Marcia Kull joined the Torqeedo team in May as its new president. Kull’s career in the marine industry began when she was an attorney specializing in product liability defense at Bowman and Brooke, eventually moving to Genmar Holdings and then Volvo Penta, where she was most recently the vice president of marine sales.
Kull is enthusiastic about electric propulsion technology and its ability to propel the boating industry into the future.
“I think electric propulsion certainly isn’t for all applications but it fits into most boating families in some way,” she said. “For some, that means all their propulsion is electric – pontoons and launches. For others like fishing and day sailing, it may just provide the electrical assistance. For cruising families, it might be their cruiser has traditional propulsion and their dinghy has electric. … in every boating family, there’s some niche in there for electric propulsion. It may fill 100 percent of their needs, it may fill 10 percent of their needs. But it’s a really compelling propulsion choice for lots of reasons.”
We sat down with Kull to discuss her move to Torqeedo and her plans for the brands.
Boating Industry: What made the move to Torqeedo so attractive?
Kull: I see a general trend toward electric mobility in all facets of our lives. I know that the marine industry tends to trail other industries, and as watching this trend come I was able to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to move to Torqeedo, who really is the undisputed leader and innovator in electric and hybrid propulsion with strong growth historically and even more significant potential in the future. … So much work that I did and advocated for as a part of the industry through the years has been work on emissions-related issues, and knowing how much product development money for manufacturers is actually spent in emissions compliance and working to attain the next certification level. At Torqeedo, there are no emissions, which means that 100 percent of your R&D money can go into research and development of new products. For me, that was incredibly exciting.
BI: How will your experience in the industry serve Torqeedo’s growth strategy?
Kull: I’ve had some great jobs and have been so grateful for them, [and] they certainly helped me prepare to achieve the growth that our board is seeking.
My Genmar experience gave me an empathy toward boatbuilders and the challenges that they face in the development of new design and acceptance through the distribution channel. Boatbuilders can’t design in a vacuum. They certainly need to lean forward with innovative designs, but ultimately they have to sell their boats through a dealer network.
With Volvo, I learned that you have to work closely with boatbuilding partners to bridge a big gap between old propulsion and new propulsion, and it’s a collaborative effort involving lots of trust and a lot of support from the motor manufacturer – from design to engineering to purchasing to integration to marketing and wholesale/retail sales training.
BI: What potential do you see for the electric propulsion market in the long term?
Kull: These days we talk about how people don’t want to study up on things, they don’t want things complicated, they want things easy. Our new way of approaching the world, I think Torqeedo with the push button, portability, charge-and-go [model] and then the displays that come out both on product and on your smartphone, just play to that niche perfectly.
The other thing that’s really nice about electric power is it’s not just relying on a plug and A/C current. You can charge the batteries via solar power. You can charge the batteries via hydro generation with a spinning prop on a pod unit that operates primarily with sailboats.
What we haven’t talked about [yet] is they’re emission-free and quiet. Those are just added benefits to it. At the very upper end of the Deep Blue [models], I think consumers want clean and efficient propulsion. You pay more for an electrical system but you gain exceptional torque … and with that, you gain exceptional maneuverability because you get really high torque and really low RPMs.
BI: You mentioned that electric propulsion is not complicated, there’s an ease of use with electric motors and you’ve talked about the clean and efficient propulsion as well. How will embracing electric boat technology help the industry expand in the future in terms of gaining a younger audience who may want those things?
Kull: I think regardless of government regulation, people are making their own carbon choices. You see more and more electric vehicles on the road, even though gas prices are so low right now. And I think people feel the same way about their boating choices. Electric propulsion costs more upfront than traditional combustion engines, but you get benefits: lightweight and portable, no fuel or oil leakage, no fuel needs and the lack of emissions is really a perk.
Everyone is studying the Millennials under a microscope, but I think an easy takeaway from all the research is that for younger people, it’s really all about friends and experience. They expect the companies they deal with to be respectful of the environment. … Being about the push a button to go boating is really nice. To be able to have all the information you need … and that’s all on your cell phone.
I also think that, as a woman boater, it’s incredibly attractive as well. Women want to be able to control our experience. We can tote the motor to the boat and start it with a push button. I don’t want somebody else to carry my engine for me!
BI: What are some of your top priorities as you’re getting started at Torqeedo and what plans do you have for the brand?
Kull: Torqeedo has had incredible growth over the past 11 years and my job is to expand that growth. I’ve got very clear instructions from the board to expand that growth globally. For me, in the U.S., that means starting with education. … [Dealers and OEMs] want to know more. They have questions about lithium ion battery technology and safety on and off the water. People know that electric motors don’t produce emissions or pollute the water through leakage fuel oil, but are concerned about tradeoffs in boat performance. So my highest priority really is to help people understand the benefits of electric propulsion and how it can enhance your boating experience.