Clues to the future of outboards: No more 2 strokes after 2010?
  |  First Published: September 2007

Reports released in Australia and the USA in the last few months have given some major clues to the future of the outboard motors for boats and, incidentally, lawn mowers and other garden power tools!

The Garden Equipment report gives us real clues into the government’s thinking on the issue of emissions. It seems that the government is heading directly for emissions legislation for garden tools like lawn mowers and brushcutters.

The Comparative Assessment of the Environmental Performance of Small Engines ­ Outdoor Garden Equipment is strongly worded. It states “It is therefore clear that the most expedient path to reduce emissions from these small engines is through national regulation.” and “Based on these findings it is recommended that a formal assessment of the costs and benefits of nationally regulating two and four stroke lawn mowers and handheld power equipment should be commenced.”

An earlier Department of Environment report, addressing two stroke mowers use, said “Assuming six people in a block of ten homes decided to mow their lawn during the same period, the emissions would equate to about 240 cars driving around in their yards for almost an hour…” (DEH 1997a, cited Young 1997).

It is pretty clear that we will see two stroke garden tools withdrawn from sale. The report suggests a timetable that starts in 2008 and is to be completed in 2012. Check it out by typing the following link into your web browser - http://www.environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/outdoor-garden-equipment.html. They make it that easy to find!

And For Outboards?

Released on the same day, the sister report on outboards states a recommendation to sign an agreement with the Outboard Industry to run the OEDA Star Labelling Scheme.

The commitment to progressively reduce emissions is reflected in a Memorandum of Understanding with OEDA to provide aggregate sales figures for outboards by stroke induction technology (2c, 2i, 2di, 4c, 4i). This is to increase the sales of outboards sold in Australia that meet an agreed clean outboard benchmark. Industry would report annually and the success of the agreement reviewed after two years.

While this is a compliment to the industry for initiating the Labelling Scheme, it is only on a trial basis. Government will want to see a significant reduction in the sales of high emission outboards in the two-year trial, which commenced in January 2007. Government will also need to see the two stroke carburettor engine sale level of 63% of the 47,937 outboard engines sold in Australia in 2005 fall to a much lower number - maybe as low as 20%.

That will not be an easy feat. I was surprised to read in the report that old technology two strokes were still 63% of the market given the number of four stroke and new technology two strokes available today. It seems getting most of the two stroke fans to change their mind and go to four strokes or E-Tec, HDPI, TLDI or Optimax is unlikely to be done in two years. Considering outboard manufacturers have been working on that same goal for a lot longer than two years. Let us hope we can reduce the sales figure and keep the government from taking an active regulatory role.

There is no hint in the report of any government giving financial help to industry, or any subsidy to outboard customers who choose greener outboards. Industry can’t just agree to sell less carby 2 Strokes as under the Trade Practices Act that would be collusion - just like the accusation we like to throw at the petrol industry every long weekend.

So, it looks like we will hear a lot more advertising about emissions from industry as they try to head off the inevitable emissions regulations. Maybe if petrol costs keep rising it won’t be so hard to wean us off the love of cheaper, petrol guzzling two strokes.

A two-year trail of Star Labelling Scheme can be done and dusted in time to meet the timetable set for garden tools. Government would want to bring in this legislation all at the same time: around 2010/12.

The full report Comparative Assessment of the Environmental Performance of Small Engines Marine Outboards and Personal Watercraft is available on the DEH web site at http://www.environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/marine-outboard-engine.html.

What will be banned?

Absolutely nothing if you already own it!

They will stop selling carby two strokes, and even efi two strokes but the talk of banning an outboard you buy in 2007 is pure fiction that I am tired of hearing from four stroke salesmen. Think back to when unleaded fuel and catalytic converters were introduced to reduce car emissions – they didn’t ban your old car did they?

Can you imagine it, emissions inspectors going around garden sheds hunting down the last known two stroke mowers? No, they will just let the old models die out - just as they have done in Europe the USA and Canada.

And In the USA

In the meantime the USA has announced new, tougher standards from 2009. Basically it puts the standard up to California (CARB) 3 star, plus it puts a limit on carbon monoxide for the first time – like Europe.

When it comes into effect there will be no more Carby two strokes, and unless there is some major engineering done, it looks like the end for two stroke direct injection engines like Tohatsu TLDI, Yamaha HPDI, some Mercury Optimax and some Verado. All the rest of the four strokes will pass (except the 8hp Yamaha) as will the full range of E-Tec.

This is all very important as Australian laws will likely follow the USA. The loss of the market in Europe and soon the USA for some models may mean they will no longer be made. Sure, they could find markets in developing countries without emission regulations but the outboard products now emerging from China will fill the gaps.

I’ll be brave and predict it will be an all four stroke and E-Tec world by 2010 or maybe as late as 2012.

But it’s not all rosy for E-Tec, they must be feeling the pressure to develop models under 40hp. Right now their full range is serviced by just one (well engineered) piston – 2, 3, 4 or 6 of them. So going to a smaller engine is a major investment that I know they have been working on for some time. Getting the E-TEC technology small and cheap enough to make a 6hp viable against four strokes is a challenge they will need to meet.

It will be a very interesting time in the outboard market in the coming years. Times are a changing and that’s a fact of life we’ll all have to deal with in the future.

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