Industry panel: don’t count out sterndrives yet

Posted on Written by Chris Landry


Despite a steady decline in sales, a panel of industry leaders says the sterndrive will remain a viable propulsion choice for consumers.

“Our sterndrive sales the last two years have been going down each year and the outboard sales are going up,” said Premier Marine president Bob Menne, one of five executives participating in a Q&A session at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo. “I talked to a [dealer] the other day who told me he used to be 75 percent sterndrives and 25 percent outboards. Last year, he was completely the opposite. So there is a swing happening.”

That swing is attributable, in part, to improvements in outboard technology. ”The outboard manufacturers have done a great job these last few years in product development with designs and weight and fuel economy,” Menne said. In addition, outboards are generally less expensive and easier to service than sterndrives, the panel members said.

Sales of sterndrive boats continued to decline through October, sliding about 7.5 percent from last year on a rolling 12-month basis, according to bellwether state data collected by Info-Link.

“This is not new,” Info-Link’s Jack Ellis said in a Nov. 20 Trade Only Today report. “The segment has been in decline for years.”

But the panel members said they think sterndrives are here to stay.

“I wouldn’t … short the market,” Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers said.

“At the end of the day customers are going to choose — as long as you have both horses, you’ll be fine. But from everything we see and what technology is coming down the road, we think that [the sterndrive] is going to be a propulsion system that’s going to be around 20 years from now,” Mercury Marine president Mark Schwabero said.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “The outboards of today are a lot different from those in the past, but we don’t think there’s a wholesale shift going on.”

MarineMax CEO Bill McGill pointed out that each propulsion system comes with its pluses and minuses.

“I love outboards,” he said. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but they’re in the way — whether you have one, two, three or four engines hanging on the back, they’re in the way. So there’s advantages to sterndrives that solve that problem.”


5 comments on “Industry panel: don’t count out sterndrives yet

  1. Brock Elliott

    For the model years 2010, 2011 and 2012 we saw the production of our outboard models grow greater in proportion to our sterndrive models, for 2013 model year we saw the sterndrive models (sector) improve, we believe this was due to many dealers clearing out non current sterndrives of many manufactures and there was a need to restock sterndrives. The outboard technology has come along way over the past few years and this is why we have invested so heavily in offering over 20 models with ob application.

  2. Andrew

    The market segment of cruisers and I/O runabouts have changed due to variables not necessarily related to O/B models. Obviously while the I/O market has declined, the traditional and new segments of O/B models have increased. These are not necessarily related to one replacing the other. When or if the I/O boat market segment rebounds, that engine segment will also recover. How many traditional cabin cruisers do you see OEM producing with O/B these days?

  3. Bob

    can anyone explain why fishermen don’t want a sterndrive? Bob McGill hit on a point that I have been trying to make to people. The O/B’s just gets in the way. The S/D makes for a clean transom, that is so much more simple to fish around. I am surprised that no builder makes a small center console with engine in the console + jackshaft to a sterndrive. Then you would not even have a dog house to fish around.

  4. David Binker

    The reason fisherman don’t like I/O’s is simple. They draw more, don’t hold up to saltwater, the’re heavy, they don’t tilt out = more down time. Risers, manifolds, bellows, u joints, gimble bearings, trim pistons, seals, electrolysis, etc etc. The I/O is repair prone. Granted outboards can be painful too but still a more reliable power source.

  5. Rod

    I suspect one factor may be the number of even larger boats being offered now that come only in outboard power, builders are building less sterndrive models and more outboard models. For instance, not to pick on anyone, but.. Years ago most models of Grady-White were offered as OB, SD, or OMC Sea-Drive (some were also inboard), now it appears that EVERY GW model is available in ONLY outboard power, even the huge 36′ models! Logically, if you aren’t building sterndrive models, you are not going to sell any.

    I can see several reasons that outboards are becoming the only choice; not the least is that they would seem a lot easier to install on the production line, and can be installed as one of the final assembly steps, instead of one of the first steps if the boat were inboard or sterndrive. Outboards are now offered in larger HP sizes and have become more fuel-efficient and quieter, outboards are not “inside” the watertight section of the boat reducing the need for vetilation of bilges and eliminating the blower, Outboards also don’t usually penetrate the hull, so less leak points, finally…they take up virtually no room inside, adding space for accomodations. Bracket mounts or molded-in stern platforms have eliminated the need for the low, cut-out transom on outboards, full-height transoms were always a big plus for inboard and I/O models against OBs, but not anymore!

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