I was not the only one surprised to read in an Oct. 13 news release that in 2012 Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) will be sourcing portable outboard motors from Tohatsu to fill out its Evinrude product line. Mercury Marine has been engaged in a joint venture with Tohatsu Corporation for more than 20 years; a Mercury spokesperson told me the company was “disappointed” with the decision by Tohatsu, and that Mercury is discussing the matter with its Japanese partner.
The BRP media release states it has “signed an agreement with Tohatsu Corporation to supply a range of Evinrude outboard engines from 3.5 hp to 15 hp.” When I contacted the BRP media relations agency for details, I was offered a copy of the media release, and told BRP would have more information – such as the number of models and horsepower rating, expected delivery date, and even whether these motors will have two-stroke or four-stroke powerheads – at a later, unspecified date. There are no photos, either. Evinrude dealers I contacted had the same media release and no additional information. Tohatsu currently offers portable motors at the 3.5, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9.8, and 15-horsepower ratings, and all of those motors are four-strokes. I’m guessing some of those models will be painted white or blue and get an Evinrude decal.
Which makes me wonder what happened to the BRP plan to take its E-TEC direct-injection technology down to the portable-outboard category. Just 18 months ago an Evinrude dealer showed me a communication from BRP indicating that the company was hard at work on E-TEC portables, and expected them to be tested and ready soon. Those motors may not have panned out for technical reasons, or because they’re too expensive, or perhaps BRP can’t make the investment to start production right now. The Oct. 13 release quotes BRP President and CEO Jose Boisjoli, “BRP’s focus remains on the development and manufacturing of high-value and higher-horsepower engines, using the E-TEC technology …” Reading between the lines, I interpret that to mean that small, portable motors are neither high-value nor high-horsepower, and so not worthy of E-TEC.
I do know that Evinrude dealers are tired of having no lower range to the product range, which currently ends with an E-TEC 15 HO. That motor, introduced in early 2010 is really a de-tuned Evinrude E-TEC 25/35, and at 177 pounds is way overweight for the rating – 45 pounds more than a Mercury FourStroke 15 and simply too heavy for some small boats. In my market, freshwater anglers who want a smaller trolling kicker next to a Evinrude main engine have to rig a Merc or Yamaha on the transom, which is sort of like putting a Chevy tailgate on a Ford pick-up, in my opinion. So BRP has cut a deal with Tohatsu, and next year its dealers will most likely have small four-strokes to complete the product line. It will be interesting to see if and how Mercury responds.
Back to the Mercury angle. Tohatsu Corporation has been building outboards since 1956, when it introduced its 1.5-horsepower OB-2 model. In 1987, Mercury Marine and Tohatsu Corporation created a joint venture called Tohatsu Marine Corporation (TMC) to manufacture smaller outboards. Right now all Mercury models 30 horsepower and less are manufactured by TMC in Japan. A Mercury spokesperson told me that the motors smaller than 20 horsepower are generally designed by Tohatsu, while larger models are a collaboration between the two companies. The Tohatsu product line includes motors from 2.5 to 115 horsepower, and it sells the same models under the Nissan Marine brand from its U.S . marketing office in Texas.
The Nissan branding seems to be OK with Mercury. This new deal with BRP…well, not so much because it helps a competitor. And perhaps there’s concern that supplies of these small motors, which were impacted by the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, could get tight for Merc dealers.
Note that BRP is buying motors from Tohatsu Corporation, not the TMC joint venture. I was told that the joint venture guarantees Mercury priority access to motors built by TMC, so the deal with BRP should not affect engine shipments to Mercury dealers.