The boating world was shocked when in May 2020, it was announced that iconic Evinrude Outboard Motors would immediately stop production. Canadian parent company Bombardier Recreational Products had purchased the failing company, then called Outboard Marine Corporation, in a post-bankruptcy sale in 2001. In a statement, it blamed COVID-19 for making its continued manufacturing untenable. Now two years later, will BRP start Evinrude again?
How old is Evinrude?
Evinrude began boat engine manufacturing in 1907 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it remained its entire run. Ole Evinrude came up with the idea for a removable outboard motor. But a century later, four-stroke outboard motors had taken over the business. The company only made two-stroke engines.
The four-stroke engine was cleaner, and with emissions regulations mounting, Evinrude tried various ways to compete. Its last two-stroke E-TEC engines used direct-injection technology, making them as clean as four-strokes. And Evinrude touted its maintenance costs as 50 percent less than for a four-stroke.
Two-stroke engines for motorcycles are making a comeback in 2022. Their rise in popularity is showing in Enduro, NHHA, and Motocross, from hobby racing to professionals. But BRP saw Evinrude as a failing business that Mercury Marine and Yamaha dominated. And those two companies were investing heavily in the development of more powerful, cleaner engines. BRP would have to do the same for Evinrude.
Why are four-stroke outboard motors better?
Besides emitting more pollutants, two-stroke engines run at higher RPMs. So they wear out faster than their four-stroke counterparts. And fuel efficiency is generally half-again better with a four-stroke engine. Combined with it being 90 percent cleaner, the negatives outweigh whatever is gained with going for a two-stroke engine.
“Our outboard engines business has been greatly impacted by COVID-19, obliging us to discontinue production of out outboard motors immediately,” said BRP CEO José Boisjoli. “This business segment had already been facing some challenges and the impact from the current context has forced our hand.”
Could Evinrude rebrand Rotax engines?
BRP is having success with its range of recreational lines like Ski-Doo, Sea-Doo, Can-Am off-road quads and trikes, and Alumacraft boats. Its engine products are its Rotax brand for boats, karts, snowmobiles, and aircraft. It could revive the Evinrude brand with rebranded Rotax engines.
Instead, it signed a deal with Mercury Marine to supply outboard engines for its boat packages. And it is expanding its pontoon and aluminum boat products. BRP already makes two Rotax four-stroke three-cylinder engines for its Sea-Doo line. Since Rotax is widely recognized in this segment, it makes little sense to rebrand or develop new Evinrude products.
BRP waited too long to stop production
The Evinrude line of outboard motors was bleeding money for years. It looks like BRP hung on to see what direction the market would go. But the direction is clear. Now all gas engines are in jeopardy of going away. Other than possibly reviving the Evinrude name for a line of electric outboard engines, it appears that the 115-year-old name is dead and buried.
In almost all cases, the free market dictates the life or death of products. Legacy outboard motor companies like Mercury Marine pivoted to four-stroke engines and are doing well. Companies like Evinrude and also Johnson Outboard Motors, which made decisions to continue as they were, couldn’t survive. And for Evinrude, there is no compelling reason to bring back the brand.