VIDEO: Mercury and Volvo discuss the future of sterndrive propulsion

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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.

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