Flying cars and self-driving cars always get the spotlight at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas, but this year electric recreational boats are making even bigger waves.
Swedish company Candela on Thursday unveiled a 28-foot (8.5-meter) electric hydrofoil speedboat that can cruise at 20 knots (about 23 mph) for more than two hours. California startup Navier is trying to leapfrog its Scandinavian rivals by launching slightly longer electric hydrofoil boats, though Candela has gone further to offer its products to customers.
Even the recreational powerboat group Brunswick Corporation tried to make a splash in Nevada this week, showing off its latest electric outboard motor — a burgeoning part of its mostly gas-powered fleet.
Why is it electric?
A major reason is the environment, as well as saving money on rising fuel costs. But electric boats—especially with sleek hydrofoil designs that lift the hull above the water at higher speeds—also offer smoother, quieter rides.
“You can hold a wine glass and it won’t spill,” Navier CEO Sampriti Bhattacharyya told The Associated Press last month. “And it’s quiet, very quiet. Unlike on a gasoline boat, you can have a conversation.”
When can you get one?
Candela CEO Gustav Hasselskog said his company has sold and built 150 of the brand new C-8 model. The Stockholm-based startup has been expanding its workforce, from 60 employees a year ago to about 400 later this year, in preparation for ramping up production.
But with a price tag of about $400,000, neither the C-8 nor Navier’s N30 is intended to replace the aluminum boats used to fish the lake. They’ve been described as the Tesla of the sea, and it’s hoped that what started as a luxury vehicle will eventually help transform the marine industry.
“They tend to be entrepreneurs,” Hasselskog says of Candela’s first clients. “They tend to be technology enthusiasts, if you will, optimistic about the future and technology’s ability to solve various societal challenges.”
Navier’s investment backers include Google co-founder Sergey Brin, which means he might get one, too.
Are boaters ready?
Probably not. Michael Swartz, an analyst at Truist Securities who covers the recreational boating industry, said these early electric boat models were expensive, bulky and could cause drivers more “range anxiety” than electric cars.
“How safe is it for me to go out on an electric outboard motor in the middle of the week, miles offshore, with no one around?” Swartz said.
Swartz says it might make more sense to use electric motors, such as the new CES offering from Brunswick-owned Mercury Marine, to power a small fleet of rental boats, perhaps at widely available boat clubs also run by Brunswick.
“You’re not far from an electric boat that can go 50 miles offshore, fish for a few hours and come back,” Swartz said. “There’s no technology that allows you to replicate that experience outside of an internal combustion engine.”
Bring a water taxi?
Both Candela and Navier are planning to create a secondary market for electric ferries that could compete with the gasoline-powered vehicles that now carry commuters to and from populated areas such as the Stockholm archipelago or the San Francisco Bay coast.
The same technology that powers Candela’s new leisure boat will also be used to power a prototype 30-passenger catamaran that will operate in Sweden in the summer, Hasselskog said.
For a city like Stockholm, which has electrified most of its public ground transportation, its dozens of large ferries are an outlier in terms of carbon emissions.
“They need about 220 of these (electric) boats to replace the current fleet,” Hasselskog said. Small electric vehicles can be summoned on demand, rather than running on a fixed schedule with empty seats, the way Uber or Lyft work on land.
Many of the companies developing electric boat propulsion systems also have teams working on making these vehicles more autonomous. But since most recreational boaters prefer to steer their own boats — and most ferry passengers would probably prefer a human captain at the helm — self-driving innovations focus on what happens at the marina.
“There’s an intimidation factor to boating, and a lot of the intimidation factor you hear from consumers has to do with docking,” said Truist analyst Swartz. “So if it could be seamless and automated, that would be a big deal. .”