When I was a kid, there was Johnson, Evinrude and Mercury.
Johnson and Evinrude (OMC) were the workhorse motors, and Mercury was thought of as the go fast motors. We were an OMC family.
We all knew to stay away from Chrysler outboard motors, and the Japanese outboard invasion had not yet occurred.
Johnson and Evinrude were iconic American brands. They fought along with our servicemen in every war of that last century, and they introduced generations of kids and adults alike to a love of the water and of boating.
My brother and I started out with a 4hp Evinrude, that had been our grandfather’s before, it was on a funny looking small aluminum boat that Dad procured somewhere and affectionately named the “GOB”. We later moved up to a 6hp Johnson that had both forward and reverse gears. It was eventually stolen by some kid in the neighborhood.
The only difference is Johnson and Evinrude was color, decals and marketing. OMC owned somewhere around 40% of the outboard market, some dealers were Evinrude, others were Johnson, none were both.
Jump forward to the mid 1980s, some would say that American outboard manufacturers had been resting on their laurels when Yamaha showed up with a vengeance gaining ground quickly with a new line of more advanced, strong and reliable outboard motors.
Jump forward to the late 1990s, Japanese outboard manufacturers Yamaha and Suzuki are so much more advanced than their American competitors that Mercury signs a deal with Yamaha to manufacture many of their power heads and OMC does the same with Suzuki for all of their four stroke motors.
About the same time, the EPA begins mandating much tougher standards on outboard motor manufactures.
OMC pairs up with highly respected German engineering company FICHT to produce their first ever Fuel Injected outboard motor, in hopes it would satisfy the EPA, and be competitive with Mercury’s new fuel injected, Yamaha built motors.
FICHT however, is now thought of as one of the greatest blunders in corporate history.
The difference in Evinrude FICHT and “New Coke” is that Coca-Cola had the resources to fix the problem, OMC did not.
The FICHT technology was solid, but it required manufacturing tolerances (quality control) that OMC no longer had.
OMC rushed a half-baked product to market way too soon, and it failed catastrophically.
In December of 2000, OMC declared chapter 11 bankruptcy, leaving Evinrude dealers unable to fulfill mounting FICHT related warranty claims.
Many new Evinrude owners were left with new, expensive and non-working (blown up) motors.
The effects were felt throughout the industry, as boat manufacturers that had hitched their wagon to OMC no longer had an OEM supplier, and were left with unsaleable product, and bare hulls.
Marine dealers that for generations had “OMC” on their street sign, or “Evinrude” in their business name were left in a daze.
So, who won in this crazy time? Primarily Yamaha and Mercury.
Both companies scooped up a huge chunk of the disenfranchised OMC dealer base and gained huge market shares as OEM boat motor suppliers as well.
Bombardier Steps In -
Canadian Company Bombardier buys the rights to everything OMC. They take the solid technology that was FICHT, improve on it, and build a far better fuel injected two stroke outboard, the Evinrude E-TEC.
But time had passed, the OMC dealer down the street was now the Yamaha dealer down the street. When the Evinrude rep dropped by with a box of donuts to talk about the latest outboard technology, they were not welcome - the void had been filled.
Without a strong dealer base, Evinrude was destined to fail - again.
The Evinrude E-TEC was a greatly improved motor, but it was still based on two stroke, as rest of the world was focusing on four stroke.
They were both sophisticated and complicated to work on, often leaving experienced mechanics frustrated, as they just replaced expensive electrical parts, chasing problems.
But Evinrude's biggest problem was that they left too many others holding their bag of @&$@ when they filed chapter 11 so many years ago.
Reputation is everything, and I suppose none of us were too shocked to hear yesterday that Bombardier was pulling Evinrude’s plug for good.
I will miss the iconic brand that I grew up with, and learned to waterski behind.
It was the first outboard motor I ever actually owned as a young adult.
That old Evinrude two stroke, smokey smell takes me back years and reminds me of my father and of so many great childhood memories.
- In the pic, thats me on Mom's lap, my brother Robert and sister Cynthia, in the "GOB", Dad always had the camera.