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Tohatsu planning to build bigger engine

Company celebrates 50th anniversary of its marine debut with an eye on higher horsepower

Company celebrates 50th anniversary of its marine debut with an eye on higher horsepower

Tohatsu is celebrating 50 years in the outboard business this year.

In recent years the company has focused on bringing its range of 2-stroke and 4-stroke outboards (2 hp to 115 hp) into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board emissions regulations. This year the company is introducing both its largest and smallest emissions-compliant engines.

Tohatsu last year opened a new plant in central Japan and is looking to introduce higher-horsepower outboards in the future, according to Hiroshi Wakabayashi, president of Tohatsu America Corp. in Carrollton, Texas.

The one-time motorcycle manufacturer was founded in 1922 as an internal combustion engine research company, and was also involved in manufacturing rail cars. In 1949, Tohatsu began making portable fire pumps — which are still a part of the business — and a year later began building motorcycles.

The Japanese company introduced its first outboard to the market in 1956. Since then, the outboards have spread to more than 100 countries. Tohatsu arrived in the U.S. market in 1980, and in 1984 began simultaneously marketing the same engines under the Nissan Marine brand name, still popular in Canada.

Tohatsu has a limited engine lineup compared to other major outboard manufacturers. Its outboard line comprises 4-strokes from 2 hp to 30 hp, while its mid-range outboards from 40 hp to 115 hp use Tohatsu Low-Pressure Direct Injection technology.

“Due to market trends in small-horsepower motors, it seemed logical to produce a 4-stroke,” says Wakabayashi, in an e-mail. “For our mid-range lineup, we decided to go with TLDI because of Tohatsu’s reputation in the worldwide market for quality, lightweight and powerful 2-strokes.”

The company determined that direct injection 2-stroke technology would yield higher performance.

“As the motor weight increases, the boat’s performance is adversely affected,” says Wakabayashi. “In looking at the available technologies, 4-stroke and DI 2-strokes, we were concerned about the weight of the larger horsepower, 4-stroke models.”

As for the choice of low-pressure direct fuel injection over the high-pressure injection systems preferred by some manufacturers, Wakabayashi claims the decision is based on reliability, fuel economy and simplicity. The low-pressure injection system mixes fuel and air to create smaller fuel droplets than high-pressure systems, resulting in more complete burning of the fuel, lower emissions, higher fuel economy and less stress on components, he says.

The new manufacturing plant in Komagane, Japan, uses automation technology and has a capacity of more than 200,000 engines a year, Wakabayashi says.

The company has introduced a new six-step painting process, including a clear coat of acrylic resin, to provide more protection. This is done in the Komagane plant, and the outboards also are available in a new aquamarine color with new graphics.

Tohatsu is introducing its largest direct injection outboard to date, the 115 TLDI, this summer. It plans to unveil a 135 TLDI outboard in 2007. On the other end of the spectrum, new 2-hp and 3.5-hp 4-strokes replace the company’s old 2.5-hp and 3.5-hp 2-stroke models. The little 4-strokes have 360-degree steering and a tilted powerhead to accommodate a more compact upper cowling.

In other engine news, the company converted its 25- and 30-hp outboards to a battery-less electronic fuel injection system. The electronic control unit in these engines receives 12 volts of power directly from the alternator, Wakabayashi says.

The past few years, while other engine makers were busy introducing ever-larger outboards, Tohatsu has concentrated its research efforts on bringing its existing engines into environmental compliance. It now appears ready to join the high-horsepower fray.

“Now that we have completed the transition of our entire existing lineup to meet all EPA and CARB emission regulations we can begin focusing our research and development efforts to developing larger horsepower motors,” says Wakabayashi, who came to Tohatsu in 2002 after 31 years with trading company Marubeni.

Wakabayashi says Tohatsu’s strategy in the United States and Canada is simple: It strives to increase customer satisfaction while producing the highest quality product available and tying it with exceptional customer service.

“Consumers today are much more demanding about the quality of the products they purchase and with the advent of the Internet, they are able to research their options much more than in the past,” says Wakabayashi. “Tohatsu wants to be known as the best, not necessarily the biggest. We believe that as people come to realize that Tohatsu outboards are among the highest quality available, market share will follow. It’s a philosophy that has worked for the past 50 years and we believe it will serve use well for the next 50 years.”