Tesla from the sea? CES presents electric hydrofoils

Flying cars and self-driving vehicles always attract attention at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas, but electric recreational boats are making bigger waves this year.

Swedish company Candela on Thursday unveiled a 28-foot (8.5-meter) electric hydrofoil-powered speedboat that can cruise for more than two hours at 20 knots, or about 23 miles per hour. California-based startup Navier has tried to outdo its Scandinavian rival by introducing an electric hydrofoil that is slightly longer, although Candela is further ahead in getting its products to customers.

Even recreational powerboat conglomerate Brunswick Corporation tried to make a splash in Nevada this week with the unveiling of its latest electric outboard – an emerging segment of its gas-powered fleet.

WHY ELECTRIC?

The main reason is environmental protection, as well as saving on rising fuel costs. But electric boats – especially those with sleek foil structures that lift the hull above the water at higher speeds – can also provide a smoother, quieter ride.

“You can drink a wine glass and it won’t spill,” Navier CEO Sampriti Bhattacharyya told The Associated Press last month. “And it’s quiet, extremely quiet. You can talk, unlike gas boats.”

WHEN CAN I RECEIVE IT?

Candela CEO Gustav Hasselskog said his company has already sold and produced 150 all-new C-8 models. The Stockholm-based startup is increasing its workforce from 60 employees a year ago to around 400 this year as it prepares to ramp up production.

But with a price tag of around $400,000, neither the C-8 nor the Navier’s N30 are intended to replace the aluminum boat used for lake fishing. They have been described as the tesla of the sea, with the hope that what starts out as a luxury vehicle could eventually help transform the shipping industry.

“They’re usually entrepreneurs,” Hasselskog said of Candela’s early clients. “They tend to be tech enthusiasts if you will, with an optimistic outlook on the future and the ability of technology to solve all sorts of societal challenges.”

Navier’s investment backers include Google co-founder Sergey Brin, which means he’ll likely get one too.

ARE MANAGERS READY FOR THIS?

Probably not. These early-model electric boats are expensive, heavy and could cause more serious “range anxiety” than what drivers feel with electric cars, said Truist Securities analyst Michael Swartz, who tracks the recreational boating industry.

“How safe is it for me to go out in the middle of the week when no one is around, miles offshore, in an electric outboard?” Swartz said.

Swartz said it might make more sense to use electric motors – such as Brunswick-owned Mercury Marine’s new CES offering – to power a fleet of small boats for hire, perhaps at widely used sailing clubs also run by Brunswick.

“You’re not even anywhere near an electric boat where you can go 50 miles offshore, fish for a few hours and come back,” Swartz said. “There is no technology to replicate this experience outside of an internal combustion engine.”

INTRODUCING WATER TAXI?

Both Candela and Navier are planning an aftermarket electric ferry that could compete with the gas-powered vehicles currently carrying commuters in populated regions such as the Stockholm archipelago or along San Francisco Bay.

Hasselskog said the same technology that powers the new Candela pleasure boat will also be used to power a 30-passenger catamaran prototype that could operate in Sweden this summer.

For a city like Stockholm, which has already electrified most public surface transport, dozens of large ferries are an exception in producing carbon dioxide emissions.

“They need about 220 of these (electric) ships to replace the current fleet,” said Hasselskog. And instead of running on fixed schedules with empty seats, smaller electric vehicles can be summoned on demand, like Uber or Lyft operate on land.

AUTOMATIC DOCK

Many companies developing propulsion for electric boats also have teams working to make these vehicles more autonomous. But since most recreational boaters like to pilot their own boats – and most ferry passengers probably prefer a human captain at the helm – the innovation in autonomous driving is focused on what’s happening in the marina.

“There is an intimidation factor in boating, and a lot of the intimidation factors you hear from consumers are about docking,” said Swartz, an analyst at Truist. “So if it can be done seamlessly and automated, that’s a big deal.”

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