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#5 Volvo Penta

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It’s rare to experience innovation first-hand, but one of our editors was on a 68-foot Azimut last summer in Gothenburg, Sweden, when the skipper flipped a switch and put the boat in self-docking mode. Tensions ran high as the yacht backed itself into a slip between two high-tech Volvo Ocean 65s in port for the last leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. Within three minutes, the Azimut was stern-to against the docks, without the captain’s help or coming close to the sailboats.

“Easy Docking” was one of several innovations Volvo Penta showcased last summer. Another was a hybrid IPS engine that will launch by 2021. Comprising Volvo Penta diesels, electric motor drives and energy storage systems, it will be the first complete hybrid system for production builders.

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The system is compelling, but what is equally interesting is how Volvo Penta decided on it in the first place. Following the company’s “fail-fast” policy on innovation, ideas that don’t offer long-term operational or financial advantages are quickly discarded. The company often tests prototypes before giving the green light; most end in the dustbin of once-promising ideas.

The hybrid IPS emerged as a winner because the technology has been proven in Volvo’s truck and bus fleets, but also because several boatbuilders are willing to test prototypes in new models. It would also be designed into an upscale yacht where owners are less price-sensitive.

“One size does not definitely fit all,” says Thorbjörn Lundqvist, director of new technology at Volvo Penta, noting that electric technology, with limited range and heavy batteries, will not replace gas or diesel inboards on small, fast boats anytime soon.

While Volvo Penta is thinking ahead with self docking and hybrid IPS, it continues to launch products for today. At the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference in October, it debuted a Water Sport Control system for wakesurfing, which will be fitted on its Forward Drive system.

In this video from IBEX 2018, Ron Huibers, president and CEO of Volvo Penta of the Americas, discusses how his company is innovating across multiple product lines.

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.

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