New Coke, CNN+, Sony Betamax, the Edsel and Cheetos Lip Balm (yes, there actually was such a thing).  These are all examples of good companies that misread the market and introduced a “bad” product.  After all, nobody bats 1000.  But could the latest intro by BRP – makers of the highly successful Sea Doo brand (that later acquired Evinrude) – soon be on this list?

Introducing The Rotax Outboard

Rotax OutboardIn August of 2022, BRP announced the introduction of a “groundbreaking” new two-stroke outboard with “stealth technology”.  Branded as a Rotax, the engine is mounted beneath the boat deck so that it is not visible – much like a sterndrive or inboard engine.  But, unlike those proven forms of propulsion, the new Rotax motor is underneath the deck of the boat and is partially submerged.  Houston, I think we have a problem.

Though I have not personally seen this new motor yet, my understanding is that it is basically an E-TEC 3-cyclinder powerhead that is mounted horizontally and secured to the back deck of the boat via 16 bolts.   The system is pressurized to prevent water incursion and features an advanced water detection system and pump in case there’s a breach.  Hmmm…something tells me this is a very bad idea.

Though it features an E-TEC powerhead, it is branded as a “Rotax” perhaps because of negative associations with the Evinrude name.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Manitou with Rotax OutboardAccording to the Company’s press release, the new design offers “the same advantages of a traditional outboard engine – such as price, performance, handling, ease of maintenance, and full trim” with additional benefits of being hidden, quiet and efficient.  On this last item, the Company claims that the new motor “allows for up to 20% improved fuel efficiency compared to traditional outboard engines.”

While this last claim sounds nice in this age of rising gas prices, some of the other “benefits” seem rather doubtful.  For example, how can it be easy to maintain if the engine is under the boat and secured with 16 bolts?  Also, in order to achieve full trim, the engine will actually raise the back deck and so you cannot mount a seat or stand in that area when the motor is trimmed.

But my biggest concern, by far, is one of reliability – not because it is built upon the old E-TEC technology but because of the fact that the engine is partially submerged.  Corrosion and marine growth are likely to be issues and why few saltwater boaters would touch this.  Additionally, more of the engine is exposed to underwater obstructions which may be a concern on some waterways.

Who’s it For?

Alumacraft with Rotax OutboardThis is a difficult question.  Let’s start by addressing who this engine is not for.  Saltwater boaters will not go for this because of the corrosion concerns stated above.  Freshwater anglers probably will not be excited about it either because the rear deck is relatively high off the water and you cannot mount a seat in that area.  Freshwater pleasure boaters and “pontooners” are perhaps the closest fit because of the cleaner look (vs. an outboard) and increased deck space (although the back area is not very usable).  However, even with this group, the added benefits of being “hidden, quiet and efficient” are not nearly enough to offset concerns that are likely to surface regarding reliability.

One other inhibiting factor is that, if the propulsion system doesn’t work out, you can’t exactly replace it since the boats are purpose-built for this propulsion system.   Bottom line is, I can’t think of a single group of boaters that this engine is ideally suited for which is obviously a problem.

Why Did BRP Introduce This?

I have no insider knowledge as to why BRP went forward with this but can speculate on some of the motivations based on my years of experience in the boating industry.  One of the things I learned many years ago is that much of the profitability in the boating industry is on the engine side.  Producing boats is a very labor-intensive process and is fairly low margin.  That is part of the reason why major engine companies such as Brunswick (Mercury), the defunct OMC, and later Yamaha purchased boat companies – to secure transoms for their motors.  But when the Evinrude brand was discontinued in 2020, BRP suddenly lost access to those lucrative engine margins on the back of company-owned brands – Manitou and Alumacraft.  Recreating their own outboard engine was perhaps an attempt to reclaim that valuable real-estate.

So is this the return of 2-stroke outboards?  I highly doubt it.  But if you like the sound of this new Rotax outboard and have money to spare, you might want to pick one up soon because I don’t expect them to be around for long.

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his website.

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