Electric outboards moving closer to mainstream?


Tom Kaiser
April 9, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

Could the marine industry be perched on the cusp of an electric revolution that will upend the established, gas-powered order? If you believe the hype from two electric outboard manufacturers already transforming the industry, we’re one leap in battery technology away from electric-powered boats going mainstream.

Looking at recent history in the electric car market, such a monumental revolution seems doubtful, but electric outboard manufacturer Torqeedo and Canadian boat builder Campion, which recently developed its own 180-hp electric outboard with Florida’s ReGen Nautic USA, are two companies betting big that this time it’s different, and that our marine industry is uniquely poised to ditch gas cans and embrace battery-powered boats.

Reasons for optimism

German-based Torqeedo opened its U.S. office just seven years ago, and has worked its way up the food chain with small, low-powered electrical outboards for everything from kayaks, sailboats and small runabouts. Electric motors are nothing new in our industry, thanks to an army of time-tested trolling motors. That changed a bit with Torqeedo’s recently released, 80-hp Deep Blue, as electric power can now theoretically run with the big boys, even if price and range remain major roadblocks for widespread adoption.

Torqeedo US president, Steve Trkla, said that a drive to preserve ever-more-scare drinking water and reservoirs will be the impetus that will drive sales growth of electric outboards.

“The US market in general is well behind the rest of the world when it comes to protecting waterways,” he said. “We do not think it’s the price of oil and gas that’s going to drive our business. We ultimately do believe it will be the protection of our drinking water — as populations keep growing, water is going to be really the most critical issue facing the United States and the world in the next 15-20 years, so we do believe that we’re on the right track to be the continued world leaders in taking advantage of that market.”

Canadian boat builder, Campion, has used Switzerland, one of the world’s greenest countries, as its test market for its high-power E-180 E Fusion electric outboard. While the project required a major investment of time and money, the company is waiting for a predicted advancement in battery technology as industries and institutions from around the world dump vast sums of money into battery research.

“I believe in five years the battery technology will be there, and the reason I’m so confident is everybody is working on batteries — the whole world,” said Campion president Brock Elliott. “Every major auto manufacturer is working on battery technology right now, so the leap is coming, the question is when.”

Looking to the auto market                                

The world has heard these predictions of a coming electric revolution as far back as the early 1900s when electric motors first proliferated. Most recently, the electric Chevrolet Volt and Nissan leaf cars were predicted to become the first mainstream electric-powered cars.

While that mission has technically been achieved — and both cars are startling examples of modern technology — it’s no secret that Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and GM CEO Daniel Akerson have both been personally shamed for each vehicle’s dismal sales, coming in far below predictions.

GM originally speculated that it could move 40,000 Volts in the U.S. in 2012. By the end of ’12, the actual number was 23,461. Nissan’s Leaf hasn’t fared much better and, so far in 2013, its current monthly sales are at about 650 units. Not good.

These dismal auto figures are irrelevant according to Elliott and Trkla, who cite the coming advancements in battery tech, ever-tightening environmental regulations and the inherent advantages that electric outboards have in our market — silent, broad torque curves, less required maintenance and no odors.

“The servicing on this engine is estimated at 100,000 hours,” said Campion’s Elliott. “How many industrial buildings are operating right now, including our own, with electric motors that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week to run whatever, whether it be a sawmill, a nuclear plant, a plastic manufacturer, it doesn’t matter.”

As battery technology continues its rapid advancement, costs will come down in lockstep — a key part of the plan at Torqeedo.

“If we can finally get those prices down over the next five years, then we will definitely see this higher-horsepower class become more mainstream for recreational boating.”


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