Nowadays, it’s trendy to love the environment: 90 percent of Millennials say they’ll shop at a company whose social and environmental practices they trust. With this statistic in mind, purchasing, and marketing, an electric (or hybrid) boat engine could give you an edge when competing for Millennial customers.
Plus, electric boat motors are becoming more common. The International Boat Industry says, “Electric propulsion is gaining more of a market share, especially in the commercial, charter, and large yacht sectors.”
So, what’s behind the switch, and could electric boat engines be right for you?
The Cost Factor
Even if electric boat motors attract customers, they won’t help your business if the cost to purchase, install, and operate the engine is too high. So, assessing the cost (or cost-effectiveness) of electric engines is essential to determining if they’re right for your fleet.
In fact, cost is often the main hindrance to installing an electric or hybrid engine, particularly in the United States where fuel costs have been relatively low for the past several years. However, costs for green engines have been trending downward, and as technology improves (particularly battery technology), costs could continue to fall.
Additionally, in Europe, where fuel prices are higher, these engines may be more appealing. The International Boat Industry News writes, “Thanks to long working hours and high-energy demands, fuel-saving technology has the chance to properly pay back the investment.”
Not only do electric and hybrid engines offer marketing appeal to environmentally conscious clients, they may also offer a better onboard experience. Electric engines don’t create the same noise or exhaust of a diesel-fueled motor. That means guests experience a smoother ride, particularly when pulling in and out of marinas.
Additionally, these engines are becoming more powerful. This innovation is partly due to improvements in electric car engines that have made their way into nautical design. On top of that, Norway has invested a large amount of money into cargo ship batteries (in an effort to reduce the number of trucks on the road), which has helped green engine technology advance.
Don’t Discount Diesel
Before you run out to buy an electric engine, it’s important to note that some experts caution boat owners not to totally give up on diesel. “Electrification does not spell the end of diesel or other forms of energy any time soon,” writes Blair Claflin, the director of sustainability communications at Cummins, which develops electric engines for trucks. “Diesel is the most energy-dense liquid-fuel available.”
After all, electric engines still need to be powered by something. While renewable technology (like solar and wind) is improving, the most reliable source of backup power is often fossil fuel. That’s one reason hybrid engines have seen such success in the automotive (and now boating) industry.
Last but not least, keep in mind that electric and hybrid engines may have different maintenance requirements. Be sure to look into whether you’ll need to keep new parts on hand or have your technicians attend additional training in order to maintain these engines. While adjusting one engine at a time may be the most cost-effective investment, it could lose you money in the long run if your maintenance costs double.
Ultimately, whether you decide to invest in one electric or hybrid engine, or purchase them for your entire fleet, the decision should depend on your specific business.
If low costs are key, and you’re based in the U.S. where fuel prices are lower, you may want to wait until prices fall further. But if your customers are environmentally conscious, and if you have a highly skilled team of mechanics, switching to electric could offer you a competitive advantage.