50 Years of Yamaha Outboard Motors

Over fifty years have passed since the birth of the first Yamaha outboard engine. In this time Yamaha Motor has established itself as one of the world’s best known outboard engine brands and the company’s total outboard production is over the now over 9 million units sold worldwide.

However the history of Yamaha outboard motors has not always been smooth sailing. But through it all the Yamaha has maintained the spirit of challenge that is at the heart of Yamaha Motor’s corporate culture today. They continue to open up new horizons by taking on new challenges.

The development project for the first Yamaha outboard motor began back in 1958 with a project staff of just two engineers. At the time there were no set standards for testing marine outboards and the development process involved simply running the prototypes 24 hours a day and investigating how to improve the parts that broke down.

In 1960 Yamaha’s first outboard motor model, the P-7 was released in Japan. It was not without problems and was still far from being a perfect outboard motor. For example, as one of the engineers from that time recalls, it was particularly loud and had a high level of vibration. This led to jokes from fishermen such as: “You can tell it is an outboard built by a musical instrument maker – it puts out quite a sound”.

Even though the first Yamaha outboard, the P-7, was the product of a start-from-scratch development project full of trials and errors, there is no doubt that the fruits of that initial challenge launched Yamaha Motor on its path to becoming the leading global outboard brand it is today.

Soon after Yamaha Motor undertakes the new challenge of building a more compact, lighter and quieter outboard. Those efforts led to the birth of the P-3, Yamaha Motor’s second commercial outboard model. The P-3 was the first outboard manufactured in Japan to use die-cast parts to further reduce weight and contribute to a more compact design. Unlike the P-7 development project, most of which was conducted by trial and error, the project to develop the P-3 included concerted efforts to directly reflect the opinions from users.

This began a tradition of Yamaha engineers making frequent visits to the marketplace to listen to the voices of the dealers and buyers. That tradition continues today in Yamaha Motor’s market-oriented approach to product development that involves gathering information in each market from the people who actually use and service the outboards.

Whenever there was a claim from a dealership, Yamaha engineers would go there immediately and listen to the reports of the dealers as well as the complaints and requests of the customers. The first test marketing was done in a market in Chiba prefecture in Japan where lobster fishing was popular at the time. Within a few years the entire harbor was filled with the distinctive yellow cowls of the Yamaha P-3 outboard.

Yamaha outboards are today popular in both the pleasure and commercial boating markets around the world. Of these, it is the commercial market that places the toughest demands on an outboard in a variety of different environments. It is here, responding to these demanding needs, that Yamaha Motor engineers tested, developed and proved what is now the legendary Yamaha outboard reliability and durability.

In the year 1967, the first president of Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., Genichi Kawakami, had a meeting with Pakistan’s Ambassador to Japan. The Ambassador told president Kawakami that in his country during the rainy season the roads become flooded so that even buses can’t run. President Kawakami responded by saying that Yamaha has outboard motors and the company would be pleased if those outboards might be of some help. That was the start of Yamaha’s venture into the overseas outboard motor market.

When Yamaha Motor engineers first traveled to what was then East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and saw the system of countless canals and extensive use of water transport in the country’s coastal region, they immediately saw the enormous potential for outboard market development. But there were obstacles to launching Yamaha outboards as an export brand.

One of the most immediate obstacles was the shape of the traditional boats used there. They were double-ender boats that could not mount an outboard without modification. After much trial and error a new type of boat tailored to the needs of the market was developed and named the P125AK.

That was not the end of the trials, however. There was a rush of claims citing trouble with the newly introduced P250K outboard. Yamaha Motor responded quickly by sending people from the Service Division to survey the situation. What they saw was the extremely hard use the outboards were being put to. The outboards being sold there were commercial-use models, and if they broke down, it brought an immediate effect on the livelihood of the owner. Yamaha knew the seriousness of this responsibility and every time a problem occurred the company was quick to send a team of engineers to the site to nip the trouble in its bud with effective solutions. These repeated efforts gave the users a feeling of assurance that Yamaha would always be there to solve any problems that arose, and that reputation spread by word of mouth throughout the markets of Asia.

By 1970, Yamaha Motor had entered the US market, but the company’s commitment to the commercial-use market would become even stronger and lead to closer involvement in markets around the world. The fundamental approach behind this commitment was to tackle problems on-site wherever and whenever they arose, in any part of the world.

Under that commitment, Yamaha Motor actively sent development staff to markets in Africa, Latin America, South Asia and Southeast Asia whenever there was a need. These are places where the North American and European based outboard makers had never ventured at the time. In these countries, they often saw outboards of the North American and European maker that had been imported but had no service backup, so they were just left to rust once they broke down. That led Yamaha to begin sending in service people to give service demonstrations. They traveled from fishing village to village and from harbor to harbor performing maintenance and giving service demonstrations.

In these regions an outboard motor was an important possession that could help people like fishermen make a better living and improve life for them and their families. In addition to providing service for Yamaha outboards, the Yamaha service people also worked actively to repair many outboards of the other manufactures that were broken down. Of course trouble continued to arise with Yamaha outboard products too, but whenever problems arose Yamaha Motor was there to find the cause and make improvements until we gradually created a whole new category of commercial-use outboard motors, with spec variations to fit the exact needs and use conditions of each region. These efforts are what refined and matured Yamaha Motor’s Enduro line of outboards that people love and depend on in their work all over the world today.

The spirit of challenge has been a fundamental part of Yamaha Motor’s corporate culture since the company’s founding in the 1950s. It has been a driving force that helped the company overcome countless challenges, including the development of our first outboard motor, the advance into overseas markets and the development of outstanding boats for the domestic market in Japan.

There is another part of the Yamaha outboard corporate culture that also traces back to the very roots of the company. It is the ongoing challenge of the race arena. Throughout our corporate history, Yamaha Motor has taken its own products to compete in the most challenging race competitions. At other times Yamaha Motor has supported teams that work to achieve the highest level of competitive success.

The experience from ongoing race activities have not only contributed to the achievement of higher levels of engineering and manufacturing, but have also enabled Yamaha Motor to share with people all over the world the excitement and deep satisfaction that we call Kando. Kando is a Japanese word for feeling both deep satisfaction and intense excitement that people experience when they encounter something of exceptional value.

From its earliest years as a manufacturer of marine outboards, Yamaha Motor began taking part in motorboat races that were popular at the time in Japan and abroad. Through this experience Yamaha Motor gained a variety of data and knowledge that proved invaluable in product development of marine outboards. Besides contributing to product development, these efforts in racing also helped establish a corporate culture of taking on new challenges and sharing Kando that have become so much a part of Yamaha Motor’s corporate identity.

In addition to motorboat racing, Yamaha has also been involved in many sailing competitions over the years. The history of Yamaha Motor’s domestic and overseas sailing competition using Yamaha designed and built offshore sailing yachts began in 1970 with the Single-handed Transpacific Yacht Race. In 1992, Yamaha Motor joined a syndicate to participate for the first time in the America’s Cup, where the world’s most accomplished sailors and most advanced racing yachts compete for the oldest trophy in international sport.

For that challenge Yamaha Motor created a project within the company to build America’s Cup class racing yachts, and during the two challenges, Yamaha participated in from 1992 to 1995, the company built a total of five America’s Cup challenge boats. A number of the very latest and most advanced technologies were employed in the building of these Nippon Challenge boats, and they succeeded in drawing attention among marine fans worldwide by making it to the semifinals. After the Nippon Challenge syndicate withdrew from America’s Cup competition, Yamaha continued to back this great race, not only as a lend-leaser of outboard engines and maintenance to Team New Zealand for the 2003 Auckland America’s Cup, but also as official supplier of high-performance outboards and maintenance to power the competition’s transport and official boats.

Another pinnacle of yacht racing that Yamaha Motor has participated in is the Whitbread Round the World Race (now the Volvo Ocean Race), a full-crewed offshore race that is considered the world’s most challenging and grueling. For the 1993-94 holding of this race over a 60,000 km course circumnavigating the globe, Yamaha Motor became the main sponsor and formed the YAMAHA Round the World syndicate to participate as a competitor as well.

Despite it being Yamaha’s first attempt at the tough challenge of the Whitbread, its determined crew and specially built YAMAHA challenge boat won the race. In doing so, the team spread the Yamaha brand name to ports around the world, along with a renewed appreciation of the importance of taking on challenges and the Kando they can bring to many people throughout the world.

Yacht racing may not be directly related to our outboard motor business, but this history of competitive challenges is undoubtedly a valuable asset to Yamaha Motor today. And this spirit of challenge and the heritage it has given us will live on, in our product development and in our marketing activities around the world.