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Q&A with Martin Bjuve

President, Volvo Penta of the Americas

Martin Bjuve grew up on Sweden’s west coast, fishing with his grandfather and father, water skiing with friends and, later, sailing with his wife and young children before relocating to the United States and eventually making the shift to powerboats. “Our first boat as a boy was powered by a Volvo Penta outboard,” Bjuve says.

Bjuve started his career with the Swedish conglomerate in his homeland nearly 20 years ago, as sales manager for parts and accessories in Scandinavia. He later became chief financial officer for Central Europe.

These days, the lifelong waterman and president of Volvo Penta’s U.S. operations can be found on the waters of Chesapeake Bay with family and friends, teaching wake surfing to his children and continuing to harness the power of the wind, as he has picked up kite surfing in recent years.

We spoke to Bjuve about taking the helm of Volvo Penta of the Americas during the Covid-19 pandemic, the company’s 15-year (and going) run with the Inboard Performance System, Volvo Penta’s bold — and sometimes painful — moves toward becoming a zero-emissions company, and the company’s Easy Boating initiative, which includes the industry’s first fully integrated assisted docking system.

How did your role in sales and business support prepare you for your current position?

I moved to the Chesapeake in 2013 as CFO for the Americas and later took on the job of vice president for customer support and training, working closely with dealers and OEMs across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. I returned to Sweden in 2018 as senior vice president and CFO for Volvo Penta globally, then back to America to become president of Volvo Penta of the Americas at the beginning of 2020.

My varied career at Volvo Penta has given me good insights and a holistic understanding of all aspects of the global business end to end, from spare parts and aftermarket support to financial management, infrastructure, R&D, production and sales. During my previous five years in the United States, I became very familiar with the boating industry in this country and formed close relationships with OEMs, dealers and other key constituencies.

Can you describe your first year as president of Volvo Penta of the Americas?

Of course, when I took the reins in the Americas, I never thought that within a month or two we would be in the midst of a global pandemic. This affected our business and practices in many ways. Fortunately, Volvo Penta’s approach to decision-making has always been pragmatic, scientific and delegated, and this helped us minimize disruptions to our company, suppliers, OEMs and dealers. I’m really proud of the team and how we adapted quickly, with innovative thinking at all levels of the company.

For instance, dealer technician training and certification has always been an important part of our business. When it became obvious that we could no longer hold classes in our training centers across the Americas, we pivoted to instructor-led online classes. By the end of September, more than 1,000 dealer technicians had attended the online classes, and in October we had our first technician to be fully certified after completing the online classes and passing an examination. In addition to training, we opened new lines of communications, both inside the company and with suppliers, OEMs and dealers. Many of these initiatives adapted will become part of our standard way of doing business in the future.

What we’re mostly proud of is that we have managed to keep our supply chain running throughout the period, ensuring uninterrupted availability of engines from our Lexington plant and parts from our Volvo distribution center near Memphis, so OEMs and dealers could keep up with surging boat sales. This is important when you consider the large number of new boaters coming into the market.

Volvo Penta recently achieved some important milestones with the Inboard Performance System. Can you talk about its significance in the marketplace?

It’s fair to say that the Volvo Penta IPS has proven to be a disruptive technology, and at the time, it made a revolutionary breakthrough in marine propulsion. Sales continue to be strong, both on the recreational and marine commercial sides of our business. We’re also seeing a definite trend toward the Volvo Penta IPS in much larger yachts.

The benefits from the Volvo Penta IPS are compelling, and it is a strong example of the strides Volvo Penta is taking to become the world leader in sustainable power solutions. It has played an important role in achieving our sustainability targets, with enormous reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Fifteen years after introducing IPS, Volvo Penta announced last year that it had installed 30,000 units. 

Fifteen years after introducing IPS, Volvo Penta announced last year that it had installed 30,000 units. 

Which is the bigger breakthrough with IPS, the pod drive or joystick control?

The Volvo Penta IPS opened the door for innovations that followed, like the joystick control and Glass Cockpit. Each of these are part of our fully integrated helm-to-prop solution, all tied together by our Electronic Vessel Control platform.

The Volvo Penta IPS with joystick driving and docking delivered an enhanced experience, with smooth and precise maneuverability and station-keeping. For the first time at its introduction, the boat could be moved in any direction by means of the joystick. It marked another step in Volvo Penta’s efforts to make it easier for people to own and operate their boats. I appreciate that the technology also transferred to our sterndrive lineup, as I’m often using the joystick while out cruising with my family.

Fifteen years after the introduction, on many of our IPS-powered commercial vessels, the captains never touch the wheel underway, steering entirely by joystick. And a few years ago, a yacht builder in Brazil built a new Volvo Penta IPS motoryacht with no steering wheel at all.

In November, the Volvo Group outlined a plan to achieve science-based targets and become a net-zero-emissions operation. How will that work?

The Volvo Group is taking the next step in adjusting and future-proofing the company in line with the ambitions of the Paris climate agreement by becoming a net-zero-emissions company by 2050 at the latest. But setting ambitious targets on the reduction of CO2 emissions is nothing new. The Volvo Group has been collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers Program since 2010, working to save energy and reduce emissions from its own production and transports, as well as from the products it sells. And customers using Volvo Group solutions have reduced CO2 emissions by 34 million tons cumulatively since 2015. This is just the beginning.

In line with the Volvo Group’s sustainability goals, Volvo Penta announced that the company will intensify our focus on continued development of sustainable solutions as we move forward. This will include exploration of new technology, together with the development of our core business, such as Volvo Penta IPS and sterndrives.

Can you talk about the development of hybrid drive power plants utilizing Volvo Penta IPS drives?

Your question is very timely. We recently announced collaboration with electrification experts Danfoss Editron on two hybrid crew transfer vessels using pilot technology for a U.K. wind-farm operator in the North Sea. These vessels — set for launch in summer 2021 — offer a combination of integrated electric Volvo Penta IPS, state-of-the-art gensets, and advanced vessel management systems.

The system consists of a Volvo Penta IPS quad setup, where two of the four legs are powered by Volvo Penta D13 diesel propulsion engines and two legs are powered by Danfoss Editron’s electric engines. Those, in turn, are powered by five Volvo Penta D8 variable speed gensets. A battery pack will also be installed to support peak shaving and to allow the vessels to operate in fully electric mode at low speed, and during long stationary periods. The vessels are commanded by Volvo Penta controls and Electronic Vessel Control.

We see the best way to advance our sustainable solutions is through taking on these types of advanced projects and collaborating with technology leaders. Not only is this pilot project giving us good insight into experimental technical solutions, it’s also setting the direction for the journey to more sustainable driveline options.

Its gasoline-powered Forward Drive has become a big player in the wake-sports segment. 

Its gasoline-powered Forward Drive has become a big player in the wake-sports segment. 

How about the Volvo Group’s project with on-road fuel-cell systems — how might it make its way to Volvo Penta?

Last April, Volvo Group announced the formation of a joint venture to develop, produce and commercialize fuel-cell systems for heavy-duty trucks and other use cases. The vehicles will use hydrogen fuel cells with electric drivetrains. The technology is of course not there yet, but it’s our clear ambition that Volvo Penta will be able to leverage efforts and technology in these areas that we can take to marine applications.

In what other ways does Volvo Penta have advantages to leverage its parent company for technological advances?

We have a long history of leveraging the technology of our sister companies in the Volvo Group. Volvo Penta has full access to the state-of-the-art R&D and engineering resources of the group, and to learn from their experiences with new, transformative technologies in the field.

Volvo Penta is also making inroads in electrification in our industrial off-road business, where we will leverage back-end systems, connectivity and diagnostic tools. One example is the collaboration with fire service vehicle manufacturer Rosenbauer. Last year, we developed an electric driveline for Rosenbauer’s pioneering fire truck, named Revolutionary Technology, which launched in Austria.

What are the chief roadblocks holding back e-mobility on the water in large-scale usage? Battery charging?

There are of course short-term power density challenges when it comes to batteries, but when we look at efforts toward electromobility, it is not just about developing the technology itself. There are also changes required in society at large, such as the widespread implementation of charging infrastructure. To be sure, most boat slips have shore-power connections, which are suitable for overnight battery charging, but boaters are accustomed to pulling into the fuel dock and topping off in just a few minutes, and the infrastructure to do so with an electric vessel is not there just yet.

Regarding changing consumer behavior, I can speak from personal experience as an electric hybrid car owner. I truly enjoy the experience of riding on electricity, and that feeling is transferable to marine applications. Driving an electric car makes you plan your trips around availability of charging stations, which I happily do. We talk about minor adjustments to my everyday life, and the rewards easily outnumber the sacrifices. We need to accelerate our own personal transformation, while also working together across the industry to push for increased change in infrastructure.

In the U.S. boating market, demand for electric boats is still low, but I believe that as more consumers become accustomed to driving electric and hybrid cars, and charging stations become more available, the barriers of resistance to electric boats will begin to break down. Just like a fuel dock is a competitive edge to a marina today, availability of charging will be a part of our decision when we choose destinations in the future.

What first step will lead to widespread electric-power usage in the recreational marine industry?

We’re not yet ready to show specifics, but I can tell you that we’re actively engaged in the development of a range of sustainable technologies. These include advancements in fuel cells, hybrids and fully electric propulsion. Just like in the automotive industry, there is likely not one single solution to reducing or eliminating the usage of fossil fuels, and our commitment as a company to being a leader in sustainability is total.

The shuttering of Seven Marine came as a surprise to the industry. Can you speak more about this?

Decisions of this magnitude are never easy. I do not want to comment further, other than to say the decision was taken in line with an increased focus on sustainability across Volvo Group. Within Volvo Penta, ongoing efforts and resources will be directed toward our inboard and sterndrive development transformation. The focus and new direction will be on greater fuel efficiency and zero emissions through hybrid, electric and renewable fuels.

Let’s talk about Volvo Penta’s Easy Boating Solutions. How does it go beyond Electronic Vessel Control and Glass Cockpit?

Probably our most important lesson learned from 2020 is the resilience of the boating industry. We were all taken by surprise with the surge of new-boat sales this summer. A large number of these sales are to first-time buyers, or buyers that have returned after several years of a life without boating. These are demographics the boating industry has been pursuing aggressively for years. Families are discovering that boating is a good way to spend quality time together, safely in the outdoors. It will be crucially important to our industry to make sure these new boaters become lifetime boaters.

We believe our Easy Boating philosophy at Volvo Penta is right on target. This is the strategic vision that underpins our approach to innovation, removing perceived barriers to entry and delivering new features that make it easier for boaters at all levels of experience to enjoy the boating lifestyle trouble-free. EVC and Glass Cockpit are good examples, but sometimes it’s the little things that mean a lot. For instance, consider our Easy Drain feature offered on our latest generation of gasoline sterndrives. Now you can drain your cooling water with a push of a button, without having to haul the boat out of the water. Or the Easy Connect app, which allows boaters to share fault codes with dealers in real time.

Let me add that Easy Boating is not just about products; it’s the whole boating experience. That’s why we invest heavily in making it easier for OEMs to design and build new boats, and for dealers to sell and service them. I’ve heard several testimonials from our dealers where returning boaters are very enthusiastic over how technology has emerged and made boating much easier since they decided to step out of boating some five or 10 years ago.

Bjuve, a lifelong boater, enjoys teaching wakesurfing to his children and kite surfing.

Bjuve, a lifelong boater, enjoys teaching wakesurfing to his children and kite surfing.

Where is Volvo Penta at with its self-docking technology?

Another timely question. Just recently, at the virtual Consumer Electronics Show, Volvo Penta announced commercial availability of the industry’s first fully integrated assisted docking system. It’s a hybrid between manual docking and automated docking. Now anyone can feel like a seasoned captain when it comes to one of the most stressful maneuvers in boating. It’s another industry first for us that’s aimed at making boating easier for everyone, and that’s something I can certainly appreciate as a boater myself.

What excites you most about the present and future of the global recreational marine industry? What needs the most attention?

We see three main interrelated themes in the future of boating technology. They are electromobility, automation and connectivity. We’ve already spoken extensively about electromobility. Turning to automation, we believe the boat of the future will be just as automated as a modern car. Already existing functions, like autopilot steering and GPS-based automatic station-keeping, will be further developed and will make it easier for consumers to relax and enjoy the boating experience.

Connectivity is tied to automation. People are accustomed to setting their HVAC thermostats and monitoring their home alarm systems remotely. Your car sends a message to your mobile phone when your tire pressure is low or you need an oil change. Features like the Easy Connect app are a concrete step to Volvo Penta delivering a more connected experience consumers have come to expect.

Describe your perfect day on the water.

Where my family is right now in our life, a perfect summer day for us would be a cruise with a few close friends across Chesapeake Bay. It would include a lunch at one of the superb eateries on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, most likely stopping for a swim and maybe some water sports on the way back.

We also love boating in the off-season. We’ve been out several times this winter for short cruises, truly enjoying the elements. When it is cold outside, there is nothing like turning the heater on in the cabin, enjoying the smell from a nice cup of coffee and just riding around. You have most of the waterways to yourself, and the scenery is often even more beautiful during the winter. From late December to mid-March, the humpback whales roam our local waters, and we really look forward to going out and greeting them. 

This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue.


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