About 1,400 people representing boat and engine dealerships from around the world gathered in Orlando, Fla., this fall for Mercury Marine’s global dealer meeting, which also marked the Fond du Lac, Wis.-based engine manufacturer’s 75th anniversary.
“This was a great event for us,” says Mercury president John Pfeifer. “It was really great to pull so many people together. There is all sorts of productivity born during an event like this because people get to interact with one another. You see boatbuilders and dealers connecting and sharing.”
Steve Fleming, Mercury’s communications director, says the company wanted to deliver a clear message to dealers, “to tell every dealer and builder and business partner that we provide the support you need in every way, from the product itself to innovation, to service and more.”
The theme of the three-day event was “Mercury Behind You; the World Before You.” It was held at Disney’s Coronado Springs Convention Center and drew representatives from 600 dealerships.
The global economic crisis had prevented Mercury from holding a global dealer meeting for more than a decade, Pfeifer told me during a 30-minute interview on the last day of the event. “There was such a drive to reduce costs,” he says. “At the time we said [internally] we need to be as cost-efficient as possible and we need to hold these meetings regionally or country by country, versus a massive global event that costs everybody more money. Having said that, I think we will be more comfortable doing events like this than in the past. We think it is important.”
Four new products
Mercury held business seminars and displayed its engines on new boats in the facility’s expo center and had 36 boats in the water on a small nearby lake for engine-testing opportunities.
The largest boat was a 29-foot Crownline with twin 4.5-liter 250-hp MerCruiser gasoline sterndrives. The 250-hp engine was one of three new powerplants that were being highlighted at the event. The Mercury 75-, 90- and 115-hp FourStroke outboards also were displayed at the expo center and on boats in the water.
“We are continuing to hear good things about the quietness of both types of engines,” Mercury product development and engineering director Daniel E. Clarkson says. “We are hearing about how responsive they are in the mid-range, especially the 4.5-liter engine.”
Mercury displayed only the four new engines at the event, clearly trying to generate interest and enthusiasm as the boat show season kicked in. A few times, Pfeifer hinted that Mercury will introduce new engines at the 2015 Miami International Boat Show. I asked him for specifics, but he remained tight-lipped. “I think it is safe to say we will have new engines — plural — but that’s all I am prepared to say.”
The 250-hp sterndrive is the first gasoline sterndrive engine Mercury has built entirely in-house instead of relying on the automotive industry. Pfeifer has been pleased with the feedback he has received about the manufacturing change.
“Mostly the reaction from inside the industry has been really positive because people are confident that Mercury can do it,” he says. “I have talked to people who are a little skeptical about our strategy. But once they get on the boat and test the engine, they are sold immediately because the performance is just fantastic. There are features we have built into the engine that are incredible upgrades to the sterndrive category — features like the Adaptive Speed Control, which holds the engine’s rpm setting when turning the boat.”
Pfeifer says environmental regulations are driving the auto industry to make changes in its engines that aren’t needed or appropriate for the marine market.
“The auto industry is adding a lot of features that are really needed in the automotive world, but would add no value for the marine customer,” he says. “They are also going to have a faster pace of product evolution; for us to keep our pace of innovation at the exact same pace of automotive engine innovation is a very unpredictable situation and can lead to a lot of really high costs. So one thing we are 100 percent confident in is controlling the pace of innovation for the marine industry to give us the best cost equation that we can get.”
There was also lots of chatter about the 75, 90 and 115 FourStrokes.
“We had a lot of comments about the FourStroke’s Command Thrust gearcase,” says Pfeifer. “With Command Thrust it is almost like having a 150-hp outboard on your boat — it’s that powerful and gives you great authority over the boat.”
The Command Thrust gearcase of the 115 FourStroke makes a big difference on pontoon boats, says Mike Soder, co-owner of the Fish & Hunt Shop in Curtis, Mich., a Mercury dealer for more than 50 years.
“The [outboard ’s] CT gearcase does pop them up much faster out of the hole,” says Soder, a dealer in Sylvan pontoons and Lund boats. “They also have better bite, which helps fight the wind in docking situations. The 115s and 90s are attracting attention because of their light weight, fuel economy and their low maintenance requirements.”
The new outboards carry a more appealing look, says Pfeifer. “The new 75, 90 and 115 are major upgrades just from a design standpoint — I mean the styling of them,” he says. “The old engine was a little too high-profile and not the most sleek engine in that size category, so I think we have taken a giant leap forward and now have one of the best-styled engines.”
Dealers have also been impressed with the 75, 90 and 115’s low levels of noise and vibration and their overall handling, says Pfeifer. “We do a lot of consumer research, and some of the most important characteristics to boaters about a marine engine are noise, vibration and handling,” he says. “We feel like we have taken the lead in this area. We strive to pull out as much sound and vibration as possible.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.