Tesla brought us the first production electric cars, although there were electric cars in the late 1800s — and they were a far cry from a Tesla. Pipistrel introduced the first production electric airplane. Paris is banking on electric river taxis to alleviate traffic, CNN reported. And it appears the motorcycle industry may be staking its growth on electric two-wheelers.
In Tuesday’s blog, I discussed the plight of the U.S. motorcycle industry. U.S. motorcycle sales peaked in 2006 at 716,268, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Then the recession took hold. Motorcycle sales fell by 41 percent in 2009 and another 14 percent the next year. And sales have not recovered. In 2016, 371,403 new bikes were sold, roughly half as many as a decade ago.
Boat sales also suffered a huge decline at the hands of the Great Recession, but we’ve steadily recovered much of those losses. Still, there are lessons for boating in all this.
One can easily ask why the motorcycle industry didn’t react to its decline sooner. Perhaps it had to do with sitting back and waiting to see where the market was headed. Maybe it was the old idea that it eventually will come back, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But nowadays, the motorcycle industry has awakened to the need for new approaches, and they’re seeing that in electric cycles.
There are at least three major startups making electric motorcycles. Even the American iconic Harley-Davidson plans to have electric models in showrooms by 2019.
So what about boats? There’s no doubt our industry has been moving faster to change since the recession. Indeed, there have been more improvements to our products in the last 10 years than ever before. Consider outboards. They’re more sophisticated and with horsepower ratings that would have been laughed at as fantasy not long ago. They’re our industry darlings, pushing 40-plus-footers 60 mph and better. But the winds are ever changing, and today’s bride could be tomorrow’s divorcee. The new suitor may be electric.
As was the case for the introduction of electric cars, potential electric boaters may struggle most with what’s dubbed “range anxiety.” The main issue regarding the development of electric boats is a lack of understanding, according to Electricboats.biz. As sales and acceptance of electric cars continues to grow, electric boats could become more desirable, especially if prospects are educated about increased range, reliability, safety and more.
It’s an eye-opener to learn that from the 1880s through the 1920s, electric boats were quite popular. However, builders began using the internal combustion engine and pushed out the electric option in the perceived “need for speed.” Today, advanced technology has let new powerful electric possibilities back in the game.
And if we want to reach the huge, environmentally conscious millennial demographic, electric boats with zero emissions and zero time lost traveling to the pump may be an answer. It’s not what’s being added to a boat, but what’s removed. It’s one reason boatbuilders elsewhere around the globe have developed electric watercraft. And things are beginning to happen here.
Most in our industry know Duffy Boats — the electric icon in its own circle for more than 40 years — but a prime example of the latest technology is Hinckley’s Dasher, a fully electric center console. Powered by twin Torqeedo 80-hp electric motors dubbed known as Whisper Drives, the boat will hit 23-plus knots using dual BMW i3 lithium ion batteries. “The shape of the future is also the sound of silence,” stated Hinckley.
Another example of future thinking comes from Correct Craft. Watershed Innovations, a Correct Craft technology initiative, recently announced a partnership with the University of Central Florida’s Senior Engineering Design Program to develop an electric aluminum fishing boat for its Sea Ark Boats line. Engineers from Sea Ark, Sea Dek and Torqeedo will collaborate on the project.
Earlier, Watershed Innovations had announced the acquisition of an electric boat-drive system known as the Ingenity P220. Previously built by Ortner Electric in Villach, Austria, it’s said to be the highest performing electric towboat propulsion system in the world. The system is already available on the Super Air Nautique 210 and GS20 models in Austria and will soon be available on these models worldwide. The Ingenity P220 will eventually be offered on other Nautique models and Correct Craft brands.
“The world is transitioning to electric power, and the acquisition of the Ingenity P220 system will help position Correct Craft, Pleasurecraft Engine Group and our boat companies for a successful transition to the future,” said Bill Yeargin, Correct Craft president and CEO.
The speed at which technology is changing the marine industry, current and predicted, is hard to keep up with. While we talk up electric power, we can’t ignore other major developments, such as the agreement between Joi Scientific and MarineMax to develop, manufacture and sell propulsion and auxiliary boat power systems that extract hydrogen directly from untreated seawater in real time.
And there are innovations beyond propulsion that should appeal to the market. For example, in the realm of full systems integration for a “Connected Boat,” Navico introduced at IBEX this week a product designed to replicate the experience of driving a car with full-systems integration.
“We’ve brought the experience of driving a smart car to the water,” Leif Ottosson, Navico CEO, told Trade Only Today. “We’ve moved beyond displaying navigation data and digital switching systems into a world of integration that nobody else in the boating industry has developed.”
Meanwhile, augmented reality is being introduced by ClearCruise AR, which incidentally captured the Innovation Award in the OEM Electronics category at IBEX. Its video imagery, supported by Raymarine cameras, accurately displays nearby navigation markers, AIS traffic, objects and waypoints in sync with real-world imagery for instant recognition, making complex navigation and high-traffic situations simpler to understand.
There’s no question our industry is moving fast. Competition among manufacturers is running hot, and it all leads to two important considerations for dealers. First, as difficult as it may be to find time to run a dealership and research and inquire about new technologies, a dealer who does not make the time now could quickly fall behind. That’s not good for business.
Equally important, changes such as these — and many, many more — are happening now, and they can present golden opportunities for dealership growth and profitability for those who put themselves in the know. And that’s good for business.