Mercury Marine's Chinese Outboard Motors

Mercury Marine Builds 40-, 50- and 60- Horsepower
Outboard Motors in Suzhou, China.

Mercury Marine 40 horsepower outboard motor made in China.

It's as simple as the sea is salt. Doubtlessly you've already seen these outboard motors displayed on the showroom floor of your local dealership, no matter whether that may be in the U.S., Europe, or Asia. But with disturbing recent reports about tainted pet food and toxic lead in children's toys it kind of makes you wonder. Exactly what is the quality of Mercury's Chinese outboards?

A phone call to my contact at Mercury headquarters in Wisconsin provided an instant answer. Says, Robin Senger, "These Mercury outboards are built to the same quality standards and utilize the same production methods in China as in Fond Du Lac." Robin's word is good. But due diligence required that I see it to believe it.

So I caught a short 14-hour flight over the North pole, down over Siberia and onwards to Shanghai. Once on the ground I traveled overland 110 kilometers West to the Suzhou Industrial Park For the record, Mercury's Suzhou manufacturing plant was established in December 2003. Production began in March of 2005 and includes sub-assembly of component parts, painting, power head assembly, testing, boxing and shipping.

During 30 years worth of reporting on the marine industry I've visited boat and motor factories all over the world, including North America, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Japan, Costa Rica, and now China. Frankly, some were not particularly tidy. Others were obsessive-compulsive clean. Mercury's facility in Suzhou is the poster child for clean and orderly operations. Some of that is due to the fact that it's an assembly plant. There's no machining or milling with the attendant oil mist that fogs the air and collects dirt. Suzhou is squeaky clean. That pays big dividends. With virtually no dirt and grit in the atmosphere and assembly begins life with a distinct advantage.

No big surprise, given enviable Mercury's reputation, vendor parts are rigorously checked for quality. So naturally it follows only quality castings and electronic components make their way from the loading dock to the assembly stations. Newly hired workers are trained for weeks on the specific task they will eventually undertake from 9 to 5. Only when they're up to speed are they allowed onto the assembly floor where they continue to work for a few more weeks under rapt subversion.

Then there's the emotional component in the equation. Base on brief interviews (translated and watching body language) it's apparent each worker is committed to assembling a motor he or she can be proud of. The real eyebrow raiser: fully 100 % of all engines are hot tested for 10 to 15 minutes to make sure all functions are operating correctly.

Beyond worker competence, quality also flows from the state of the art assembly stations. Unfortunately, thanks to a non- disclosure form I cannot reveal specific details. But suffice it to say, a luddite would have to figure out some way to defeat the system in order to sabotage an engine. A common sense dynamic, Mercury provides workers with a bus ride to the factory and feeds them a really nice lunch in a clean well-lighted cafeteria. Magnanimous? Perhaps. But on the more practical side of the balance sheet, providing employees with perquisites is an incentive guaranteed to motivate a showing up at the work station, reliably, day after day. No big surprise, that builds consistency and reliability into the product.

So to answer my own question posed early on in this story, there is no question in my mind that Mercury made-in-China outboard motors are world class. Just like the marine diesels built in China by Caterpillar, MTU and John Deere.

Recreational Boating in China?

Besides learning about Mercury's outboards made in China, I also learned more than a little bit about recreational boating in China. First of all, it's illegal to tow a boat on highways, dirt roads or footpaths. Period.

So naturally it follows there is no trailer boating. None. Boats are either berthed in marinas, or stored on the hard. Second of all, you need a license to run a boat in China, and the papers issued in Shanghai are only valid in that region. Papers from another region are no good in Shanghai, and vice versa. There, like here, recreational boaters use their time on the water to forget about problems at work and to enjoy the water with friends and family.

© Copyright by Tim Banse