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Interview with Dr. Christoph Ballin, CEO of Torqeedo 

By Adam Quandt

How big is the electric boating business? How fast is it growing?  

At Torqeedo we currently have more than 70,000 electric propulsion systems in service worldwide. The industry is growing fast and gaining momentum every year. Our business grew by about 40 percent last year, and we don’t expect to see any slowdown.  

What are the factors driving that growth?

Christoph Ballin

On the one hand electric boating is a part of the larger sustainability revolution that is affecting virtually every aspect of our lives. Increasingly, consumers want to enjoy our boating lifestyle in a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way. 

On the other hand, electric boating product offerings increasingly provide attractive solutions for various boating segments. For tenders and sailboats, the most lightweight solutions are electric, offering convenience and better performance under sail. For commercial marine applications, electric solutions typically have lower total cost of ownership and are attractive from an economic perspective. Generally, electric boating is safe, clean, quiet, consumes no fossil fuel, and produces zero emissions. So for many boaters it’s just a nicer user experience overall. 

What are the barriers to electric mobility in the boating market?

The primary limiting factor at this stage is energy storage technology, but batteries are getting better every year. This is being driven by the automotive industry, which is leading the way in battery technology.  The land transportation industry enjoys tremendous economies of scale when it comes to R&D, manufacturing and quality processes, and Torqeedo is harnessing and adapting these technology breakthroughs for the marine industry. For instance, we are now using BMW’s automotive lithium batteries, which are fully integrated into the information and safety systems of our Deep Blue series.

In boating, we actually have one advantage over electric cars in terms of recharging infrastructure, since most marinas and docks are already wired for plug-in shorepower. 

We overcome any lingering “range anxiety” issues of boat owners by providing as a standard feature in all our systems a built-in GPS-enabled display that shows the state of battery charge, rate of discharge, time and distance to destination and range at the current speed.

What market segments are you targeting?

We now have a broad lineup of electric motors ranging from super-lightweight low-horsepower outboards up to 80 horsepower inboards and hybrids. The kayak angling market is especially hot in the U.S. right now, as fishermen have learned that they can use the motor to get to and from the fishing holes faster, giving more time to fish. Another segment that is growing very rapidly for us is cruising sailboats, especially in Europe. Our Deep Blue electric and hybrid systems, often used in tandem with solar and hydrogeneration charging, provide a superb sustainable solution for that segment.

The light commercial marine segment is also growing very rapidly, especially in water taxis, passenger ferries and excursion boats, as cities around the world look to ban fossil-fuel engines in favor of electric propulsion on their inland waterways.  For instance, the city of San Antonio just launched a fleet of 43 Torqeedo-powered canal tour boats for their iconic Riverwalk waterways. Powered by Torqeedo 10kW outboards with lithium batteries, the boats typically run 12 hours between charges. Passengers are delighted with the absence of noisy, smelly combustion engines, and the operators are delighted by the savings in fuel and service. 

We’ve recently seen prototype electric boats from production boat builders like Hinckley and Avon/Zodiac. What are you doing at Torqeedo to help OEMs incorporate electric propulsion into their product lines? 

As a fully integrated systems provider, Torqeedo offers a complete turnkey engineered solution that includes electric drives (outboard, inboard, pods), batteries, genset, chargers, solar panels, inverters for AC loads, electronic controls and user interfaces – all designed and built specifically for marine applications. Torqeedo also provides extensive applications engineering support during all phases of design and manufacturing, as well as a worldwide service network with trained technicians at locations in over 50 countries.

The rise of electrification will have a big impact on boat and motor dealers.  

What is Torqeedo doing to help ease their way into the electric mobility future?

It’s time for dealers to start preparing their businesses for the electric mobility revolution.  

We currently have around 200 dealers in the United States and Canada, and the number is growing every year.  We also have about a dozen certified Torqeedo service centers, which can provide extra technical support to dealers, and our team of factory service technicians are always on call at our headquarters near Chicago.

Fortunately, there aren’t many barriers for entry to dealers. You don’t need to make a hefty investment in spares inventory - just a few simple parts like props, skegs, a few accessories and spares. The electric systems require very little in the way of routine service beyond keeping batteries charged.  

We have a number of support initiatives underway for our North American dealers. We launched an online ordering portal about a year ago, and we are working now to produce online training modules, including videos to help you install our Cruise motors.   

Finally, Torqeedo was acquired by Deutz last year. How has that affected your business?  What impact will it have on your North American operations?

Deutz is a leading manufacturer of diesel and gas engines primarily for construction and agricultural equipment. The group had a production volume of 130,000 engines in 2017. In acquiring Torqeedo, Deutz wanted to harness the know-how of Torqeedo to accelerate development of electric and hybrid products for their core off-highway business. Torqeedo will reap benefits in terms of industrialization support in manufacturing, procurement and production. We will also leverage Deutz’s sales network in countries where we are not very strong yet. 

Torqeedo will continue to operate as a separate entity within Deutz, and the Torqeedo executive and management team will remain in place. That includes the North American market. 


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