Study suggests high-tech engine education needed

MIAMI — Although owners of advanced-technology marine engines are consistently more satisfied compared to owners of older technology engines, only one-half of outboard owners report that engine technology played a major role in their purchase decision, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Marine Engine Competitive Information Study, released yesterday at the Miami International Boat Show.

Additionally, only 27 percent of inboard owners and 26 percent of sterndrive owners indicate the same.

“While they cost more, engines with newer technologies tend to perform better, are more fuel efficient and have fewer problems than engines with older technologies,” said Todd Markusic, senior director of the powersports practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “Boat owners who want to save money may be inclined to favor carbureted engines, but they should be aware of what they’re getting — and what they’re not — when they select those engines. Salespeople need to educate consumers about the newer engines so that they fully understand the benefits of the technology, and consumers need to understand that the short-term cost savings they receive when purchasing an older-technology engine is offset by long-term, substantially lower satisfaction with that engine.”

Now in its sixth year, the study measures overall customer satisfaction with four marine engine types: EFI inboard; four-stroke EFI outboard; two-stroke DI outboard; and EFI sterndrive. Overall scores are measured as problems per 100 (PP100) engines, with lower scores reflecting higher quality.

Owners of four-stroke EFI outboard engines experience much fewer problems and have higher overall satisfaction compared to owners of other outboard engines available in the market. Owners of four-stroke EFI engines report an average of 58 PP100, while owners of two-stroke DI engines report 77 PP100. Owners of two-stroke carbureted engines report experiencing the most problems, 167 PP100, which is more than double the number of problems as the higher-technology engines.

The study also finds that since engines are often sold as part of a boat package, many boat owners have little or no choice in their engine selection. Sixty-four percent of boat owners report purchasing the exact engine they wanted, and they report much higher levels of overall satisfaction with both their engine and boat compared to owners who did not receive the engine they desired.

“It is important for boat dealers to work with customers and fully understand how they plan to use their boats so they can recommend the appropriate size and type of engine to satisfy their customers’ needs and meet or exceed their expectations,” said Markusic. “If the dealer matches the engine to customer needs, they’re well on their way to ensuring that owners have a much more satisfying boating experience.”

The study examines seven factors to determine overall marine engine satisfaction: starting ease; quietness at cruise; reliability; fuel economy; shifting smoothness; lack of engine fumes; and ability of boat to accelerate rapidly.

Inboard EFI segment

Pleasurecraft Engine Group (PCM) ranked highest in the inboard EFI four-stroke engine segment for a second consecutive year, followed by Indmar.

Within the segment, experiencing difficulty with starting the engine and the engine making an unusual noise had the greatest negative impact on overall satisfaction. Additionally, the engine running too loudly and stalling were two of the most commonly reported problems among inboard EFI customers, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

Outboard EFI four-stroke segment

Honda ranked highest in the outboard EFI four-stroke segment for a third consecutive year (tying with Suzuki in 2005), followed by Suzuki and Yamaha.

Overall, four-stroke EFI outboard engines received high marks from owners for ease of starting and reliability. Conversely, engine transmission problems and stalling were the most frequently reported problems for outboard four-stroke EFI engines.

Outboard DI two-stroke segment

Evinrude and Mercury ranked highest in a tie in the outboard DI two-stroke segment. Mercury ranked highest in the segment for a second consecutive year, while Evinrude recorded a 24-point improvement compared to 2006.

Owners of two-stroke DI outboard engines reported high marks for ease of starting and reliability. Engine transmission problems and the engine running roughly were the two most frequently cited issues for engines in the segment.

Sterndrive EFI four-stroke segment

For a second consecutive year, Mercury MerCruiser ranked highest in the sterndrive EFI four-stroke segment. Volvo Penta closely followed in the segment rankings.

Owners gave four-stroke EFI sterndrive engines high marks for ease of starting. However, customers frequently reported issues with the way the engine transmission felt and sounded when shifting and that the engine ran too loudly.

The 2007 Marine Engine Competitive Information Study was based on responses from 12,140 owners who registered a new boat between June 2005 and May 2006. Eleven brands of outboard, sterndrive and gas inboard marine engines were included in the study.

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