Yamaha unveils ‘next generation’ four strokes

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In the largest and broadest product introduction in its history, Yamaha Motor Corp. presented nine new outboard engines from 4 hp to 300 hp at a media event Monday in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"We believe by introducing products now, we're going to catch the market in an upswing," said Phil Dyskow, president of the marine group for Yamaha Motor Corp. "We've got to give customers a reason to buy and a reason to go to boat shows and to visit their dealer. If all we do is discount closeouts and excess products and repossessions, we aren't doing anything to help restart the industry."

Yamaha unveiled the engines to 43 journalists at The Chattanoogan Hotel. Seventeen boats, including vessels from Contender, EdgeWater, Pursuit and Grady-White, were available for testing. The engine builder has re-engineered its entire four-stroke V6 lineup, which includes the 225-, 250- and 300-hp outboards. In addition, a new mid-range engine, the F70, was unveiled, as well as two portable engines - the F4 and F6. For the inshore and freshwater bass boat markets, Yamaha announced new VMAX four-stroke models in 200-, 225- and 250-hp models.

All of the engines are touted as being lighter, more compact, more fuel-efficient and better performing than previous models. "This is the next generation of four-strokes," said Dyskow. "You can see the direction we're going - significantly better power-to-weight ratio, lighter weight, better fuel economy, better performance."

The engines are lighter, but their displacements are greater. Current 225- and 250-hp models are built with 3.3-liter engines with a displacement of 204.6 cubic inches, while the new versions utilize 4.2-liter engines with 254-cubic-inch displacements. The new V6 300-hp engine replaces the V8 300, which used the same block as the 350-hp engine. The V6 version weighs 246 pounds less and is 17 percent more fuel-efficient than the V8 version, according to Dyskow. The new 225 and 250 weigh 558 pounds. The previous 225 came in at 583 pounds, and the 250 weighed 604 pounds.

The V6 models and the F70 will make their debut in February at the Miami International Boat Show, while the inshore models and the portables will hit the market in January, said Dyskow.

Yamaha delayed the introduction by a few months to allow dealers to sell existing product, he said. "Normally we do product introductions around July 1st when the program year kicks in," said Dyskow. "We looked at what was happening in the marketplace and we saw that there was a fairly significant bubble of inventory that still existed. If we had launched the new product [in July], it would have made it very difficult for the dealers to sell what they already had. So we made a conscious decision to wait until early November."

Yamaha also announced that the engines will have new patented shift dampeners that will eliminate "clunking" when the engine is shifted out of gear. The company also told journalists about its new Command Link Plus instrumentation, which features a five-inch color display and can monitor up to three engines on one screen. The motor company will also offer an optional anti-theft technology for the large engines. Plus, Yamaha plans to reintroduce the 3.3-liter 250-hp engine with mechanical controls. (All the high-horsepower models have digital, fly-by-wire controls.)

"This option is for boat owners who want to repower and it's also ideal for price-point packages where we are trying to do everything we can to control expense of the equipment," said Dyskow.

Dyskow said he believes the industry is over the hump.

"We're expecting some modest growth in 2010, but then more sustained growth in 2011 and 2012," he said in his presentation to journalists. "The most important piece of information for all of us is that Americans are participating in boating in record numbers. There are over 15 million registered powerboats in the U.S. Some of those are getting older and are going to have to be replaced. Sales in 2010 will be slightly up over 2009."

But the makeup of sales will be different.

"In 2009, a significant portion of the retail sales were categorized by what I would call 'distress sales,' repossessions, closeouts," he said. "Those will continue in 2010, but I do feel the significant portion of the overall retail sales next year will return to more traditional new-boat package sales."

— Chris Landry

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