Tesla effect: Snowmobiles, boats and mowers go electric

STOWE, Vt. – Snowmobiles are part of the winter soundtrack in this part of Vermont, at worst disrupting the tranquility of the forest like motorcycles on skis. But in February, schools moving along a forested mountain trail were silent, except for the thunder of metal runners on the snow.

The cars, made by a start-up Canadian company, Taiga, were battery-powered – the first electric snowmobiles to be widely sold – and symbols of how all types of vehicles run on the engine without emissions. Taiga also offers private reservoirs running on batteries, another form of recreation where the petrol version is seen in some circles as a nuisance.

While electric cars are getting the most attention, electric lawn mowers, boats, bicycles, scooters and off-road vehicles are proliferating. In some categories, battery-powered cars are gaining market share faster than electric cars are conquering the auto world. Start-up companies attract investors by claiming to be the seeds of the boating, bicycle, or lawn and garden industry.

Environmental benefits are potentially significant. Unlike cars and trucks, outdoor engines or lawn mowers usually do not have catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions. They are noisy and often use low quality fuel. According to the California Air Resources Council, mowing lawn mowing produces as much pollution per hour as when traveling 300 miles by car.

California has passed legislation banning gasoline-powered lawns from 2024 and banning all new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

One of the first users of Taiga snowmobiles was Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, which calls itself an environmentally friendly ski resort. Tao Ski Patrol and Trail Technicians will use electric snowmobiles for tasks such as transporting injured skiers or servicing snow-making equipment, said David Norden, chief executive of Taos Ski Valley. When skiing resumes this year, Taos also plans to install an electric snowmobile made by the German firm Kässbohrer Geländefahrzeug.

Even if electric snowmobiles, which start at $ 17,500, are more expensive than gasoline analogues that cost less than $ 10,000, the resort will save you money on fuel and maintenance, Mr. Norden said.

“You are doing a cost-benefit analysis, you are probably close equally,” he said. “These are not just solutions for the environment, but good solutions for our bottom line.”

But sometimes people convert to electricity because it offers practical advantages.

Buyers Buyers of electric lawn and garden equipment, named by research firm Freedonia Group, named noise reduction, low maintenance costs and storage of gas canisters in the garage as their top priorities. Often electric leaf diapers or string trimmers are cheaper and lighter than gasoline versions.

The lawn and garden industry has become faster than the car industry. According to Freedonia, by 2020 electric mowing, foliar and other equipment would account for 17 percent of the U.S. market. This is three times the share of electric cars in the US car market.

Many people are reluctant to buy an electric car because they are worried about running out of power away from the charger. Range anxiety is not a concern in the backyard.

“You do not have to worry about mowing the lawn,” said Jennifer Maypes-Christ, Commercial and Consumer Product Research Manager at Freedonia.

But electrification of boats and other vehicles often presents technological challenges. Electricity works for small reservoirs or ships that travel not too far. This is the only option on hundreds of lakes where conventional outdoor engines are prohibited due to noise or pollution.

Because water creates a lot of resistance, however, large capacity boats require an amount of continuous power that exceeds the current available batteries. (Of course, sailing boats have been running on wind energy for thousands of years.)

Batteries are “part of the answer for the future, but not necessarily the complete answer,” said David Volkes, chief executive of Brunswick, which runs Mercury Marine Engines.

Nevertheless, Mercury presented a prototype of the electric motor and carefully observed the transition to electrification.

“We’re going to be leaders in this space,” said Mr. Volkes, who runs the battery-powered Porsche. Even if the market is small at the moment, we want to be there and see what the market is doing.

Some engineers use the switch to electrification to revise the design. The offshore racing series, known as E1, which plans to launch events in Miami and other cities next year, will use battery-powered boats equipped with hydrofoils that raise shells above the water, significantly reducing resistance.

“We need to change the paradigm,” said Roddy Basso, E1 CEO. “This is what Tesla did.”

Just as Tesla has revived the auto industry, start-up firms are challenging companies that have long dominated their market. Flux Marine is one of the few companies trying to adapt electricity to watercraft. With $ 15 million in venture capital, it plans to start selling electric exterior motors made at a factory in Bristol, RI, this summer.

Ben Sorkin, CEO of Flux Marine, who was a summer intern at Tesla, acknowledged that battery power was not practical for large offshore fishing vessels and the like. “Given what is available now, the electric motor is a niche market,” Mr Sorkin said.

But he said the market would expand as batteries improved and became more practical for larger and larger engines. The Flux Marine’s largest engine is rated at 70 horsepower and their number will increase, said Mr. Sorkin.

“Once every five or more years, the sweet spot changes,” he said.

Large manufacturers of boats, snowmobiles and mowers are slowly generating electricity. John Deere, the largest manufacturer of self-propelled mowers, does not offer battery-powered alternatives, but plans to discuss its electrification strategy with investors at an event May 25-26.

The recent history of the automotive industry can be a warning to established companies. Just as slow car companies originally ceded territory to Tesla and are trying to catch up, new companies like Taiga are enjoying broad markets.

Samuel Bruno, CEO of Taiga, says snowmobile electrification is a challenge because batteries and engines needed to deal with extreme temperatures and cloudy terrain.

“Nobody came into this space because it required new technology,” he said. “This is an opportunity we have seen.”

The competition is coming. BRP, a Quebec-based company that manufactures Ski-Doo snowmobiles as well as off-road vehicles and motorbots, has said it will offer electric versions of all of its products by 2026. The company also plans to enter the motorcycle market by line. Electric two-wheeled vehicles in 2024.

“There is a trend that is being driven by the car,” said Jose Boyzoli, CEO of BRP, which is the largest manufacturer of snowmobiles. “We can not ignore that.”

But he said the transition would be slower in recreation. On the one hand, the markets are much smaller, making it difficult to achieve cost savings that lead to mass production. In 2021, less than 135,000 snowmobiles were sold worldwide, compared to approximately 60 million vehicles.

And snowmobiles and motor boats do not receive state subsidies or tax breaks, which can reduce the price of an electric car by thousands of dollars. Charging is also a problem in the forest. Taiga has installed charging stations along the network of popular snowmobile trails in Quebec and plans to do even more.

But snowmobiles that go deep into the desert still prefer gasoline, Mr Boisjoli said. “The combustion engine will be in the snowmobiles for a long time,” he said.

Dominique Giaccangello, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, agreed that long-distance snowmobiles that can travel more than 100 miles a day would be skeptical.

Nevertheless, Mr. Giagnacello said he wanted to test the taiga. “In terms of performance, you have a school that will keep you in any other market,” he said.

Because electric snowmobiles are quieter, they can reduce friction between snowmobiles and people who think these machines are an insult to nature. This will open up more relief for snowmobiles.

“Of course,” said Mr Giacanjello.

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