When collaboration equals innovation

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The Webasto Breeze started as a concept two years ago when Four Winns’ designer Christophe Lavigne was looking for ways to extend the boating season. Lavigne wanted a convertible air-conditioning and heating system that worked in an open cockpit so boaters could start the season a month early with heat, cool themselves through the summer, and use heat again boating into the fall.

Lavigne looked at different systems using small generators and battery-powered units, but nothing was ideal for the marine environment. When he turned on the A/C in his car, a lightbulb went on in his head.

“He gave us a call and asked whether Webasto would consider building an engine-driven system,” said David Woolard, senior director of leisure markets for Webasto Thermo and Comfort, North America. “We looked at the market potential and what it would take to do it, and realized we’d need a relationship with an engine manufacturer. We could proceed on our own, but it would void the warranty.”

Lavigne came back to Woolard and said Volvo Penta would like to work on the project. Two years after the idea was conceived, the first Webasto Breeze was introduced two weeks ago at the Four Winns dealer meeting in Sarasota, Fla., aboard the builder’s HD270 model.

“Volvo did some really great engineering work on the system, upgrading their alternators and pulley sizes,” Wollard said. “They also provided a year and a half of testing on the system in their Virginia facilities. It’s the first time, at least in terms of air conditioning, that we’ve seen a collaboration between an engine builder, equipment maker and boatbuilder on an entirely new concept.”

The Breeze is powered by a Volvo Penta sterndrive that produces up to 7,000 BTU at idle or slow speeds and up to 30,000 BTU at high engine rpm. Volvo Penta supplies an upsized alternator and mounting bracket, and Webasto provides the Breeze’s belt-driven compressor, evaporator, condenser, seawater pump and dash-mounted controls. The 12-volt DC system does not require an auxiliary generator.

Wollard, who had a chance to test the system at the Four Winns dealer meeting, said it worked “extremely well” on the open-cockpit boat. “There are about six air outlets in the cockpit,” he said. “There are ones on the dash like you’d have in a car, and the rest are spread across the cockpit. It makes a very noticeable difference when the unit is on. The dealers all commented on that.”

“Our dealers loved it,” said Andy Lindsay, Four Winns vice president of sales in a statement. “We were totally blown away by the new concept. We were so impressed that we presented our first-ever Suppliers Innovation Award jointly to Webasto and Volvo Penta at our dealer meeting.”

Wollard said the Breeze is being prototyped by other boatbuilders and will also be sold as an aftermarket add-on for dealers.

Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas, said the collaboration resulted in “another industry first” for the engine manufacturer. “Our innovations are driven by our Easy Boating strategy, which aims to make it easier for more families to enjoy the boating experience,” Huibers said in the statement. “Boatbuilders can now offer customers the convenience of automotive air conditioning for the first time in an open-cockpit boat.”

“The more collaboration we can do between companies, the faster we’ll drive innovation as an industry,” Wollard said. “It’s hard to put companies together and not have lots of problems, but this was a situation where all three of us worked hard together for the end result.”


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