Last Friday, Mercury Marine held a press event at its test facility of Lake X in central Florida. IBI, among many other boating publications, attended the event to see new products the company is offering. Unfortunately, the products the boating press came to see will be embargoed for the near future, but they will be worth reading about when they come online.
IBI sat down with Mercury president John Pfeifer to discuss current developments with the marine engine builder. Pfeifer was upbeat about global sales conditions and enthusiastic about where Mercury Marine is headed. The Brunswick division has spent US$900m on new-product development and infrastructure enhancement over the past decade. “We’ve increased our manufacturing capacity to build both new and existing engines,” says Pfeifer. “We also continue to reinvest 7.5% of our annual sales on product development. We’re back at full throttle with spending and investments.”
Beyond engine production, Mercury continues to develop new controls and rigging that reflect the growth of technology across the consumer world. “When you go back 15 years, the helm of a boat is completely different from today,” says Pfeifer. “My wife, for instance, is an experienced boater but I doubt she would’ve taken our 35ft boat out by herself back then. Now she has no hesitation about bringing the boat out alone with the kids, thanks to new technologies like joystick docking. We plan to continue to move technologies like these across our product lines. We’re investing heavily where we see new consumer trends.”
Mercury recently inaugurated a new NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) facility that includes state-of-the-art equipment like a Hemmi Anechoic chamber and simulation chambers for testing noise and vibration on boats above 50ft. “This field has become much more sophisticated than when we first started 15 years ago,” says Pfeifer. “Back then, it was primarily about limiting noise and vibration, but now we engineer the sounds for engines that seem to resonate with specific boaters.”
Owners of its Verado four-stroke outboards want engines that are virtually noise-less, while Pro XS outboard owners like the throaty rumble of their motors. “This facility gives us the capacity to engineer specific sounds for specific engines,” says Pfeifer.
The MerCruiser sterndrive line remains an “important product” for the engine builder, but Pfeifer notes it’s now a “product line” and not a “division” because of the decline in sales. “Sterndrives are still very important, but you don’t hear about them as much as some of our other products,” he says. “The largest market remains the USA and a lot of builders still want them. Many boaters value the boat’s swim platform, so they want a sterndrive package that provides that.”
Mercury is “100% opposed” to the Trump Administration’s recently announced tariffs on aluminium and steel. “It’s not impacting us yet, but over time it will,” says Pfeifer. “We buy a lot of aluminium for our engines and our gears and shafts are made out of steel. We believe in free trade and don’t think this will help the American consumer.”
Pfeifer remains bullish on Mercury’s future. The company recently signed a new contract with its main labour union, IAMAW Lodge 1947, three years earlier than the previous one expires. Unlike the previous negotiations, which involved threats of moving manufacturing from Fond du Lac to Stillwater, both sides were pleased with the new contract, which runs through 2023. “We see it as a gain for both sides,” says Pfeifer. “It will benefit the union and Mercury now and in the future. It give us stability and makes us the employer of choice in the area.” Mercury currently has about 3,200 workers at its Fond du Lac headquarters, with about 6,000 worldwide.
“We’re optimistic about the years ahead,” says Pfeifer. “We look at 10-year horizons for the economy. We know at some point there will be another recession. Despite any blips, however, we will continue to see growth.”
Mercury has started to see a new group, Millennials, entering the marketplace. “They’ve tended to be delayed when making purchases,” says Pfeifer. “Statistically speaking, they’re just as active as Boomers when it comes to boating, but they tend to use boats in different ways. We are seeing that high level of activity, however, so it’s encouraging for the industry’s future.”