By Jeff Hemmel
Electronic throttle is generating a lot of press in the PWC market as of late.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, electronic throttle essentially replaces the mechanical link between the throttle lever and throttle body with an electronic one. Gone is the physical cable the throttle lever pulls, and in its place are various sensors and wires that relay the lever position to the throttle body. An electric motor physically opens and closes the actual throttle.
Besides its silky feel and elimination of worry about an actual cable, one of the biggest advantages of converting to electronic throttle is it opens the doors to innovative new technologies. Yamaha was the first to embrace the concept, unveiling cruise control and no-wake modes that have likely played a part in the FX Cruiser SHO becoming the best-selling luxury model on the market. Last year, Sea-Doo joined in as well, first with cruise control and no-wake variations of its own, followed by selectable acceleration curves and tow-sports modes in 2010.
It would seem the technology is here to stay, although Kawasaki and Honda have yet to jump on the bandwagon. Critics, however, point out that increased reliance on electronics may mean increased potential for trouble.
Valid concerns, or just techno-fear? And if electronic throttle is the future, where does it go from here? We looked into the answers.
“Electronic throttle enabled us to launch some industry-first features,” noted Yamaha Product Manager Scott Watkins, “including No Wake Mode, Cruise Assist and Reverse with Traction Control. These components were first introduced on the Yamaha SHO Series, which went on to become the most award-winning personal watercraft of all time.”
Watkins’ message, while obviously promotional, is clear: The public has embraced the technology. Holding the throttle lever for extended periods of same-speed cruising on a PWC is no fun, nor is holding that lever at 5 mph through lengthy slow-speed zones. A driver also can overpower the craft in reverse. Having electronic solutions to all these situations is an obvious improvement in the driver experience.
And as Sea-Doo demonstrated on some of its 2010 models, those solutions can extend beyond the obvious. The manufacturer has now included the ability to select actual acceleration profiles based on the rider’s needs and desires. Performance riders can get the full might of the engine’s potential with the press of a button, while family riders can tame things down so as not to overwhelm the driver and passengers.
“The ability to modify the power on the fly allows the operator greater customization of his watercraft to fit different conditions,” said Sea-Doo Product Manager Julie Tourville. “Bottom line for the user, he has more control and can do more with the same machine than ever before.
“The iTC (intelligent throttle control) system was developed from day one to open the door to dozens of uses. The cruise control and slow speed mode was an immediate need consumers have been wanting, but the functions introduced in 2010 included modes and features people talked about but might not have truly thought possible or useful on a watercraft until now. By being able to manipulate the power delivery for a given situation, you put the operator in a position of having more control than ever before, giving him more confidence and letting him focus on simply having more fun.”
Sea-Doo has even gone so far as to offer different acceleration profiles for towing, enabling drivers to pre-select how aggressively the boat accelerates, and then lock in a set towing speed.
The Ghost In The Machine
The flipside to all this innovation is, as critics point out, there is far more that can go wrong now, especially with craft that operate in a wet environment. Watkins downplays these fears.
“This technology is not new to Yamaha,” he said. “With 50 years of experience in the marine industry and deep history in automotive engine design, Yamaha has ushered in many advanced technologies, such as electronic throttle on personal watercraft, that have been proven over years across a variety of applications. This history, expertise and trusted technology are prevalent in every WaveRunner we build.”
“This is an existing technology being adapted to the water,” echoed Sea-Doo’s Tourville, “similar to four-strokes being introduced in 2002 with great success in regard to reliability and durability. This technology has been utilized in the automotive industry for well over a decade and has now made its way to the water. With the advancements in electronics the system can resolve potential issues by itself or warn the operator of a situation.
“If anything, this technology increases reliability and rider and machine awareness.”
As to the future of electronic throttle, the two manufacturers — at least on the record — seem to indicate two different philosophies.
As you might expect, Sea-Doo embraces any and all concepts. “The iTC system has opened the door to so many possibilities that were previously not an option,” said Tourville. “The future use of this technology is as open as our customers’ imaginations.”
Yamaha, meanwhile, takes a more pragmatic approach. “The benefit and value to the customer is really what’s important in determining the future of any technology,” cautioned Watkins. “We’ve seen many expensive high-tech deployments from some manufacturers that seem to have never found a home.
“Innovating should not be done for innovation’s sake. The customers’ requirements will dictate the future, and Yamaha will continue to seek ways to exceed those expectations.”