Yamaha Marine Outboards: A brief history

26th May 2016

Yamaha, as a corporation, dates back to 1887 when the company (called Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd at the time) began producing musical instruments such as the reed organ and upright piano’s. The company diversified over the years into electronics, sporting equipment and motoring.

Based in Japan but with headquarters around the globe the Yamaha Motor Company was born in 1953 with third generation, first born son Genichi Kawakami at the helm of a new venture for the company outside its musical heritage. A curious and innovative young man, Kawakami had been pondering the idle machining equipment that had been used during the war to make aircraft propellers and he set his mind to how he could best use the equipment available to him. His original ideas and designs included sewing machines, scooters and three-wheeled vehicles but it was his further research into the consumer demand in the US to lead him to start production of motorcycle engines. With tenacity, high-quality production and cutting edge design the Yamaha motorcycle engine was aggressively marketed in the states and, after a spectacular international debut in the Catalina Grand Prix, became an instant hit.

Yamaha heads to sea

As the reputation of the Yamaha Motor Company grew during the 1950’s, Kawakami turned his attention to the marine industry where in 1960 the first Yamaha outboard motor was born. The turn of the decade saw an aggressive expansion by Yamaha into the marine industry with the focus on new technologies including FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic). The first prototype model, the CAT-21, was followed in quick succession by RUN-13 and eventually was developed into the P-7 123cc outboard motor.

Development for the first model began with a staff of just two engineers back in 1958 and the process was without precedence. As the project grew in size so too did the staff and designs lead to prototypes which, in the absence of testing procedures, were run 24 hours a day to monitor and improve those components that broke down. The first commercially approved model, the P-7, was released to the domestic market in 1960 without much fanfare. The resulting product was far from perfect with one of the engineers on that project remarking that it was “particularly loud and high levels of vibration”. The running joke of the time by fishermen was that it was obvious that the motor had been “built by a musical instrument maker – it puts out quite a sound”.

The Spirit of Challenge

Far from being put off by the initial lack of acclaim of its inaugural offering Yamaha followed the P-7 armed with that most powerful of tools, knowledge and determination to succeed. It is the latter of these which became the byline of Yamaha’s corporate slogan; ‘The Spirit of Challenge’.

With an appetite to meet this challenge and the experience of its first manufacture Yamaha improved its designed to produce the P-3, a quieter and much lighter more compact version of the P-7. It was a groundbreaking design and was the first of its kind in Japan to be produced using die-cast components which considerably lightened the weight. In sharp contrast to their first efforts which were largely a result of trial and error, engineers dedicated significant planning to the development of the P-3, listening to feedback from consumers and starting the tradition, that continues to this day, of Yamaha having its finger on the pulse of market demands. Engineers responded to individual complaints and requests of its dealers and customers to listen direct from the source as to the nature of each problem. It is this dedication to detail which has no doubt contributed to the success of the corporation. The P-3 was again released to the domestic market and within just a few years the proof of the engines popularity could be seen in its harbours where lobster fishermen sported the distinctive yellow cowls of the P-3 on their boats.

Pakistan opens global market opportunities

By 1967, Kawakami was well satisfied that the company had a robust and reliable product to offer to the world market and, in 1967, a commercial meeting with the Ambassador to Pakistan revealed that during rainy season the roads of Pakistan would flood so badly that even buses could not get through. Kawakami immediately offered the Yamaha outboards as assistance and so began the company’s venture into foreign markets.

Pakistan proved to be an enormous opportunity for Yamaha with its mega networks of canals and waterways the country was making use of water transport on a massive scale but few boats were motorized. However, the design of the existing vessels in use were not suitable for the P-3 motor to be mounted without significant modifications. Several designs later and Yamaha developed the P125AK followed swiftly by the P250K outboard motor.

Initially a success the design was not without its flaws and the service division were dispatched to Pakistan to find out first hand what the problems were. In a new environment the motors were not prepared for the extreme conditions and hard-work they were required to deliver and, because of the reliance on dependable transport for livelihoods, had calamitous consequences if they broke down.

Aware that a company brand is built on its reputation to deal with such situations, Yamaha stepped up to the plate and over delivered on its promises to resolve any and all problems. Their efforts in delivering outstanding post-sale customer service was not without widespread recognition and consumers responded by positive word-of-mouth advertising that boosted the company’s reputation.

A modern market

By the 1970’s Yamaha had launched its engines within the US market and their drive into commercial-use outboard motors was ardent. Continuing their strength of commitment to resolve issues promptly and efficiently, Yamaha’s customer base soon grew and the global expansion across Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia was inevitable. The company’s commitment to its customer continued to gain respect as service teams were sent to remote villages and harbours across regions where outboard motors were a invaluable to their livelihoods but where access to servicing facilities was almost an impossibility. There was no precedent against which to compare Yamaha’s commitment to these small fishermen and their families and the service teams, recognising the importance of a motor left to rust for want of the expertise to repair it, even repaired the outboards made by other manufacturers whilst they were on site. The company’s staff soon learnt a lot about their competitors and were able to pool their knowledge from the field to design and build more robust and durable outboard motors.

By the late 1970’s this expertise was culminated in the launch of the 85A, a 2-stroke engine, which is still available in the current range of Yamaha motors in the same, unchanged design. Such was the popularity and reliance of the 85A that it is yet to be replaced by a new-generation model.

Widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of engineering the 85A combines reliability, durability with a high-power output and easy maintenance.

Over half a century later and Yamaha Outboard motor is a global megabrand and continues to supply the marine sector with 2-stroke, 4-stroke, VMAX and Enduro outboard motors alongside a range of peripherals including propellers and instrumentation.

The company still seeks to serve its customers with a level of unparalleled excellence whilst delivering the highest quality of products.

You can find a range of Yamaha products on Find A Fishing Boat.com using our search pages.


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