Volvo Penta has become the majority owner of Wisconsin-based Seven Marine, a builder of powerful outboard engines founded by a team of people that includes president and CEO Rick Davis, who spent years helping develop engines at Mercury Marine earlier in his career.
Company officials say the industry should expect to see an expansion of outboard products offered by Seven Marine after the purchase by Sweden-based Volvo Penta, but wouldn’t go into specifics. The company also declined to discuss the terms of the agreement.
Together the companies are “on a journey to … shape the future of the outboard industry,” Volvo Penta president Björn Ingemanson said during a conference call with reporters.
The company declined to elaborate on how the offerings would expand — Seven Marine makes 557-hp and 627-hp engines — when asked whether the company will start to build smaller engines.
“This is about Volvo Penta getting into the outboard segment in a big way,” Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers said during the July 6 call. “As indicated, this is a platform for us to scale up and down, regardless of the energy source. So, yes, you should expect that we would be expanding it.”
Volvo Penta has long reinforced its commitment to its sterndrive market since it exited the outboard segment in 1979, despite lagging sterndrive sales that have continued to decline since the Great Recession ended.
Seven Marine will benefit from leveraging the extensive Volvo Penta service and distribution network for the outboard engines, the company says — to date Seven Marine engines have been distributed through OEM customers for new installations and authorized service centers for repower applications.
“I think we all know that in this industry … we see dealers that carry multiple brands,” Huibers said in response to Trade Only’s question about Volvo Penta dealers who might carry competing outboard brands. “We as a company like to earn our way to being the preferred supplier, and the preferred best business partner. We don’t see a conflict there. … We compete every day, and competition is a good thing.”
As the companies move into 2017 they hope to bring an offering that’s compelling to customers, Huibers says. “We’re going to compete head on, and the distribution network will be key,” he says. “We’re going to count on our partners, we’re going to bring to them a business case that makes them want to do that and we think that’s how we’ll win in the marketplace.”
“This is a world-class service network, and being able to rely on this network is a huge asset to our customers,” said Seven Marine co-founder Rick Davis, who will stay on as the company’s president and CEO.
Volvo Penta goes to market through its boatbuilder partners, and via dealers who sell the engines for new and repowering purposes, Huibers said, and the companies will work together on how they map out a collaborative, “step-wise approach” to distribution in the best way for the marketplace.
“Seven is a sustainable business,” he said. “We’re going to open up and expand those networks through those boatbuilders we have that are good customers. I think you’re going to see that mature as time goes on.”
“We see a lot of demand at every show where customers are asking us, ‘when are you going to distribute them wider, when are you going to have a broader service network,’ and we see this as a great opportunity to then answer that question, as well as joining with the strength of the business of Volvo Penta,” says Davis.
“It’s a great opportunity that satisfies the need that customers are asking us for,” Davis says. “I see it right in line of the next step of Seven Marine stepping into the future in a very serious [way] and with a lot of longevity in mind. Right now we do sell directly from Seven Marine as OEMs. We show them at marine shows. We also have a direct line to our customers, and we’ll be working together with Volvo to look at how do we broaden that base. With the builders we currently deal with — our phones were ringing this morning [after the news broke], and they’re just delighted with this announcement. This is something they anticipated, something they wanted to see and they’re certainly very happy with this new joining together with Volvo Penta.”
Volvo Penta will rely on its own history with innovation and build upon that with Seven Marine’s focus on innovation, Huibers says, and will map out with partners on how best to expand distribution for the market.
“It is going to be a step-wise approach, but we also want to keep the uniqueness of Seven,” Huibers says. “We have good partners, good relationships, and it’s known that people can count on and trust us and we’ll be doing this in a good and collaborative way.”
A key component of the transaction was the good chemistry between Volvo Penta and Seven Marine regarding customers, Davis says.
“We take customers very seriously, and satisfying our customers in a way that enhances their overall marine experience,” Davis says. “Not only will that continue, the synergies between the companies can enhance that.”
Multiple energy sources
The companies also will leverage their auto industry backgrounds, Ingemanson says. The use of automotive technology is a common aspect between Volvo Penta’s gasoline sterndrive range and Seven Marine’s outboards — both work with General Motors for their engines.
“The collaboration with Seven Marine on the 557 outboard is another proof point for marine customers coming out on top by having access to General Motors’ best engine designs and proven automotive-based durability,” says Patrick Koenigsknecht, director for GM powertrain OEM sales, on the Seven Marine website. “The GM engine at the core of the 557 is on the leading edge for power density, as well as mass and size efficiency. We are glad to see this advanced engine technology utilized in the expanding Seven Marine model lineup with the GT and CR models that debuted at this year’s Miami boat show.”
Seven Marine’s approach to exploring new techniques and design architecture was a key driver behind Volvo Penta’s decision to become majority owner of the company.
“Nothing is impossible for us going forward,” Ingemanson says. “We are in a developing world. We already know we see electrification coming into this industry, as well. The automotive industry is leading that. Of course we are following that market, and who knows what we will see in the future. We will be ready when the market is ready to offer those kinds of solutions.”
Volvo Penta was honored this year at the Electric and Hybrid Marine Awards for its collaboration on the BB Green Electric Commuter Ferry, Huibers points out. “When you look at the automotive world and see what we can borrow from the Volvo Group, it’s an exciting and compelling piece,” he says.
Manufacturing operations for Seven Marine engines, which have the largest output in the marine industry to date with 557-hp and 627-hp models, will remain in Germantown, Wis. That horsepower enables the company to power larger boats, which have increased in popularity, Huibers says.
“Seven Marine brought innovation to the outboard industry by asking what’s new and what’s next,” Davis says. “We were the first to break the 500-horsepower barrier, and then we were first to break the 600 barrier.
“In order to get to the ‘what’s the next thing going to be,’ we needed a strong, innovative partner that’s well established in the marine industry that we could team up with and together expand the platform,” Davis says. “The basic technology platform lends itself to being expanded in both directions. Now we’re able to proceed to do that together. That’s what’s exciting here.”
History of Seven
Seven Marine was founded in 2010 by a team of engineers and technicians with more than 85 years of combined experience.
Davis, who has 40 years of experience alone, was instrumental in developing Mercury’s Optimax Clean 2-cycle engines; Mercury’s Verado four-stroke engines; and the Cummins-MerCruiser Diesel Zeus pod drive.
The company has emphasized that its engines, though pricey, are not limited-edition. “Our motor is a production motor, makes rated power on 89 octane and is targeted for big-boat [owners] that want performance and luxury combined,” Davis’ son Brian, vice president of operations and finance, told Trade Only in 2015.
They also are not cheap; in that article Trade Only reported that the 557 cost $79,590 and the new 627 was priced at $89,685.
The company’s small block V8 engines are fitted horizontally and leverage modern automotive technology. This includes the use of fresh-water cooling for enhanced durability and corrosion protection and a supercharger to produce optimal performance.
“We want to be clear,” Huibers says. “This is developing a technology platform. It’s modular, and we think it can have cutting-edge solutions again, regardless of the energy source.”
Seven Marine will be able to further develop its existing innovative outboard technology “to satisfy a wider range of needs for its premium and exclusive customer base,” Volvo Penta said, adding that the acquisition will strengthen their combined footprint in the marine market.
“The Seven Marine concept mirrors the successful strategy we have followed in pursuing automotive technology,” Ingemanson says.
“Just as we are a leader in diesel and gasoline engine technology, Seven Marine leads its market for state-of-the-art outboards. We will move forward in leading the development of world-class performance and sustainability for the most premium of outboard motor segments.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.