By David Gee
In the next issue of the magazine, we will be running a Market Trends piece on outboards. We don't want to steal any of the thunder from that story, but we did gather some good interviews. And since we don't have the space to include the complete interviews in the magazine, we thought we would feature some of them online. First up is Gus Blakely, vice president marine sales, Suzuki Motor of America, Inc.
BI: The NMMA says outboard engine retail sales have increased for eight consecutive years, nearly reaching pre-recession levels. What is driving that, and will it continue?
Gus Blakely: A strong economy over an extended period of time certainly has a lot to do with strong motor and boat sales. The repower market is also important as people get back into boating, and want to take advantage of the latest advancements in engine technology by replacing their old, low-tech outboards with today’s reliable, fuel efficient models. The growing popularity of large center console and express boat models designed for twin, triple or quad outboard motors is also obviously helping to boost overall sales numbers.
BI: Nationwide, sales have increased most in the 200HP-300HP range. What are you seeing at your company?
Blakely: Suzuki is seeing very strong demand in this horsepower category — a key reason why we just introduced our DF300B, a new-for-2020 300hp V-6 with the exclusive contra-rotating twin propeller design first pioneered on our 350 hp flagship model. There are many boats out there rated for 300/600/900 hp maximum in single/twin/triple configurations, and they deserve the best technology. Suzuki is also focusing much of our engineering expertise on the mid-range motors like the 115/140 and our 150/200/250SS performance models for bass boats, bay boats and pontoon boats. We’ve made this ‘heart of the market’ a focus for our product development, building strong sales and brand loyalty in the process.
BI: Several outboard engine manufacturers have increased capacity? Has Suzuki?
Blakely: Yes, to meet growing demand, Suzuki built and moved into a new outboard manufacturing facility in Japan. Since opening in July 2018, this state-of-the-art factory has been running two daily shifts, with the ability to operate three shifts if required to meet expected demand and sales growth for our products.
BI: Obviously, a lot of growth is coming from multi-engine applications. What are some of the inherent challenges vs. single engine set-ups?
Blakely: Weight and dimensions become increasingly important when you’re talking about hanging two, three or more outboards across the transom of a boat. Suzuki has always worked at making our motors as lightweight and compact as possible, and offering the shaft lengths needed to accommodate a wide range of boat styles and multi-engine installations. You also have to consider prop rotation — Suzuki offers several V6 models with selectable propeller rotation direction. This eliminates the need to order “right” or “left” to achieve the enhanced balance and steering control of counter-rotating propellers. Of course, multi-engine installations were a primary factor in the development of our 350 and new 300hp outboards with twin contra-rotating propellers. This design excels at pushing today’s large, heavy center console fishing boats, especially when they’re loaded down with people, gear, ice and the day’s catch. Twin contra-rotating propellers also minimize the effects of steering torque, translate more of the engine’s power to forward movement, and increase fuel efficiency. They also provide exceptional vessel control in close-quarter maneuvering situations like docking and launching/retrieving.
Blakely: What do you feel is your biggest competitive advantage in the category?
Blakely: Being the only manufacturer with twin contra-rotating propeller outboards — and now having both 350 hp and 300 hp models to offer — gives us something that no other brand can offer. That, and the fact that Suzuki has listened to what the market wants and needs and acted to meet the demand. Rather than get caught up in the ‘horsepower arms race,’ we’ve focused on bringing our best innovations and technologies from the top of our line down through our entire horsepower range. That’s why you’ll find every Suzuki from 9.9 hp and up with electronic fuel injection. And why we have features like Suzuki’s lean burn control system, an offset drive shaft and two-stage gear reduction on many mid-range models. There are a whole lot of boats out there that don’t run big V-6 outboards, and we want to capture as many of those sales as possible.
BI: What is your outlook for the remainder of 2020?
Blakely: We expect continued growth over the coming year. We have a complete product line from 2.5 to 350hp, with strong advantages over the competition in every class category. New products like our DF300B and new 150SS/200SS bass motors have all of us very excited for what 2020 will bring.