March 23, 2020
By Matt Straw
What does the outboard of the future look like, and what are manufacturers doing to get there? The major trends in outboards tend to be consumer driven. Buyers want more speed from a lighter engine. They want better fuel efficiency, lower maintenance costs, less down time, quiet performance—things like that.
But trends arise out of pure innovation, too. Like contra-rotating props. What improvements will anglers see with two props on the shaft instead of one? “Suzuki had a dual prop 350-hp engine, but they’re coming out with a new 300-hp version—the D300B,” says Rick Hauser, a retired rep who represented Suzuki and recently attended their dealer-reward trip. “It’s relatively light weight compared to other 300-hp engines. It’s responsive, has good torque curve, good out of the hole, and great top-end speed. Dual props give you traction—more surface area for better bite so the hole shot is impressive. Straight-line tracking is improved and when doing a sharp turn under power it sinks down into the water and digs into that turn. Feels really cool.”
Innovations like that drove Suzuki up the market-share ladder to the number-three spot behind Mercury and Yamaha. “Suzuki has come a long ways,” Hauser says. “Suzuki now has 1,200 dealers nationwide. Innovations sparked enough interest to drive some of that increase.”
David Wheeler, product education manager for Yamaha, says, “It’s all about giving customers what they’re looking for. I get that question all the time: Where are we going with the future of outboards? One extension of existing trends all the way back to 2007 is how the Yamaha V8 350 put massive power outside the bigger boats in demand today. The highest demand in fishing boats used to be for 21-footers. Then it was 22 feet, now it’s 24 feet, soon 27 feet. Boats keep getting bigger in each niche. The trend for every style, including every kind of fishing boat, is getting bigger and more spacious.
“Yamaha just introduced the 425 XTO taking us up another notch in high-speed charging and space creation,” he says. “Net charging power increased exponentially so electrical systems can expand to accept all the new gadgets coming out, like trolling motors with guidance systems controlled by remote or from the console—exciting stuff like that. Customers are looking for greater space inside the boat, creating more features and benefits from boat manufacturing. Nicer interiors, more storage, more fishing or relaxing space. That’s the major trend—helping boat builders hone in on what customers want.”
Brian Meyer, Mercury Marine category director for outboards, says boats are indeed getting bigger. “For a number of years, the whole industry has been going up in horsepower,” he says. “One of our base items for 2020 is 450-hp Verado Racing Engine. One amazing thing about it is its weight. It checks in at around 700 pounds. Mercury is lightest in the market in all sizes, due to relentless attention to detail, trying to find ways to reduce weight. Our 4.6-liter 300 Pro XS weighs only 505 pounds. The trend toward lighter weight is a big deal.”
The Big E
Wheeler referred to a trend he calls the Big E. “The electrification of everything these days is something the entire industry is looking at,” he says. “It’s no stranger to the marine business. Electric motors we’ve got, with gobs of torque, but we haven’t mastered batteries for electric outboards. We need to make batteries smaller, safer, and more sustainable. It’s being explored as an opportunity. We’re all looking for it and it’s becoming more and more prevalent. We lag about 10 years behind the auto industry, which we follow. I can’t predict electric motors will eliminate internal combustion as yet, but if we can replace gas with, say, a combination of water and cooking oil, we’ll go there.”
He mentioned one of the newest brands in the industry—Torqueedo. While Swiss companies unveil electric dump trucks capable of hauling loads of 65 tons, Torqueedo of Germany is marketing electric outboards offering up to an amazing 80 hp. The Torqueedo Deep Blue Series is the first and only high-power electric drive system for fishing boats in production today. The company claims it “offers exceptional performance, high safety standards, and easy operation” able to take on “demanding marine deployment.”
Torqueedo engineers think they’ve got the battery problem solved. They pioneered the development of lithium batteries for boating applications, making improvements every year over a decade of research. Their website declares that “by making our batteries just a little bit better each year, we can offer the most comprehensive and integrated protection and safety concept for lithium batteries in the boating sector.”
Engineers claim Torqueedo batteries do not lose charging capacity, supply power even in cold conditions, have no memory effect, and deliver many more cycles than lead-based batteries. Electricity costs for a full 12-hour recharge are estimated at less than $5 and a full charge provides more running time than a tank of gas.
Dependability, lower cost of daily operation, no harmful emissions, and the Paris Accords have encouraged European harbor patrols, police, and tour boats to switch from internal combustion engines to electric outboards and inboards. But, as Wheeler says, everybody in the industry is looking for ways to not only create electric boats and efficient batteries, but to cut emissions and find alternative fuels. And, in the meantime, to reduce fuel consumption
One size engine from one company can have best-in-class fuel economy, while a different size engine from another company can have lower fuel consumption in that class. It happens. But the Evinrude E-Tec G2 has best-in-class fuel economy for engines from 115 to 300 hp. The reason is innovation driven by customer surveys. Direct Injection stratifies low RPM combustion modes. No wasted fuel.
Carl Sandstrom, product manager for Evinrude, says “direct-injected 2-strokes beat 4-strokes head to head,” not only in fuel efficiency, but in almost every category. “The myth that 4-strokes get better fuel economy is based on old technology,” he says. “Older engines used a carburetor to mix air and fuel, which resulted in fuel escaping. Direct Injection into the combustion chamber, rather than into the front of the engine, puts a precise amount of fuel into the cylinder after the exhaust port is closed. No fuel escapes with the exhaust, which also results in the lowest emissions in the industry today.”
As gas prices continue to rise, Honda also honed in on customer concerns about fuel expense. Traditional outboard designs use a fixed air-fuel mixture that does okay at low and high speeds, but not in the mid-range. Honda developed an Oxygen Sensor, which monitors air-fuel ratio and automatically adjusts as needed on the fly. Today, at cruising speed, Honda claims its engines run on up to 20 percent less fuel than other comparably sized outboards—more power when you need it, and greater fuel economy.
Another way to cut fuel consumption is to make engines lighter. The Honda BF15 and BF20 are as about as light as it gets at just 104 pounds each. Hondas are known for running quiet, but these two might be the most fuel-efficient engines on the market in their size range with some eye-opening features—like the highest output charging system of any 15- to 20-hp engines, providing small-boat anglers plenty of power for electronics, even when trolling.
Obviously, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. “Fuel economy has improved, no doubt,” says Ron Bellanti of Strike Zone Communications, PR firm for Suzuki. “There has been no letup in product innovation. They did it by improving high-performance lower-unit hydrodynamics. Good close-quarter maneuvering translates to more power to propulsion per ounce of fuel burned.”
“One of the key trends we’re seeing and responding to in the outboard market is consumer desire for the latest technology and features across a wide range of motors, not just in the highest horsepower models,” says Gus Blakely, Vice President of Sales for Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. Marine Division. “For the 2020 model year, we also re-engineered the lower units on two of our popular SS Series outboards, creating the new DF200RSS and DF150RSS models. By updating these popular 4-cylinder outboards with a sleek new gear case and powerful 2.01 gear reduction ratio, Suzuki can deliver stronger hole shot and superior acceleration for bass boats, walleye boats, bay boats, and other performance fishing rigs while reducing consumption. It’s always our goal to focus on delivering features and innovations that benefit the greatest number of boaters.”
Another way to cut gas costs is to eliminate gas altogether. Mercury launched a 5-hp Propane FourStroke last year. “It addresses a niche that’s growing rapidly,” Meyer says. “Owners of small sailboats, flat-back canoes, and inflatables have propane grills and camp stoves that run on propane, making it a convenient alternate fuel. Propane burns cleaner with fewer emissions.”
Mercury Marine found other ways to cut emissions. Their patented aluminum alloys have made engine blocks lighter, stronger, and more durable, resulting in higher miles-per-gallon. The blocks are made in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where Mercury earned numerous awards for those alloys and the expertise of their complex engine-block designs. And that’s not all. For nearly a decade, Mercury has used only recycled sources instead of prime aluminum.
From the Mercury website: “Using recycled aluminum not only spares the environment from the mining of bauxite ore from which aluminum is derived, but also saves energy. The energy required to melt aluminum scrap is approximately only five percent of that required to create primary aluminum from bauxite ore.” For years, Mercury has stated that their goal is to “build the lightest outboards in their class while delivering exemplary power, performance, and durability,” all of which can cut fuel costs and emissions while, amazingly, delivering more power.
It’s not easy to bring about better fuel economy and lower emissions with anglers constantly demanding more speed and power. “Remarkably, engines are getting a lot more efficient,” Bellanti says. “For a long time the trend has been creating hot-rod outboards for bass and walleye boats. Well, today they’re getting that along with better efficiency, better fuel economy, and lower emissions.” Truly a win-win-win.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Matt Straw contributes to all In-Fisherman publications on a variety of angling and equipment topics.
For the latest on today's outboards, visit:
Honda Marine, marine.honda.com
Mercury Marine, mercurymarine.com
Suzuki Marine, suzukimarine.com
Yamaha Outboards, yamahaoutboards.com