The DNA of Innovation
Alain Villemure is vice-president and general manager of the Marine Propulsion Systems Division at BRP. In this exclusive interview with PBR, he gives the inside take on both the Evinrude and Sea-Doo brands and the reasons for their outstanding rise to power …
1. How does the marine business, as regards your PWC and outboard brands, compare as an industry to the other markets you have been involved with, i.e. when you worked with General Motors?
The products themselves can’t really be compared because of their purpose. One is a more essential good needed for personal transportation while the other one is more a discretionary product given its leisure nature for the most part. I would, however, say that there is a lot to get inspired by when looking at the automotive industry. The rate of innovation and advanced technologies at the service of a better consumer experience is certainly something that we can learn a great deal from as a company.
2. How in your view does Evinrude’s history affect its present and future outlook?
Being associated with and inspired by such a legacy is a privilege and a responsibility, and you know what …? It fits very well with BRP DNA. Our goal is to use our innovation and technology capabilities to define products that deliver the ultimate ride and the best consumer experience. The Evinrude E-TEC G2 outboard engine fits right in line with that objective. The G2 is by far the most significant innovation that has been launched in the outboard industry in the last 25 years. While the Evinrude E-TEC G2 is building on a significant heritage, it is at the same time the first blank-sheet-design Evinrude engine since BRP acquired it in 2001. With its unrivalled performance (20% more torque, 15% more fuel efficiency and 75% less emissions than the best engine in the category) and breakthrough design, and with its integrated hydraulic and power steering, I-trim, clean rigging and colour-matching possibilities, the G2 is definitely a market-shaping product. The Evinrude E-TEC G2 is also a clear indication of BRP’s capabilities and future focus. You can therefore expect more market-shaping products from Evinrude in the next few years.
3. Through the ups and the downs of Evinrude’s history, what would you say have been the reasons for their survival and continuing success?
Our commitment to the end-user was ever present. From Ole Evinrude’s desire to keep ice cream from melting – a very end-user experience – to our ability to significantly improve the boating experience with features like dynamic power steering and I-trim on the new Evinrude E-TEC G2, it proves that we care for what happens on the boat, we care about the ultimate experience. At any moment in our history our best work has come when we put our innovation capabilities to the service of a new and better consumer experience. This is BRP Evinrude’s DNA.
4. What excites you personally about BRP’s Sea-Doo and Evinrude brands?
It is, in fact, what has excited me throughout my last 20 years with BRP – the privilege and opportunity to be part of a team of great people that design, engineer, produce and market paradigm-shifting products that shaped their respective industry. Think about the first sit-down PWC, the first integrated brake and reverse (IBR) PWC, and obviously the Evinrude E-TEC G2, to name a few.
5. How important do you see Evinrude’s new G2 being to the future of the company?
The Evinrude E-TEC G2 is definitely a key instrument for growing our outboard engine business. To understand why, let’s go back in our history with Evinrude. At the time we took over the destiny of Evinrude, the brand had lost a significant number of boatbuilders and dealers. We were for years busy making the E-TEC technology the industry benchmark and deploying it on all horsepower segments. In the meantime, we have received many awards, like the Clean Air Technology Excellence Award from the EPA, and recognition, like authorisation to put our engines on Lake Bodensee, one of Europe’s most pristine lakes, and reached the highest level of customer satisfaction in the industry. But to jump-start our network expansion we needed a more differentiated product, an E-TEC second generation (G2). The impact of G2 was significant. We have, in fact, signed more than 25 boatbuilders and more than 100 dealers since its launch last June.
6. How key has the ‘Spark’ PWC been to BRP’s position in the market?
The Sea-Doo Spark is a game-changer and a huge success. It allowed a stable or slowly declining industry to grow back in a significant way by making a fun activity accessible to many more people. This is no small achievement.
7. What are the three greatest challenges you foresee BRP and the marine market in general having to face over the next five years?
We prefer thinking about opportunities instead of challenges. BRP’s reputation is built on its capacity to out-innovate its competitors by introducing paradigm-shifting products. The introduction of the Sea-Doo Spark PWC – a fun, affordable, more fuel-efficient and 100% recyclable product to attract newcomers to the sport and rejuvenate that industry – is just an example. The Evinrude E-TEC G2, with its bold design, clean rigging, low emissions and performance, is creating a new era in the outboard industry. You’ll just have to follow us to see what we will do next …
We’ll continue to out-innovate our competitors to further fuel our growth trajectory. This will be supported by initiatives to make our company more agile and lean.
8. If you met your competitors from the outboard market face to face, what would you say to them?
Let’s make our industry better so we have more people enjoying the pleasure of boating!
9. Are you glad BRP took the 2-stroke route when your outboard competitors all pursued the 4-stroke alternatives?
I sure am glad we did. However, I would put the question a bit differently: Why are BRP investing in 2-stroke direct injection when competitors are solely focusing on 4-stroke engines?
Strong from a long and diversified history, BRP’s engine portfolio is the most significant of all power sport and marine companies. With Rotax and Evinrude you have almost 200 years of engine development experience. This portfolio is made of on- and off-the-road vehicles (Can-Am ATVs, SSVs and Spyder), on snow (Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles) on water (with Sea-Doo PWCs and Evinrude outboard engines) and in the air (Rotax aircraft engines). Two-stroke direct injection happens to be the best technology choice for two of our businesses. Outboards are all about torque and fuel efficiency while snowmobiles are all about power to weight and fuel efficiency. In both cases, E-TEC technology brings a significant edge.
Now, because we share the technology in two product lines we can build economy of scale that none of our competitors can benefit from. On top of that, each industry requirement has made the technology even better. Just think of 165hp out of an 800 E-TEC snowmobile engine and you will understand what I mean.
10. Are BRP considering developing alternative technologies to those currently needing to be powered by petroleum or fossil fuel?
BRP are always innovating and looking for opportunities to maximise the consumer’s experience. Recently, boating enthusiasts have been adversely affected by the emergence of ethanol-blended gasoline. Ethanol, by nature, attracts and bonds with water. For marine engines that are in the water or spend extended periods of time in storage during the off seasons, this can do serious damage. Because of this, Evinrude joined other marine manufacturers to develop a viable alternative fuel. After four years of comprehensive testing that included the support of the US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Argonne National Laboratory, BRP have helped develop a marine-friendly biofuel called biobutanol. This fuel delivers the same performance as traditional gasoline blends, without the downsides of ethanol blends. This is just one example of the relentless work that BRP and Evinrude do to push the boundaries of the power sports world.
11. If there was one other company you would have liked to have been vice-president of, which might that have been, and why?
You must be kidding. There is no better company to work for. We design, engineer, manufacturer and market products that allow people to have fun, and I get to test all those products. There is no better job than that!
The Highs and Lows Along the Way
Since its inception over 100 years ago, the Evinrude brand has been at the forefront of innovation and technological advancement in the outboard engine arena. But the Evinrude story really began in 1906 when Ole Evinrude was paddling across a Wisconsin lake, battling the hot summer sun to get ice cream. By the time he had returned home with the sweet treat, it had melted and he had realised that the trip would have been much quicker if the rowing boat had been fitted with a motor. Ole’s light bulb moment had occurred, and from then on, he began to design the first outboard engine, which would eventually give rise to the Evinrude brand.
Jumping swiftly ahead to the year 2000, when the Outboard Motor Corporation (OMC), under the strain of making their engines comply with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements and decreasing sales, filed for bankruptcy on 21st December. The demise of OMC was a sad day for the outboard industry, but Bombardier Inc., makers of trains and planes, saw an opportunity to acquire a global brand and purchased the Evinrude assets. Three months later, on 21st March 2001, the phoenix of Evinrude rose from the now defunct OMC and was reborn into an internationally recognised brand to continue its legacy of quality and innovation.
On 27th September 2001, the first Bombardier Inc.-built Evinrude came off the assembly line. Two years later, in February 2004, the company launched the Evinrude E-TEC technology at the Miami Boat Show, including the in-line, 2-cylinder 40, 50 and 60 hp engines, and the in-line, 3-cylinder 75 and 90 hp engines.
In December 2003, Bombardier Inc. sold their recreational products division, which included the Evinrude brand and assets, forming a new company, Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP). (Today, the brands that now sit under the BRP umbrella alongside Evinrude include the Sea-Doo Personal Watercraft (PWC) range, Rotax engines, the Can-Am Spyder, a luxury three-wheeled vehicle, the Can-Am All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and the Side by Side (SSV) series.)
May 2004 saw the first Evinrude E-TEC big-block V6 unveiled to the media at the Ralph Evinrude Test Centre in Stuart, Florida. This model was available with 200, 225 and 250 hp and 225 H.O. Just under a year later, in February 2005, the 115hp Evinrude E-TEC engine, the first mid-range version on a 4-cylinder platform, had its debut at the same event.
When it comes to leading the field with innovative environmentally friendly engine credentials, Evinrude are the current masters. This is exemplified by the fact that the brand was awarded the prestigious Clean Air Excellence Award from the US EPA for its E-TEC technology in April 2005, a first for an outboard engine manufacturer. In addition, Evinrude is the first and only 2-stroke outboard engine that is 90hp and below to receive registration from the Bodensee-Schiffahrts-Ordnung Commission to operate on the pristine waters of Lake Constance, bordered by Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Evinrude marked their 100th anniversary on 14th February 2008 at the Miami Boat Show when they introduced their 2009 models, including the 300hp Evinrude E-TEC engines. Moving to the present, BRP and the Evinrude brand continue to pioneer innovations in the outboard engine industry. This title has been reinforced with the latest introduction to the range, the E-TEC G2, which recently won the Innovation Award in the ‘Powerboat of the Year’ category at the third FLAGSHIP NIGHT industry meeting of the Delius Klasing Verlag and Düsseldorf Boat Show, held in January 2015.