What BRP’s decision to stop building Evinrude E-TEC outboards means for owners.
By Gregg Mansfield and Barry Gibson
When BRP announced in late May the company would stop production of Evinrude E-TEC and E-TEC G2 outboards and turn to its rival Mercury Marine to supply outboards to BRP’s boat brands, it seemed like an elaborate media hoax.
Six months later the news is still hard to believe and has left the marine industry wondering what happened. The venerable brand was hit hard by the pandemic and the market for two-stroke outboard technology has been rapidly shrinking.
Rather than waiting for a rebound, BRP President and CEO Jose Boisjoli decided to refocus the company “on the growth of its boat brands with new technology and innovative marine products.” As a result, the Sturtevant, Wisconsin, plant where the Evinrude E-TEC and E-TEC G2 were built will be repurposed for new projects.
For Mercury Marine, it’s busier than usual as the company started signing up Evinrude dealers to start selling Mercury engines. Many of the dealers sold BRP boat brands Alumacraft and Manitou and the boats usually had Evinrude outboards on the transom.
“We’ve worked very closely with the BRP team to really get integrated into what their plans are with the boats and how they go to market,” said Randy Caruana, vice president of Americas and Asia Pacific for Mercury Marine. “That has been a very quick transition because we went from not being offered to being the preferred brand. So that took a little bit of work, but it went very, very well.”
Caruana estimates that 80 percent of the 700 E-TEC dealers in the country are now selling Mercury Marine engines. Additional dealers are expected to join the Mercury network once they sell out of the E-TEC products, Caruana said.
For owners of Evinrude outboards, BRP’s decision left a cloud over their head—especially when it comes to warranty and service work. BRP says it will continue to honor warranties and reportedly provide parts for up to 10 years. Boaters who need routine service or warranty work will continue to visit their local Evinrude dealership.
“Typically the dealer would sell and service both brands or multiple brands, but really today the only difference is those dealers can’t buy new E-TECs, but they still have the capability of buying parts through BRP and they still have support through BRP,” said Mercury Marine’s Caruana. “BRP is still going to be there to support the product in the field, through those dealers. The only difference is if they want to sell a new engine today, they don’t have the ability to sell any E-TECs.”
Brothers Scott and Gary Favreau own Bamforth Marine in Brunswick, Maine, a successful third-generation, family-owned dealership that has been selling Evinrude outboards for the past 71 years, and which had sold over 100 motors by late summer of 2020. Both say they have heard little from Bombardier since the initial notice that the Evinrude line was being discontinued.
“There’s nothing new to report, except that they’re doing ‘ghost projects,’ whatever that means,” said Scott, “but we did hear that Bombardier may start using Mercury engines for their boat packages, and that they’ve allocated $30 million for continued Evinrude parts production. We don’t think parts are going to be a problem.”
“I’ve been telling our customers to write a letter to Bombardier saying how good the motors are, and that they should start producing them again,” explained Gary. “We still have people coming through the door that want to buy an Evinrude. There’s still demand.”
When asked if Bamforth might take on another line of outboards to replace Evinrude, the Favreaus weren’t optimistic. “We’re doing well with our Suzuki line, but we really understand Evinrude outboards because of all the years we’ve been selling and servicing them,” said Scott. “We’re not sure at this point we want to ‘learn’ a new line of engines. We’ll just have to hope that somehow Evinrude will come back. It’s possible.”
While BRP’s decision to exit the outboard business after 110 years is a surprise, analysts are not convinced it will be permanent. The Canadian company continues to promote the next generation of engine technology with Project Ghost that would place an outboard-style power plant under the transom to free up valuable deck space.
“We will concentrate our efforts on new and innovative technologies and on the development of our boat companies, where we continue to see a lot of potential to transform the on-water experience for consumers,” Boisjoli said in a press release.
The decision to leave the outboard business has already showed up on BRP’s balance sheets. Revenue from BRP’s marine division were down 35 percent this year compared to the same period in 2019, Boisjoli told analysts.
Caruana said while he BRP’s sudden outboard exit surprised him, consumers prefer four-stroke outboards that are quieter and more efficient. Mercury Marine stopped making two-stroke outboards nearly 15 years ago.
“The market has been moving to four-stroke pretty rapidly,” Caruana said. “We had the OptiMax and when we introduced a new four-stroke to replace OptiMax, there was zero resistance from the marketplace. It took to the four-stroke Pro XS incredibly well.
“We kind of were surprised that they would discontinue it because they had worked so hard to develop the E-TEC brand. Although it would have been a tough battle, to be honest with it, we thought it would have maybe transitioned to a four-stroke.”