180 Electric Horses
Vision Marine Technologies hopes to revolutionize recreational boating with the new E-Motion 180E.
Today, there seems to be two adjacent trends occurring in the marine industry: combustion engines are getting larger, and more electric technologies are starting to emerge, most commonly for inboard applications. So far, there has been little overlap between these trends; powerful outboards are associated with high speeds and massive fuel consumption, and electric engines, though more efficient, are associated with short ranges or low cruising speeds. Canadian-based Vision Marine Technologies is challenging this divide with its new E-Motion 180E, which is reportedly the world’s most powerful electric outboard.
The 180-hp, 650-volt engine is powered by a 60-kwh lithium battery, which should provide an estimated range of 70 nm, or 3.5 hours, at a cruising speed of 17 knots, depending on the type of boat its pushing. This battery capacity would have been impossible only a couple of years ago, but according to Randall Truesdale Sr., american sales director at Vision Marine, “the price of a kw has dropped substantially, which translates into cheaper and more innovative batteries.”
Vision Marine was well-prepared to utilize the reduced cost of lithium-ion batteries. The company operates a rental operation out of Newport Beach, California, also known as the Garden of Eden for electric due to Duffy Electric Boats being headquartered there. It used that location to test all of the electric technology that was already available to see how it could be improved upon. The company has also worked with BMW and Torqeedo in the past, and it received grants that allowed it to invest heavily in research and development, including tapping into Formula E racecars.
“We’ve got heavy-duty involvement in the guys who were spearheading the Formula E race, so a lot of [our technology] is adaptable from our own experience and trying to reinvent the mouse trap and add the correct components to it,” says Truesdale. In line with this racing heritage, he is currently designing a go-fast catamaran for Vision Marine that aims to break the electric boat speed record, and while the E-Motion 180E outboard isn’t going to be affixed to any race boats, it is still intended to revolutionize the way people go boating.
In addition to the historically high price of batteries and the limited performance of electric engines, another substantial barrier to adoption has been the limited charging infrastructure. With the 180E, however, owners can simply plug it into a 220-volt power outlet at any marina, and it will recharge overnight. According to Truesdale, it can be charged to full capacity 2,000 times before the efficiency decreases and the batteries need to be replaced, but the outboard itself, he says, should last indefinitely.
“Electric motors can run forever as long as they’re in the proper conditions and encapsulated correctly,” Truesdale says. Additionally, the 180E should reportedly require less maintenance than combustion engines, as it has fewer moving parts and does not require oil changes or other routine upkeep associated with fuel.
By combining practicality and performance with electric propulsion, Vision Marine hopes to appeal to a new generation of recreational boaters who are more conscious about how they are impacting the environment, advancing the marine space in a manner similar to the automotive sector. Currently, the company is focusing on boats between 19 and 32 feet using outboards up to 200 hp, which it calls the “sweet spot” for recreational boaters. This way, it will ensure its outboards are versatile enough to suit a range of purposes.
“If you’re a fisherman or going out on the pontoon boat with the family or pulling a towable, that horsepower rating gives enough energy for them to be able to enjoy those activities,” Truesdale says. Vision Marine is also testing a twin application, as well as the 180E’s performance on everything from center consoles, catamarans, fishing boats, deck boats and pontoons.
While it is difficult to retrofit a boat designed for a combustion outboard with electric propulsion without interfering with its center of gravity (though it is possible; Vision Marine has retrofitted and is conduction testing on multiple), the company is actively working with different manufacturers to become a line item on the options list when someone buys a new boat. Then, the boat would go through the electric build process, which would ensure that the mounting points, access point for water (the outboard uses liquid-cooled batteries), battery management system and charging system are in the correct place for accessibility and weight distribution.
Despite Europe being the global forerunner in electric marine technologies, Vision Marine is seeing interest from around the world, even here in the United States, where historically there has been hesitation to embrace electrification. “It’s going to make one hell of a difference, but it takes education, because people are fearful of it,” says Truesdale. “I come from that go-fast boat side, and I realize the impact of what it does. Yeah, it was cool, it was fun, but we can still do this and do it clean, and I like that a little better.”