A BoatTEST.com member recently wrote to us to ask a question that might be on a lot of peoples’ minds. He asked, “If Evinrude engines are so great, why do I see more Yamahas?” That’s a good and fair question, and we think it deserves an answer.
Consumer Caveat: Everyone in the boating industry will have a different answer to this question, but based on our perspective of being in this industry for 49 years, having conducted 30 tests on the Evinrude E-TEC G2 engines, and examining the new technology, here is our take:
In a nutshell, when Yamaha entered the U.S. market in the early 1980s with its 2-stroke engines, it was a breath of fresh air. Mercury and OMC (which owned Evinrude and Johnson) had an outboard duopoly for years and had grown complacent, and builders, dealers, and consumers alike looked to the new brand to give them what they wanted -- and Yamaha complied with alacrity. Its engines had desirable features and proved to be reliable.
Yamaha was the first Japanese outboard maker to enter the U.S. market, and it did so with a bang in the mid-1980s, and quickly gained market share, garnering 15% of the market in just a few years. This was a remarkable gain in an industry where market share between Mercury and OMC had been static for nearly two decades.
Yamaha’s secret sauce was not only that it solved a lot of the problems people were having with existing engines, but its sales and marketing manager was Sylvan “Ham” Hamberger, a 22-year Mercury veteran who had a similar job there and knew all of the boatbuilders and hundreds of boat dealers. He knew exactly which levers to pull to get quick results.
Next, the EPA began phasing in emissions standards that would take effect over the next two decades which made it difficult for existing 2-stroke engines to comply. Engine makers would have to redesign and retool their 2-stroke engines or build 4-stroke engines. Mercury, Evinrude, and Yamaha all modified their 2-strokes with a version of DFI to meet the early phase-in of the emissions standards. But with the future standards becoming more rigorous in the 2000s, it was clear that 4-stroke engines would make it easier to comply with the tougher standards.
Yamaha and Mercury collaborated on 4-stroke designs for small outboards in the mid-1980s, building them jointly, and marketed them under their own brand names. Then in 1998 Yamaha introduced the 4-stroke F100/115. In 2001, it introduced the F200/225. Yamaha leveraged its strong industry relationships and goodwill in the U.S. with the demonstrably better fuel economy in the new 4-strokes to push its market share still higher, to 28%.
Honda and Suzuki entered the U.S. Market with 4-stroke engines, but they were late, as Yamaha had already gained the high ground, forging exclusive supply agreements with builders. With no brand history, limited infrastructure, and because Yamaha had already established itself, these brands had trouble getting traction, even though they built good engines.
On Dec. 22, 2000 OMC declared Chapter 11, effectively taking itself out of serious contention in the outboard marketplace. Dealers and builders scrambled for new sources of supply and many saltwater brands went to Yamaha, and many freshwater brands went to Mercury.
Mercury introduced its 200- to 275-hp 4-stroke Verado platform in 2004.
Yamaha capitalized on the infrastructure and brand weakness of Honda and Suzuki, the chaos of the OMC restructuring, and the tardiness of Mercury in introducing its large 4-stroke engines. The result was that the company solidified and expanded its hegemony in the saltwater area and made inroads into freshwater boats. For more than 5 years – from the introduction of its F100 in 1998 until the introduction of the Verado in 2004; essentially, Yamaha had no effective 4-stroke competition in the largest outboard engine market in the world.
Yamaha was also the first outboard company to introduce a 350-hp 4-stroke engine, catching the rest of the industry flat-footed and it was years before other companies were able to follow suit with acceptable 350-hp engines. Yamaha had foreseen the trend to larger boats by owners and builders who were used to outboard power and preferred it to inboards or sterndrive engines.
BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products) bought OMC in 2001. BRP is a huge Canadian industrial giant that makes commercial aircraft, commuter trains, Sea-Doos, snowmobiles, and a lot of other recreational products. By 2003, BRP had re-engineered its Evinrude 2-stroke engine, which employed German FICHT technology and reduced engine emissions so low that it won the 2004 EPA Clean Air Excellence Award. Fuel efficiency was also better than it had been before and was competitive or better than other 2-stroke engines.
For Evinrude, rebuilding builder and dealer relationships -- and the trust of the boating public -- was a slow process because of all that had happened before and the fact that “2-stroke” had become a bad word because people remembered the old smoky 2-strokes (which were no longer being built by anyone). Further, Yamaha, Mercury, Honda, and Suzuki all had 4-strokes and were promoting them as being more efficient than 2-strokes – as well as being more fuel efficient than each other.
In June of 2014, BRP introduced the all-new Evinrude E-TEC G2 engine that had been under development for 5 years. In collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, BRP engineers had designed the newest outboard engine on the market at that time, but also the most technically advanced outboard engine of any type, either 2 or 4-stroke. According to BRP, this engine has the lowest emissions of any outboard on the market – testament to the fact that the old 2-stroke baggage had been left far behind.
According to BRP, the new engine is 30% more fuel efficient than existing 4-stroke engines – based on ICOMIA standards – and has 20% greater torque. ICOMIA is an international boating industry association that prescribes testing rules that apply percentages to different speed ranges based on data of actual usage. According to ICOMIA, 40% of an outboard’s usage is in the low range, precisely where the Evinrude E-TEC G2 fuel consumption is remarkably better than 4-stroke engines.
BoatTEST.com has tested 30 boats with Evinrude E-TEC G2 engines and has found that these engines are generally significantly more fuel efficient in the lower-rpm range, more efficient or about equally so in the mid-rpm range, and sometimes more fuel efficient in the high-rpm range. In any case, the new Evinrude E-TEC G2 has closed the fuel-efficiency gap that once existed between 4-stroke and 2-stroke engines. This is an important finding because the Evinrude E-TEC G2 2-stroke engines have many other important attributes that 4-stroke engines do not have.
(See “Evinrude Fuel Efficiency Comparison” here)
So, why doesn’t the outboard world come marching to Evinrude’s door? The reason – in our opinion – is because of the history that has been briefly recounted above. The boating community is by its very nature conservative and slow to make any changes. It is like turning the Queen Mary, changing direction is a slow process –- particularly when all competitors are on their game.
To a great degree it is a matter of the “early adopters” buying the new Evinrudes. The second phase is the group of buyers who take comfort from the success discovered by the early adopters, and then acceptance slowly grows to a wider audience as peer acceptance grows and reinforces buyer confidence. It is generally a slow process.
All five of the major outboard engine makers are building good, reliable products. As consumers become better educated, we think they will increasingly eschew the rabid brand partisanship on Internet forums, and come to appreciate the special attributes of each brand and match them with their own individual application. Increasingly, we think consumers will specify the outboard engine brands they want on their boats that are built by “independent” brands; but, we also think it unlikely that “captive” builders will relinquish their special engine supply agreements.
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