David Foulkes, CEO of Brunswick Corporation, gives us a clear overview of the boating industry and the group’s ACES strategy: Autonomy, Connectivity, Electrification, and Shared Access
by Maria Roberta Morso
Brunswick Corporation includes the Mercury (MerCruiser, Mercury, Mercury Diesel, and Mercury Racing) and Navico brands and 17 other firms related to small and medium-sized yacht production, with Boston Whaler and Sea Ray being the best-known in Europe. In total, the group has roughly 18,500 employees and operations in 29 countries worldwide, with a turnover in 2021 of $5.8 billion. The size and geographical spread of the brands managed by the American giant, which is based in Mettawa, Illinois, give its CEO David Foulkes extraordinary insight into the current state of the global boating industry. He is an amiable and friendly chap, and rather than focusing exclusively on Brunswick Corporation, our interview turns into a wide-ranging chat on boating in general, including issues relating to the eco-friendliness of yachts both large and small.
My first question for Foulkes goes straight to the heart of the matter: how is the global marine industry currently faring? He replies that all the indicators are positive and that there is widespread optimism in the sector, in spite of the serious difficulties caused by Covid-19 and lockdown, and the uncertainties arising from the current global situation. People want to have fun and are willing to spend money, and yachting gives them the opportunity to do it. If we want to understand the overall health of the boating industry, he stresses, we should not allow ourselves to be dazzled by the mega yachts at boat shows or in trendy locations, nor imagine that trends in the ultra-luxury yacht market correspond to the general boating industry: it is a case apart. The figures that count when it comes to ascertaining how the boating market is performing are related to the production and sale of medium-sized and small boats and all the products like engines and accessories to navigation systems. This is the area of the industry where success is directly connected to people’s financial situation, aspirations, and leisure preferences. The fact that around 80% of boats sold in the USA are worth less than $50,000 proves the point. As the producers of Mercury outboard engines, which enjoy the lion’s share of the market even for boat brands outside the group, Brunswick has a good knowledge of the results of a large proportion of the world’s boat manufacturers.
Mercury Marine has unveiled the V10 5.7L Verado outboard engines of 350 and 400hp. At cruising speed, their main characteristic is low noise emissions. They are compatible with the latest Mercury SmartCraft technologies and, upon request, available with a 48V/12V dual-mode alternator for perfect synchronisation with Navico Group’s Fathom e-Power System. This is an integrated lithium-ion auxiliary power management system that eliminates the need for an onboard generator.
David Foulkes, who before being named CEO of Brunswick in 2019 was head of product development and chief technology officer at Mercury, tells me: «The number of engines installed on board the widest range of yachts, from tiny motorboats to large tenders and luxury cabin cruisers, gives you a precise indicator of market trends». Moving onto sales, he notes: «70% of Brunswick Corporation’s turnover is generated in the USA, followed by Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and south-east Asia. However, the European market is very important for the brands in the Brunswick group, and, to avoid being penalised by fluctuations in the dollar/euro exchange rate, we decided to increase our production capacity for engines, boats, and onboard electronics in Europe. We recently expanded our factory in Vila Nova de Cerveira, Portugal, which produces Bayliner, Uttern, and Quicksilver boats for the European market. And we have manufacturing facilities in Poland too».
Navico brings together various leading producers of cutting-edge components and onboard electronics. Ancor, Attwood, BEP, B&G, Blue Sea System, C-Map, C Zone, Del City, Garelick, Lenco, Lowrance, Marinco, Mastervolt, Motor Guide, Progressive Industries, Pro Mariner, RELiON, Simrad, Whale.
AS WELL AS PRODUCING BOATS, ENGINES, AND VARIOUS COMPONENTS, IN 2019 BRUNSWICK ACQUIRED THE FREEDOM BOAT CLUB, THE LARGEST NETWORK OF YACHT CLUBS IN THE USA, WITH MEMBERS
IN CANADA AND EUROPE TOO.
Europe currently accounts for 13% of Brunswick’s market, with Canada and Asia Pacific worth 7% each. And the CEO of Brunswick sees great potential in European markets, given their willingness to accept innovation both in engines and in technology.The latter has an increasingly important role in the boating world, and it goes without saying that Brunswick is a leader in this field too.
Europe currently accounts for 13% of Brunswick’s market, with Canada and Asia Pacific worth 7% each.
Navico, one of the largest producers of electronics for boats that includes the brands Simrad, C-Map, B&G, and Lowrance, joined the corporation last year. Foulkes confirms that acquiring Navico and its brands was a way for Brunswick to further its ACES strategy, an acronym for the four missions it has identified to make boats more accessible: Autonomy, Connectivity, Electrification, and Shared Access. This approach extends not only to onboard electronics systems but also more generally to the products made by the various brands in the Brunswick fold, everything from boats to engines.Synergies within the group enable it to make significant progress: Brunswick is at the cutting edge of research in all sectors, shown most clearly by the way Mercury engines have evolved over the years.
«Nobody has a wider, more reliable, and more efficient range of outboard engines than Mercury», Foulkes states confidently. «Mercury Marine controls 45% of the American market, and this figure is rising». This year’s unveiling of the Verado V12 also marked a leap forward for outboard engines in terms of fuel efficiency. The engine has been made more efficient by a rotating/steerable gearcase and dual contra-rotating propellers, and it has a noise reduction system to further improve its green credentials.
Discussing environmental protection with 600 hp engines may sound paradoxical, but they provide the best you could expect and hope for in their field. Avator, a fully electric outboard motor Mercury Marine is developing, represents another step forward. The prototype has already been unveiled, and Mercury Marine will release five models of electric outboards by the end of 2023. «Our global leadership in the yachting industry places a lot of responsibility on our shoulders in terms of sustainability. We are fully committed to the cause, with a wide range of exacting plans in place».
THE BRUNSWICK GROUP HAS A TURNOVER IN 2021 OF $5.8 BILLION.
Since he joined Mercury in 2007, Foulkes has also witnessed and implemented many changes relating to ethics. Under his leadership, Brunswick has strengthened its partnership with Carnegie Robotics and bought Navico and Freedom Boat Club. The latter is the largest network of yacht clubs in the USA and gives Brunswick an overview of boaters’ interests, habits, and desires, as well as their awareness of environmental issues. For its part, Brunswick Corporation is committed to significantly reducing its carbon footprint on various fronts, from developing efficient and/or electric propulsion systems to producing electricity from renewable sources at its manufacturing sites. In terms of its products, the Fathom Advanced Battery System, which is replacing fossil fuel-powered generators on boats and full-electric propulsion systems is the cornerstone of a production strategy that is seeking to achieve greater environmental sustainability in the yachting world. The road to eco-friendly boating is long and tortuous, but Brunswick can certainly help us get there.
(David Foulkes, towards environmental sustainability – Barchemagazine.com – January 2023)