Electrification is a given for the car industry, at least according to the Volkswagen Group, makers of the Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Ducati, Skoda, Lamborghini, Bentley and other brands. The German carmaker forecasts 70 percent of the cars sold in Europe will be powered purely by batteries by 2030, with electric cars in China and the US accounting for about half of all vehicles sold.
“Combustion engines will die,” says Michael Jost, former head of group strategy of the Volkswagen Group. Jost, who oversaw the carmaker’s critical electric initiative, recently turned his attention to the waterfront. “After smart cars will come smart boats,” he predicts.
Jost sees widespread potential not only for electric boats, but says artificial intelligence and automation will become part of the boating experience. Having joined the advisory board of Silent Yachts, an Austrian company that builds electric multihulls, he plans to fast-track his knowledge of automotive electrification to the water. While pure-electric boats comprise less than 100 units per year—a splinter of a tiny hybrid subgroup—VW’s lead strategist is confident they’ll become part of yachting’s mainstream in the not-too-distant future.
To most US boaters, electric boats remain a nonstarter, mostly because of the limited power of the battery. Beyond having to go slow to conserve juice—which seems downright un-American to many boaters—most are afraid of getting stuck offshore with no assistance for miles. A few US builders now have electric designs, but they tend to be small tenders for putzing around the marina at 5 mph or, in the case of Nautique’s GS22E, a wake-surf boat with about two hours’ power. It’s designed for a pre-office workout, and then back to the dock to be recharged for another wake-surfing run after work.
A handful of builders like Silent and Serenity are manufacturing larger, multihull cruising designs that are recharged by solar panels. Other European brands like DutchCraft, Rand, XShore, Marian and VitaX make electric day boats.
Jost sees a fast evolution coming in electrification, with artificial intelligence becoming integral to a boat’s operation. “A smart boat means you’re in the cloud, so you can upgrade your software and raise the boat’s performance every year,” he says.
Development time for a boat—48 weeks compared to 48 months for a car—will also allow companies like Silent to bring new models to market fast. Of course, there are obvious differences in the scales of the two industries. The Volkswagen Group makes 44,000 cars per day, while Silent builds a dozen-odd yachts each year. “But the algorithms between the two products are similar,” Jost says, noting that Silent will use common technologies in its product development. “We’ll also look for software and partners in the automotive industries who can help drive new technologies forward.”
Sampriti Bhattacharyya and Reo Baird are two engineers who met at MIT and agreed that the time was right for an electric boat. “We looked at the disruption taking place on land and in the air and wondered why the marine segment was so far behind,” she told Robb Report. “It came down to ownership costs. We asked ourselves, what would happen if you reduce operational costs by 90 percent, while making the boat easier to maintain?”
Their answer is the Navier 27, an electric-powered vessel with retractable hydrofoils that boost speed and efficiency. The boat has a top end of 30 knots, and at a respectable 20 knots, a 70-mile range.
The foil concept has proven itself for nearly a decade on America’s Cup racing yachts and is now even on production sailboats. At least one powerboat, the Enata Foiler, has retractable foils. The stylish-looking Navier 27, expected to retail for around $300,000 when it debuts next year, is designed for a higher-end demographic than most day boats, but it will be price-competitive with the top brands.
The electric segment will attract a younger demographic who identify with Teslas and other electric vehicles because of zero-emissions output and low sounds. “Our generation enjoys being in nature, but there’s a conflict with boating because of its impact on the environment,” says Bhattacharyya. “This allows people to enjoy the water with no impact.”
Jost agrees there will be a generational shift that will make electric boats more popular, especially as battery technology improves. “I like to look ahead to see where we’ll be in 2030,” says Jost. “Silent started at the upper side with yachts but now maybe the smaller boats also make sense—tenders for people with villas on the sea, or for lakes that only allow electric boats.”
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