What do you get when you send marine journalists to Louisiana with a dozen or so boats to test and throw in a TV celebrity and a seafood boil? One unforgettable Cajun party thanks to Mercury Marine!
Around 20 journalists came together in the New Orleans, La., area last summer to test six Mercury engines ranging from 60 to 370hp. Getting our hands on such a wide variety of engines was only half the fun. Mercury went out of its way to provide a true Louisiana experience at its media event and even went so far as to invite Troy Landry from the hit TV show Swamp People, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
After staying in downtown New Orleans, the group traveled together to nearby Barataria, La., where Bourgeois Fishing Charters is located. For the next two days this was home base as each media rep took turns testing the boats that Mercury had arranged for us to review.
The most powerful motor at the event was the new 370hp TDI diesel sterndrive that was installed on a Statement Marine 380 SUV. It’s safe to say we’re probably a few years away from seeing the new diesel sterndrive on a pontoon or deck boat, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to get behind the wheel. The diesel sterndrive uses a Volkswagen engine and like a diesel engine in a pickup truck, you can really feel the power surge when the turbos spool up and you put the throttle down.
I was given the opportunity to really open it up once we got away from the other boats and I was extremely pleased with the power. At full throttle I reached speeds well over 50 miles per hour, but it was how quickly it jumped up on plane that impressed me the most.
“We've been waiting for this engine anxiously,” said Marty Bass, vice president of global product management. “It comes with all the benefits of diesel technology as far as fuel economy and is extremely quiet and clean. I think people will love it.”
The engine weighs 851 pounds, meets the EPA's Tier 3 standards and is expected to hit the market in late summer. I can only imagine what this would feel like on a pontoon boat. Hey, never say never—crazier things have happened in our niche of the boating industry. As for the tests on a brand new pontoon as well as a couple of great deck boat models, look for those reviews in future issues of PDB.
Keeping with the laidback theme of the event, a meeting was held at the lodge at Bourgeois Fishing Charters that was complete with tin walls, mounted animal heads and all kinds of unique décor that was specific to the Louisiana area. Let’s just say meeting in a “shack” was unlike any other atmosphere I’ve been in for similar boating meetings and that’s why I liked it so much.
Mercury Marine President Mark Schwabero and David Foulkes, the engine maker's vice president of product development and engineering, gave a combined 40-minute presentation following the first day of testing. Together they focused on the company's financial health, its new products and technology and its projected growth.
“We're feeling pretty good about where we are right now and we've weathered the bulk of the storm,” said Schwabero.
The company president also stressed the importance of the 150 FourStroke during the economic downturn. He said Mercury made substantial investments during the recession to deliver the 150 FourStroke to the market.
“We really hit a home run with the 150,” he added. “It has gone beyond the volume expectations we thought we would see. The marketing message of it being the smallest, lightest and easiest to maintain has really struck home.”
The company is in a growth mode; that much is clear. Since 2009 Mercury has increased its Wisconsin workforce by 80 percent from 1,500 to 2,900 employees according to Schwabero. Worldwide the current 5,400 employees is up 50 percent over that same time period.
Foulkes said the company's growth also can be seen in the increase in its engineering team.
“We hired 70 engineers last year,” he said, “and we hired another 30 this year. We are getting the best engineers around the world.”
Mercury Is Behind You
Mercury warranty rates are at record-low levels as Foulkes stressed that Mercury’s DNA is extreme reliability.
“We don't measure ourselves just within the marine industry, but against everybody,” he said. “We are better than the vast majority of auto companies. Our warranty levels are comparable with Apple and with Honda.”
During his presentation, Foulkes showed a slide of the Mercury Vessel View's 4-inch multifunction display screen—in Chinese—to emphasize the company's global market interests.
“You can't be a global company and say one of our brand pillars is intuitive design and then expect everyone in the world to look at it in English,” he said. “The information can be seen in 15 languages.”
Following the meeting in the lodge we all returned to the docks to some authentic Cajun cooking. Plates were piled high with fresh shrimp, crawfish, potato wedges and corn on the cob. If anyone went home hungry it was their own fault as many continued to make second and third passes for fresh seafood.
To top it all off, this is when Troy Landry stopped by for a visit. He proudly uses a Mercury engine on his boat when he’s out gator hunting for the show Swamp People on the History Channel. He instantly drew a crowd and had everyone within ear shot hanging on every word as he told stories and shared some of his favorite moments on the hit reality show. Thanks to the popularity of the show he’s easily recognized, yet he’s still a very laidback and friendly Louisiana-native that just likes being one of the guys.
Getting Our Limit
It would be a shame to come all the way to Louisiana and not wet a line, at least that’s what Mercury Marine Communications Director Steve Fleming thought when he made it possible for us to go out fishing with Bourgeois Charters the next day.
We headed out early in the bayou in search of redfish with Captain Donovan. As luck would have it, I was paired up with PDB Freelancer Dan Armitage who writes our monthly fishing column as well as an old media friend Dean Clarke. I figured with all of the fishing experience between these two I would be in for a very successful morning of fishing. However, the weather had other ideas as a storm quickly moved in. We waited out the rain at an old abandoned fish camp that turned out to be a fun adventure as we explored the deserted camp. When the rain finally let up we made a break for the dock.
Not satisfied with the little fishing we were able to get in before the rain, when the weather cleared that afternoon we gave it another try. The afternoon was full of laughs as well as fish as it didn’t take us long to all limit out. Armitage’s story telling and his constant pestering of our fishing guide kept us laughing the whole time. (Our guide was a good sport and had some funny stories to share as well).
Besides the Cajun theme, the message that we took away from this Mercury event is this is one engine company that really knows how to support your passions. With a wide range of outboards, the quality and dependability that some manufacturers can only dream about, as well as the innovations coming from Mercury, this engine company is sitting exactly where they want to be.
New engines are on the horizon and you can be sure PDB will be there to test them when they are released. Plus with its 75th anniversary coming up next year, you never know what this company might have planned.