GM unveils new electric …boat?

With the goal of ‘making relaxation more relaxing’, General Motors – yes, that General Motors –introduced an all-electric concept boat at the Miami and Detroit Boat Shows.

The boat, named ‘The First’, from Forward Marine (which falls under the GM Marine Technology division ) is a 24’ aluminum tri-hulled pontoon type party boat with the middle pontoon being larger to accommodate the battery and motor.

The 60-kWh system consists of the motor of a Chevrolet Bolt hatchback with battery and electronics package (modified slightly for marine use) matched to a standard Volvo Penta DuoProp sterndrive. It is charged with a 110-volt extension cord, and can also be configured for 220.

an acrylic see through panel in the deck of the boat to show the motor underneath

Forward’s lead integration engineer, Jon Doremus, told boat industry journal TradeOnly that “using an off-the-shelf sterndrive shows how readily adaptable the equipment is for marine use.”

The point of getting it in front of boat enthusiasts in Miami and Motor City is to gauge public interest, said Dan Nicholson, Dan VP of global electrification, controls, software and electronic hardware. (say that 3 times quickly!) The prototype on display had an acrylic hatch so visitors could see the propulsion system.

“It’s one thing to have it on paper,” Nicholson said. “It’s another thing to come to shows and see what people think.” The company also has a ‘Comments’ section on its website if you care to offer up an opinion.

Pontoons are ideal for electric propulsion

A pontoon boat seems to be the ideal way for GM to ‘get its foot wet’ in the electric boat world. Even with advances in battery technology and energy density, the battery and system are still heavier than a fossil fuel setup. The difference is the weight of about 2 people – which doesn’t matter that much for a ‘party boat’ made for relaxing.

This electric catamaran from France is similar in concept to the Forward

On the bonus side that ICE systems can’t match, an electric system means that the other things that go into the party mix – like a refrigerator and sound systems – can operate without the drone of an engine spoiling the mood.

As Nicholson says: “Imagine having the ability to enjoy drinks straight from the on board refrigerator, make some food on an electric grill, watch the on board TV and keep all your favourite electronics charged all day on this beautiful boat.”

The Elux electric pleasure boat has its pontoons camouflaged

‘Quiet’ is a big feature

And when the music is off, the conversations don’t have to be any louder than the sound of water splashing on pontoons.

Of course, the other aspect of a pontoon boat is that speed is not the highest priority. Peak horsepower is about 200, top speed is 20 mph. More important, at 5 mph the First can run for 10 hours.

The First is still a prototype, but Forward Marine sees it targeting the “mid- to premium- price range of conventional pontoons for sale today.”

This seems to be the sweet spot for a few entries in the electric boat market. Medical device entrepreneur Howard Root took some of the money from his company’s buyout to launch the Elux, which has its pontoons camouflaged by being built into the hull.

In Canada, Templar Boats recently introduced a similar electric vessel. While not a pontoon, it also appeals to the ‘let’s get out on the water for a QUIET cruise’ crowd.

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