MerCruiser Taking Aim... - 04/23/2008
For years Indmar and PCM have been the gas inboard engines of choice for the major ski/wakeboard boat builders such as Malibu, Mastercraft, Correct Craft and others. But our sources in Stillwater, OK tell us that MerCruiser is now laying plans to aggressively assault the wakeboard boat market with some re-engineered product and, perhaps, a different approach. Merc’s engineers are working on 350 Scorpion and a new version that will probably be unveiled this fall.

All of the U.S. engine marinizers get their gas engine blocks from GM. And all sell their own versions of the 5.0 L V-8, which probably powers more boats in this class than any other. Further, all are trying to maximize torque at the low end of the rpm range for quick and powerful hole shots, and have a broad high-torque range.

MerCruiser Knows the Sport is Changing

“Mercury realizes that there have been incredible changes in the sport the last few years,” our deep-throat source told us, “and the boats themselves are changing rapidly so they can make bigger wakes not only for wakeboarding, but also for wake surfing and body surfing.”

Differentiation Points are Limited

MerCruiser has done with their 350 Scorpion pretty much what PCM and Indmar have done, with some of their own wrinkles. For example, MerCruiser has designed its own cylinder head (thanks to Mercury Racing), and the other makers use the “Vortec” head provided by GM. MerCruiser has also designed an intake manifold and plenum system and proprietary cam shafts which it feels are better than the others.

MerCruiser is also proud of its “Tunnel Ram” 90 mm throttle body which it says gives instant throttle response. And the Scorpion has other features, such as eliminating fuel return lines for added safety and ceramic-coated exhaust elbows to better resist high temperatures and corrosion. Significantly, the Scorpion operates on 87 octane fuel, and up to 10% ethanol.

Work to Do

Indmar and PCM have 3-year limited warranties compared to Scorpion’s 2 years. Both independent engine makers have bigger alternators and a few other features that the Scorpion doesn’t have, such as Indmar’s direct drive water pump rather than belt driven. But that’s why Mercury engineers are burning the midnight oil.

Wakeboard boats will likely become heavier (because of bigger ballast tanks), and builders are already experimenting with all sorts of out-of the-box ideas to create more wake. It would not be surprising if MerCruiser engineers lean on their friends at sister-company MotoTron to come up with some software specifically designed for ski and wake boats. It will be interesting to see what else the engineers dream up that is compelling enough to make loyal builders think twice about their existing long-term engine vendors.

We’ll keep you posted.