Has outboard engine operation turned the corner?

As Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) prepares for the first boating season selling its new multi-million dollar E-TEC engine technology, the outboard engine team continues to make solid progress in turning around the once ailing Johnson and Evinrude brands.

Roch Lambert, who recently was promoted to executive vice president of product development, sales and marketing for North America, has lead the successful turnaround. Consumers rated Evinrude motors manufactured in Bombardier’s first year in the business No. 1 among other two-stroke engines, according to J.D. Power & Associates.

Lambert attributes this in part to the establishment of a foundation for Bombardier’s outboard engine business in the first eight months of ownership, using a “recipe we know,” a recipe made up of ingredients like quality and innovation that has “worked in other industries.” And Lambert should know. He has been at Bombardier since 1994, and has been closely involved with the turnaround of several other Bombardier businesses.

A key in the turnaround has been the establishment of boat builder partnerships. Lambert says the company went from 82 boat builder partners last year to 106 in 2004, which is “a lot more than OMC ever had.”

He admits that “some of them are just putting a foot in the pool to see how cold the water is,” but he brags that every one of the builders the company did business with last year is growing its volume in 2004.

Amidst this success, the sale has been “a curve we would have liked not to deal with,” Lambert explained. It “shook a lot of people in the industry” and “a few OMC ghosts came out again,” he said, referring to fears that the sale would create instability for the company’s outboard business.

Joe Lewis, an Evinrude dealer for more than a decade, says nothing in his relationship with Bombardier has changed since the sale of the division and that he isn’t concerned about the brands’ future. However, he says he would feel very different if the Bombardier family were not involved.

“If it were an industry outsider (that purchased the division), I would have been very concerned,” Lewis adds.

An important factor that may aid in the new company’s progress is the recent J.D. Power & Associates Customer Satisfaction award won by Evinrude direct injection engines.

As an Evinrude and Johnson dealer, Lewis says that the award “falls in line with Bombardier’s commitment to quality,” but he also was surprised they were able to win the award “in such a short period of time.”

The most significant impact of the award, however, may be that it highlights Bombardier as a serious competitor to the leaders in the outboard engine business.

“We’ve proven we belong here (in the marine industry),” says Lambert.

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