MIAMI 2019: GM displays prototype electric boat

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General Motors designed and built its own prototype pontoon for the project.

General Motors designed and built its own prototype pontoon for the project.

MIAMI — General Motors today unveiled an electric pontoon boat at the Miami International Boat Show. The project is called Forward Marine First, and the automaker designed its own pontoon hull.

“We saw an opportunity to create a great customer experience with an electric pontoon boat,” Dan Nicholson, VP of global electrification, controls, software and electronic hardware, told Trade Only Today. “It’s in line with GM’s vision for the future — zero crashes, zero congestion and zero emissions.”

The propulsion system visible beneath acrylic decking.

The propulsion system visible beneath acrylic decking.

Nicholson said unveiling the boat with the propulsion system viewable beneath clear acrylic hatches in the 24-footer’s deck is an “exploration of a new product” at this point.

“We’re gauging consumer interest,” Nicholson said. “It’s one thing to have it on paper. It’s another thing to come to the pre-eminent boat show in the United States and see what people think.”

The electric pontoon also will be on display at the Detroit Boat Show, which opens this weekend, to gauge the interest of the freshwater boaters.

The boat is powered by a 60-kWh automotive-grade propulsion system comprising a battery bank, inverters and an electric motor matched to a Volvo Penta DuoProp sterndrive. It can be re-charged with a conventional 110-volt extension cord and can be configured for compatibility with a standard 220-volt system.

The batteries are positioned just forward of amidships. Working aft, the power inverters are next, followed by the electric drive unit and a shaft connecting to the sterndrive. The batteries weigh about 980 pounds, and the system tops out around 1,200 pounds. Peak horsepower is about 200, and top speed is 20 mph. The boat can run for 10 hours at about 5 mph.

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The team chose an off-the shelf sterndrive for a few reasons. “It shows how readily adaptable the equipment is for marine use,” said Jon Doremus, lead integration engineer for Forward Marine. Additionally, the batteries aren’t altered at all and the electronic drive unit required only minor changes for marinization.

“We thought of the boat from an integrated electric system,” said Shilpan Amin, executive director of global vehicle integration and operations for GM’s global propulsion systems. “We’re taking away all the paint points. You don’t have to take time away from your vacation to refuel, and it doesn’t have to be winterized.”

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Formed out of 1/8-inch-thick aluminum, the boat’s bottom looks similar to a trihull, with the center pontoon being larger than the outers. The center pontoon has an angular shape, and Doremus said it’s designed to take advantage of the electric propulsion system’s efficiency.

Pricing hasn’t been set, but Amin said the boat would compete in the midrange to premium pontoon market.

He explained that while torque is an advantage with an electric motor, the quiet operation will appeal to more people.

“You’re just hearing splashes of water, and you’re talking with people in the back of the boat from the front of the boat,” Amin said. “We’re making relaxation more relaxing.”

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