In late November, General Motors said it had acquired a 25 percent stake in Pure Watercraft, the Seattle-based e-propulsion outfit, for approximately $150 million. The automaker plans to invest $35 billion in electric and autonomous vehicle technology during the next four years. The deal with Pure Watercraft reflects GM’s mission to take the “holistic approach necessary for widespread EV adoption.”
GM also said it plans to leverage Pure Watercraft’s e-propulsion technology and maritime-industry acumen with its own engineering, supply-chain and manufacturing capabilities. The idea is to push the development of electric mobility in the boating industry, as well as to focus on improving performance and reducing battery costs.
This is not the first time Pure Watercraft has gotten the attention of investors. In late 2020, it announced a $23.4 million investment from a venture capital company, and in January 2021, the company confirmed an additional $37.5 million in Series A funding.
Pure Watercraft CEO Andy Rebele says the company has come a long way since he founded it a decade ago.
“I started the company in 2011, and people thought I was foolish, and I had to self-fund the company for several years,” Rebele said. “It wasn’t until five years into the company’s existence that we got the first outside funding. Since then, we’ve attracted it, but … it’s not that I’m great at pitching. It was that we had built a lot of substance that we could then talk about. And it was also that the environment has changed.”
After the deal with GM was announced, Soundings Trade Only asked Rebele about his company’s plans.
How has your approach to e-propulsion changed since founding Pure Watercraft?
What’s funny is, in this environment today, you see all these companies getting funded for expensive, big electric boats. When we started the company, the first project was an expensive, big electric boat. In 2012, we put on the water a 48-mph electric boat that could pull two water-skiers [and] do all the things that an open-bow runabout could do. We pivoted the company after that into the outboard motor project because I just didn’t think the Field of Dreams plan was a great one of ‘let’s build this boat and sell it for $250,000 and hope enough people come.’ It didn’t make sense to me.
I looked at the data when I started the company and built the first product on passion. I hadn’t done all the homework. And when I did, I found out if you look at the bell curve of what boats are sold in the world, the middle of the bell curve is 40 hp, not 300 hp… So we made that our first product.
After that, you dialed in the outboard and battery, and were able to sign deals to provide complete power packages to Highfield and Sun Tracker.
It’s a great deal for us because it illustrates a story much better than telling it. We can very slightly modify a hull and sell a bundled product to people where it’s a one-stop shopping experience, and they can get great value.
In fact, if you get the Highfield boats bundled with our propulsion system, with a single battery, it sells for about the same price as [a 40-hp gas-powered] AB inflatable or Novurania tender of the same size. What that illustrates to people is when you look at these, are you focused on whether it says Novurania or AB or Highfield, or are you focused on how this is the electric tender and that’s the gas-powered one? I would argue, of course, from my position that the fact that it’s electric is what people will say about it. That’s what makes it different.
We absolutely believe in offering the customer a simple decision. I don’t think the customer wants the science project. I think you need to offer a one-stop shopping experience. And so, we will always be focusing on how to make that a simple process for people.
Can you expand a bit on your future endeavors with GM?
It’s super exciting. I remember in 2011, when I started calling battery companies, they wouldn’t even return the call. So, we had to go through that prototyping process, using the cells we could get, just whatever we could get. And now we’re going be part of the number-one customer of the sale supplier. And in an environment, especially like today, where supply chain is such a big challenge, that’s a big asset.
Part of the deal is co-branding boats that use GM components, so we can put the GM logo on our boats. We’re also going to be doing things using the building blocks GM brings to the table, but also continuing the development of our own battery pack. What we bring is the most efficient powertrain for an electric boat — ours has the highest repulsion efficiency on the market. We’ve been developing this technology for years now.
This does the same thing to our value chain. It takes the product from when it’s conceived to when it’s sold to the customer and does that in the most efficient way possible. In the same way that we take electrons in the most efficient way and push a boat, we take the value of what we create and get it to the customer in the most efficient way we can. So that’s what all these pieces, if you’re looking for a unifying theme, it’s the value chain.
What are your thoughts about infrastructure for charging on the water?
Really, we have to think about the normal-use cases. I live on the water, and I have a dock; there’s power on the dock. I just charge it in the boat lift. If you have a boat on a trailer, you charge it at your garage. You’re living in Minnesota, and you have a cabin for the summer — you run power down to the dock and charge it. The normal ways people use boats will be easily handled. The outlying cases might be tough, but the vast majority of cases are handled relatively easily.
My personal opinion is that they’ll be popular in [areas] … where you have lunch on the water and dock your boat. Those will be good places to have a charging [station] because it can extend what you do that day. And if the restaurant installs that, they might get more boaters there, which is kind of like it’s eye candy for the rest of the people going to the restaurant. But I don’t think having public charging stations will be a big deal for most places. The power pedestals at public marinas — [many] will use that existing pedestal to charge their boat.