Ask new Mercury Marine president Chris Drees a question about one of the divisions over which he now presides and you’re going to hear a similar answer. It will sound something like, “Well, since I spent some time in or ran that department…”
During Mercury Racing’s event to introduce its new 450R outboard in Nashville on Tuesday, Dress told Trade Only Today, “The good part about taking over, I’ve had a lot of experience with many different aspects of the company and we have a really good staff so the transition between John (Pfeifer, former Mercury president) and I was pretty seamless.”
Prior to taking over as president at Mercury, he held the same title at the company’s parts and accessories division and was vice president of Global Operations and Brunswick Marine P&A Products. Before that, he was president of Attwood Corp. for seven years and was general manager at Mercury Marine from 2004 to 2007. Suffice to say, Drees has a vested interest in every department at the company.
Take the new Mercury propeller facility for which ground was recently broken, for example. “I used to run Mercury propellers,” said Drees. “It’s a plant where I have a lot of history and the people there are second to none.”
He continued, “With our new propeller plant, the way we make propellers is going to get turned upside down,” explaining that the new facility will have increased automation. “There’s always a need for people in our automation, but what people don’t understand is that the robotics we use assist people in the assembly.” One area where robotics will be used is in assisted lifting, which will make production safer. “Where we can automate for quality consistency we do,” he said. “But it also prevents injuries and allows a broader group of people to work in our facilities.”
The 50-year-old was understandably positive after the new motor was introduced to the marine press. He said that the production of the company’s V-6 and V-8 outboards is at full capacity with three shifts running five days a week to catch up with demand.
“Stern drive is still an important product line for Mercury, but the outboards and the versatility you’re allowed with them has taken off,” he said. “The plants are performing well and reacting.”
The other big news for Mercury continues to be the integration of Power Products, which Mercury parent Brunswick purchased in July 2018. Drees said the company has taken over day-to-day operations of the subsidiary and the next step is to get the products integrated with the eventual goal being that Mercury Marine provides boat manufacturers with a one-stop shop for propulsion and electrical power.
“We’re just completing our integration of Power Products into our portfolio so now having a solid electrical system bow to stern is very solid,” he said. “Being in the forefront of electrical management is critical going forward.”
In addition to the marine industry, Drees said that Mercury is working with the RV segment in the areas of digital switching, battery management and lithium ion power sources. He added that Mercury is continually monitoring electrical propulsion and feels that battery development is advancing but still needs to come farther to be viable.
Looking at challenges that his company faces in the coming years, Drees said that the tariffs with China and having “the right skilled labor force, not only for Mercury but for our dealerships” remain at the forefront. For the 2019 boating season, he remains optimistic despite a slow start for dealers in the Midwest due to high water and cold, rainy weather.
Down the road, he said that a priority for Mercury Marine is “how we’re going to utilize connectivity going forward with our manufacturing facility and connecting engine data with our dealers.” With the VesselView mobile app, Mercury is working on setting up portals to assist dealers in fleet monitoring and sharing data to cut down time on diagnosis and repairs. “If there’s an alert on the engine, if a consumer has an alert, it could go direct to the dealer,” Drees said.
Currently, he said the focus for expanding connectivity with the dealership is for Mercury products and dealers, but Brunswick owned Nautic-On, which monitors all the on board functions on a boat, would have the same features as well.
On the home front at Mercury’s Fond du Lac, Wis., headquarters, Drees said sustainability continues to be “a pillar” for Mercury. “A new report was just published and the strides we’ve made are really incredible. The company just earned its eighth green masters award from the state of Wisconsin and Mercury’s Plant 3 recently became the first waste-free plant under the Brunswick umbrella. “Everything within the plant is recyclable,” said Drees. “Every piece of new equipment and everything we do in the plant, we always keep sustainability in mind.”