By David Gee
Over 330,000 new outboards found their way to customers in 2020, accounting for the highest sales volume in 20 years, and an increase of 18% over 2019.
“The heightened interest in boating amid the COVID-19 pandemic helped to propel outboard engine sales to historic levels last year as more Americans took to the water, on a new boat or repowering a pre-owned boat with a new engine,” stated Vicky Yu, NMMA director of business intelligence.
What’s particularly interesting to note is that retail sales of outboard engines were up across all horsepower segments, with growth ranging between 6% and 38%.
In February, Mercury Marine kicked things off in a big way with the introduction of the new 7.6-liter V12 600hp Verado.
The company’s most powerful outboard to date includes several industry-first features:
The first two-speed automatic transmission for an outboard that optimizes engine rpm according to workload, facilitating both powerful acceleration and efficient performance.
The industry’s first steerable gearcase on an outboard that pivots independently underwater while the engine’s powerhead remains in a space-saving fixed position. This provides more room for multi-engine configurations and a wider steering angle for agile handling. With help from contra-rotating propellers, it also has better “bite” in the water for docking and other close-quarters maneuvering.
Boating Industry was invited to an exclusive event for marine media at Mercury’s famous Lake X to run the new V12 outboards on a variety of boats. Managing editor Adam Quandt spoke to Chris Drees, Mercury Marine president, about their new engine that was five years in development.
“With boats continuing to grow bigger and performance expectations continuing to rise, boaters have been asking for a better, more capable high-horsepower solution to meet their needs. The V12 Verado outboard is Mercury’s answer,” said Drees.
Drees says their customers didn’t just want more though, as in horsepower, they also wanted less, as in noise, vibration and harshness.
“They want to talk, especially at the back of the boat, and have a great, luxury experience,” he continues. “This is the quietest outboard we’ve ever built. For cruising, fishing, you name it, this engine is versatile and we think it’s going to be a homerun.”
And as long as we’re on the subject of high-horsepower outboards, 2021 saw not only the entrance of the new horsepower king, but the exit of the former one.
Volvo Penta announced the company will put its outboard development on hold, and was stopping the sales, marketing and production of Seven Marine engines, including the latest version of their 627hp motor, and the most powerful outboard ever made.
The company said in a statement they will, however, continue to support the current outboard customer base by taking full warranty and parts responsibility for the products that are in the field.
“We want to send a clear message,” stated president of Volvo Penta, Heléne Mellquist. “Volvo Penta does foresee that the outboard segment will continue to be relevant for the marine leisure market, but we believe that the indisputable need to drive advancements in sustainable technology must be our main focus. This is why, for the time being, the exploration of new technology together with the development of our core business, such as Volvo Penta IPS and sterndrives, will be the center of our efforts.”
Yamaha centered their new product and improvement efforts on V6 Offshore outboards. The new F250 and F300 V6 Offshore Digital Electronic Control (DEC) models feature built-in Digital Electric Steering (DES), Thrust Enhancing Reverse Exhaust (TERE) and other XTO Offshore-inspired features.
“The new, updated F300 and F250 4.2-liter V6 Offshore outboards now have many of the benefits previously only available on the XTO Offshore,” said Ben Speciale, president, Yamaha U.S. Marine Business Unit. “Combining a high performance, big block V6 engine featuring outstanding power and fuel efficiency, Yamaha brings new levels of convenience and control to a proven performer.”
The same Digital Electric Steering (DES) introduced on the XTO Offshore is now built in to F300 and F250 V6 variants. Unlike some conventional steering systems, the DES draws battery amperage only when actively in use. DES is significantly easier to rig than conventional steering systems and creates an uncluttered bilge with no steering pumps, hoses, hydraulic lines or connections, no bleeding procedure, less complexity and straightforward serviceability.
The new 4.2-liter V6 Offshore also has an improved lower unit featuring new components and design features. The XTO-like appearance now features a color-matched lower unit, a new one-piece top cowling with water-draining air duct molding, a new bottom cowling and apron shape and raised chrome graphics on built-in DES models only.
Suzuki brought out new-for-2021 DF115BG and DF140BG 4-stroke outboards, the first in their class to offer all the advantages of drive-by-wire technology.
By bringing the drive-by-wire technology to its 115hp and 140hp in-line four-cylinder models, Suzuki is providing simplified rigging for a wide range of boat builders, along with smoother shifting, instant throttle response, enhanced performance and superior fuel efficiency.
Enhancements to the new DF115BG/DF140BG also include an upgraded compression ratio of 10.6:1, helping these new 2.0-liter displacement outboards achieve better top speed and acceleration by improving thermal efficiency.
Fuel efficiency has also been increased as compared to Suzuki’s previous DF115/DF140A models. Tests have demonstrated as much as 5% to 7% better fuel efficiency for the DF140BG across mid-range to high-end cruising speeds. The new DF115BG has demonstrated up to 5% - 6% better fuel efficiency at cruising speed.
“We are pleased to bring new technology and performance to this important class of outboard motor,” said George “Gus” Blakely, Vice President of Sales for Suzuki Motor of America, Inc., Marine Division. “These are not only the world’s first 4-stroke outboards in their class to include factory drive-by-wire technology, they feature a new design, a new look and enhanced performance for a wide range of boats around the world.
Honda continues its commitment to high performance, fuel efficiency and environmental excellence, and leveraging their experience, expertise and engineering from other parts of the company to improve their marine products.
For example, the technology applied to the refreshed Honda BF200, BF225 and BF250 V6 engines is derived from the very same technology that powers Honda automobiles such as the Honda Ridgeline, Honda Odyssey, and Honda Pilot.
The trio of engines feature Honda’s exclusive Intelligent Shift and Throttle, or iST, and allow for up to four engines and two control stations, effortless control, fine tuning of throttle settings at any speed and enhanced docking and slow speed control among other features.
“Honda Marine outboards can power almost any type of boat, and we work to ensure that every Honda Marine motor – ranging from 2.3 to 250 horsepower – sets the standard for fuel efficiency and ease of operation while staying true to the core Honda attributes of durability, quality, reliability and quiet operation,” said William H. Walton III, vice president and business management officer of the Honda Power Equipment Division of American Honda Motor Co.
He notes that Honda is the world’s largest manufacturer of engines.
“This high production volume, coupled with precision manufacturing techniques and advanced engineering, gives Honda Marine the ability to best serve the heart of the marine market and make boating accessible to new enthusiasts,” Walton added.
Last year the number of first-time boat buyers rose for the first time in over 10 years, and among these new boat buyers, the average age decreased for the first time in 20 years.
Not all of that can be directly attributed to outboards obviously. But with outboard engine retail sales rising for the ninth consecutive year in 2020, the category is doing more than its share to power sales success.