It may appear as if U.S. consumers are increasingly looking to their European cousins for advice on selecting sterndrive power; however, in actuality, the drive behind growing interest in diesel sterndrives comes from a more basic desire among U.S. consumers. They want low maintenance, high performance engine technology that won’t break the bank, allowing them to focus on enjoying the boating experience.
It just so happens that advancements in diesel power, a drop in the cost differential between diesel and gasoline engines and the rising price of gasoline have combined to make diesel sterndrives more attractive to U.S. consumers.
A growing trend
Engine manufacturers believe this is a growing trend and are responding, offering more and better diesel options. This belief is due in part to the introduction of a new generation of European diesel-powered cars, which will be introduced in the United States in coming years, says Thomas Calhoun, executive vice president of Yanmar America. As boaters become familiar with the quiet, virtually smoke-free and lightweight characteristics of these engines, they will increasingly look for the same advantages in their boats, he explains.
Paul Dierksen, senior vice president of marketing for Volvo Penta, says anytime fuel prices rise, there is a natural tendency among consumers to explore diesel. However, another reason for the trend is that U.S. manufacturers are becoming more adept at installing diesel engines, which helps shrink the cost differential between a gasoline engine and a diesel. In addition, with the adoption of new technology, gas engines have become more expensive, says Dierksen, which also has reduced the difference in price.
One of the recent promotional themes used by Cummins MerCruiser Diesel (CMD), a joint venture between Cummins Marine and Mercury Marine, was “this ain’t your daddy’s diesel,” which highlights the huge change in diesel technology, says Ted Varner, CMD communications manager.
One change is that the size of the engine packages can be much smaller now and easily fit into boats 20 feet and up, he explains.
target niche markets
The sporting fishing sector is one niche that has been attracted to diesel sterndrives in particular due largely to the additional range offered by diesel engines. In addition, sterndrive applications of diesel technology allow the transom areas to remain clear for fighting and boating fish, says Varner.
You’ll also see more of the performance boats used in poker runs featuring diesel sterndrive engines as an alternative to the big block gasoline engines, says Calhoun. Though the engines may be more pricey, you don’t have to stop for fuel as often and longer engine life means you don’t have to pay for expensive rebuilds every few years.
New engines are easy engines
Despite the trend toward diesel, the vast majority of sterndrive sold continue to be gasoline engines, and this area of the market also is experiencing change. Most of the developments in this segment follow a general trend in the boating industry toward making the experience easier for the boater. One example of this is the SmartCraft system, says Tom Mielke, director of communications for Mercury Marine.
“The engine has the most computing power of any piece of equipment on the boat,” says Mielke. “It makes sense to use that power to give more information and control to the end user to take the guess work out of boating.”
To this end, Mercury has added digital throttle and shift, which has taken SmartCraft from primarily a monitoring system to more of a control system, he adds.
Another example of this trend is better integration of the engine with the boat. Mercury Marine works closely with each of Brunswick’s boat companies to address installation, performance and compatibility issues.
“The consumer is getting a product that has truly been designed as a complete boat rather than as a hull that has an engine and controls added to it,” Mielke explains.
— By Liz Walz