well as more traditional means such as ads, in-store promotions and support for various organizations.

MotorGuide is moving toward a stronger digital presence as well as a stronger connection with fishermen, according to Tori Paul. As a result of this effort, there is a new website, new catalog and new look for the marketing effort. Digital marketing will be a focus.

“As digital marketing continues to play a major role in the fishing/marine industry,” Paul said, “we will continue to increase our digital marketing efforts … as that is where technology has brought us — it’s the norm of today’s marketing.”

The company also is training and strengthening its sales team and will be introducing videos, too.

Minn Kota’s marketing efforts will remain as they were in the past, said Henry. “In the same way we continue to innovate in product development, we continue to innovate in our marketing efforts and build upon our strong industry partnerships. We will work closely with valued trade partners to support their needs and equip them with everything they need. We understand the key role that our retail partners have played in making Minn Kota the number one trolling motor brand.”

Lowrance is continuing with its marketing strategy of ads, PR efforts, social media, tournament sponsorship and contests to market its new trolling motor. It also has a dedicated Ghost display — the same one used at ICAST — that will be available when the trolling motors ship. The company also has some offers related to the display and purchase of Ghost trolling motors.

Garmin plans on using traditional marketing channels, including in-stores as well as equipping many of the company’s professional anglers with the Force for use in tournaments. And while online sales will occur, it is expected that most will be at independent retailers and big-box stores. As a result, Garmin will have separate displays and supporting material for retailers. There will be a non-functional Force motor on display along with the foot pedal and remote so that customers can see and touch all of the main components.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.