Electric outboard engines are nothing new. Anglers have been using them for years to troll silently along lakes and rivers. More recently the latest generation of Torqeedo and ePropulsion electric outboards have become the engines of choice for boat owners in search of a quieter, cleaner, more reliable source of power for their inflatable tenders.
But as the main source of power for a proper RIB or sportsboat? Not so much. Even Torqeedo’s most powerful Deep Blue 50, which is said to be equivalent to an 80hp petrol engine due to its superior torque and efficiency, only serves up 44hp at the propshaft.
Now, however, a Canadian company says it has developed the world’s most powerful production electric outboard engine with a claimed 180hp on tap. Powered by a 60kWh battery pack with a cruising range of 70 miles at 20mph (17.4 knots), it looks like being a genuine alternative to the 150-200hp petrol outboard engines that power the vast majority of 18-25ft sportsboats and RIBs.
Perhaps understandably, the snappily named E-Motion 180 hasn’t been developed by one of the big American or Japanese manufacturers that dominate the market for petrol outboard engines but by a relative minnow called Vision Marine Technologies based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
The company started out in 1995 as a manufacturer of modestly powered electric launches and runabaouts before fellow entrepreneurs and boat enthusiasts Alex Mongeon and Patrick Bobby took control in 2014 and switched focus towards the development of a much more powerful electric outboard.
The gamble appears to have paid off with investors falling over themselves to snap up the first $27.6 million worth of shares offered to the public in December 2020, money which is now being used to set up a production line for the first batch of engines.
It’s not hard to see where all this excitement is coming from, given the explosive growth in sales of electric cars and the surge in popularity of outboard-powered boats, but what do we know about the engine itself?
E-Motion 180: Electrifying
Technical details are still relatively thin on the ground. The heart of the unit is a 650V 110kW (148hp) electric motor packaged in a stylish but fairly conventional looking outboard housing.
A steel shaft takes power down the leg and through a 90° bevel gear, just as it would with a petrol engine. Despite the bright orange colour of the propeller suggesting it may be constructed from some form of carbon composite, the production units will be offered with a range of changeable alloy or stainless steel propellers.
Steering is taken care of by an off the shelf Seastar system. The package includes a full set of throttle controls and gauges but there is no mention of who makes these and we haven’t yet seen any images of what they look like.
The outboard engine itself weighs around 180kg, compared to 216kg for a 200hp V6 Mercury Verado, but that relatively modest saving pales into comparison next to the 400kg weight of the 60kWh battery pack.
Admittedly, a fair chunk of that will be offset by the lack of fuel tank and starter batteries, but unlike a petrol boat, the battery pack’s weight stays constant whether full or close to empty.
Speed and range will obviously depend on the size and weight of the boat it’s fitted to, but Vision Marine Technologies claims it should be good for up to 40mph (35 knots) on a typical 20ft sportsboat, and can cope with most planing boats from 18-26ft.
Thanks to an impressive peak torque of 350Nm acceleration should be strong, enabling it to swing a larger propeller than its petrol counterparts for increased efficiency at cruising speeds. None of the main petrol outboard manufacturers publish torque figures for their engines but we’d estimate around 240Nm for a naturally aspirated 200hp petrol engine.
Although Vision Marine will build the motors in-house, it claims to be ‘battery agnostic’ when it comes to the suppliers of its Lithium-Ion powerpacks.
That said, it does plan to sell the E-Motion 180 as a complete package that includes the motor, a 60kWh battery, an inboard charger, and all the throttle and steering hardware needed to fit it to a boat.
Counting the cost
Charging is via a standard 220V shorepower connector and takes around 12 hours. Battery life is quoted as 10,000 hours, more than enough to cover the 50 hours use most boat owners clock up each year, and the whole package is covered by a two-year warranty.
Rather more off-putting is the price. The engine itself is priced at a competitive $26,995 but the complete package, with battery and charger, is a rather less appealing $78,990. However, to focus purely on the purchase price is to miss the point.
Instead, Vision Marine would rather you look at the lifetime running costs. With a full recharge costing as little as £5 and minimal servicing requirements, it claims a 90% reduction in running costs. You also get to enjoy near silent cruising, fumeless operation and zero emissions at the point of use.
Sea trials of the E-Motion 180 are already underway with first deliveries slated for the end of the year and $300 deposits being taken online for a space in the queue.
At the moment the company only has capacity to build around 300 engines annually but with 329,000 outboards sold in the US each year, the potential is huge. And its ambitions don’t stop there – it already has plans to develop 250hp and 300hp versions.
Whether the production version of the E-Motion 180 lives up to the performance and range being claimed for it remains to be seen, as does the willingness of a boat market still hooked on petrol outboards to accept the limited range/speed of an electric one. However, the fact there now appears to be a clean, bolt-on alternative can only be a good thing.