VIDEO: Mercury and Volvo discuss the future of sterndrive propulsion

Posted on Written by Chris Landry

The future of sterndrive propulsion emerged as a key issue during an industry leader panel discussion at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo earlier this week.

Five company presidents — including the top leaders of the two primary gas engine manufacturers — participated in the conference’s annual Industry Leaders Panel on Tuesday at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. The event drew about 100 dealer representatives.

At issue: Should manufacturers stick with a General Motors block or manufacture their own? Mercury announced it will build its own gas engine — and one of the dealers in the audience wanted to know how the company will carry out the job.

“Building your own blocks sounds rather significant,” he said. “How are you going to reduce the weight, enhance the performance, improve the fuel economy, increase the technology, while lowering the price?”

Mercury Marine president Mark Schwabero stressed the increased manufacturing and technology freedom that Mercury will gain by building in-house.

“We have made the decision to move away from the automotive base platform,” he said. “There are a lot of things going on in the automotive industry that make sense for cars; there is technology they need to bring to their power sources that just don’t make sense for marine applications. As we marinize engines today, you start with something that is not optimal. We think we can bring a purpose-built engine to a marine application that lets us bring some technology that can be unique to the marine application.

“The automotive product cycles are getting shorter and shorter, so the other part of our decision was that we will be able to really take control of the product — all those things have something to do with weight; something to do with technology; something to do with the features. At the time we are ready to formally announce new product, you will see some exciting things.”

Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers responded to Schwabero’s comments, saying automotive technology benefits marine engines.

“We are first and only an engine company and we’ve evaluated the different options,” Huibers said. “We feel … what is going on in the automotive industry and the level of technology they are now bringing to engines — I mean, it is phenomenal. You see what is going on with Corvettes and the six-liter engines — and what’s coming down the pipe. What we’ve got confirmed with GM is [better] horsepower-to-weight ratio; obviously, that means if we can get higher horsepower we can then get a lower cost point [and] increase the performance. In the last 20 years we have not [seen] the kind of advancements in engine technology that we see coming down the pipe. So we are very excited about it. We are going to stay on this road. At the end of the day you and the dealers and the customers are going to choose which one is right, and I hope we bring more customers to market.”

Mercury has already begun manufacturing its own gas engines, Mercury communications director Steve Fleming told Trade Only this morning. The first was the 8.2-liter gas engine.

“The engine’s components are from suppliers, such as the block and other pieces,” Fleming said. “It is important to note that in some cases we are the designers of some of those parts we are sourcing from others. So we work with the company to design specific parts. They create them, and then we buy them.”

Also on the panel were Rick Correll, of Tige Boats; Bill McGill, of MarineMax; and Bob Menne, of Premier Marine.


6 comments on “VIDEO: Mercury and Volvo discuss the future of sterndrive propulsion

  1. Jim Duncan

    It is great that Volvo and Mercruiser are taking different approaches. Everyone from boat builders to dealers to consumers will benefit from future product development that does not begin with the same platform.

  2. Ken Stofflet

    I agree with Jim that it’s good to have choice and ultimately the consumer will. History tells us that staying power and a willingness to stay the course has been an issue. Ford left the market when they had a good platform and consumers knew the brand and liked it. GM’s on again off again approach based on their needs rather than the Marine Industry’s needs has always been based on the small volume this industry consumes. That hasn’t changed so Merc’s approach keeps them in better control of their own destiny so to speak. In the end a little competition never hurts. We need lower cost engines, technology has only added cost, yes some value granted. In the end the consumer has seen the price points of even entry level boats go beyond their means. I hope we see a more realistic consumer centric approach to pricing.

  3. Jack Hern

    Mercury Marine has been building lower units and engines
    since the mid 1940’s, as well as utilizing Ford and GM as
    suppliers. Mercury also made the popular “470” engine.
    This is just another opportunity for them to bring to the
    market a “marine” system and not an adaptation.

  4. David Binker

    I’m all for marine industry made engines but we are missing the point. The stern drive should be totally scrapped. It has driven more people out of boating than anything I can think of. It is ill suited for salt water use and inherently prone to constant and expensive repairs. With the new low cost bow thrusters and closed cooling engines there is much less need for this overly complicated system. Make boating affordable again by keeping it simple and sustainable. The stern drive belongs in the boating museum.

  5. Dennis Robbins

    Let’s hope Mercury doesn’t use the same engineers that brought us the Verado platform. The marine industry doesn’t need a complex and costly powerplant, but a simplistic one that is based on sound and proven engineering all the while staying within the EPA guidelines and exceeding consumers expectations.

  6. Bryon Kass

    I say all of the engine builders need to lean more toward diesels. VP already is heavy into them an Mercruiser should keep their current associations. The main problem I see is the cost of gas engines as well as the cost of the outboards are approaching diesel. With the CA mandate of catalyzed gas engines which requires MPI those added costs make diesel even more attractive. Cost containment should be the primary focus. I can see eliminating stern drive if there was a viable alternative. The simple inboard is timeless. The new pod drives are as complicated as stern drives. A simple fixed surface drive like the LEVI drive may be the answer.

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