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Electric mobility on the high seas: the MEB platform for boating

15.2.2021
Electric mobility on the high seas: the MEB platform for boating

The Volkswagen Group is collaborating with pioneering company Silent-Yachts. The MEB platform is to be used as a common base for the next generation of electric yachts.

The full potential of the MEB platform, which the Volkswagen Group has developed for the new generation of electric vehicles, is on show in other forms of transport too – including boating. As part of its transformation from traditional car manufacturer to mobility services provider, the German Group has opened up its new platform to other industrial sectors. Shipbuilding is an excellent example of this.

In the future, the Volkswagen Group will cooperate with Silent-Yachts, a manufacturer of solar-electric catamarans such as the SILENT 55, capable of covering 160 kilometres per day using only solar energy.

Collaborating with Silent-Yachts

The idea for the collaboration arose in 2019 as part of the Volkswagen Group Innovation Fund II program, which offers all employees the opportunity to implement their own business idea at the Group and promotes the most innovative business models. The process starts with a business plan. Next, an initial prototype is built within twelve weeks, tested with customers and developed further before the plan receives final validation.

This is how the partnership with Silent-Yachts began – and the cooperation is in line with the Group’s vision given that the yacht builder has been committed to the issue of CO2 neutrality for 15 years. The firm is based in Austria and employs around 400 people, including in production shipyards in Italy, China and Thailand.

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Sailing with the sun

Silent-Yachts was founded by Heike and Michael Köhler; after 23 years of crossing oceans on motor and sailing boats, they both agreed that there had to be a more sustainable way of powering yachts. Four years of research into alternative energy sources led to the birth of the Solarwave 46 in 2009 – the first ocean-going yacht to exclusively use solar energy not only for the actual propulsion, but also to power all the equipment on board. In the ten years that followed, Silent-Yachts has built and delivered a dozen solar-powered catamarans ranging from 13 to 24 meters in length.

Now the company is relying on the MEB platform for the next stage in its evolution. The platform will drive economies of scale, producing yachts more cheaply and reducing maintenance compared to conventional engine systems. “Until now it’s been hard to find a stand-alone electric system that can do everything – from charging the batteries through the solar panels to integrating a generator and shore power,” explains Michael Köhler, CEO of Silent-Yachts.

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Michael Köhler, CEO of Silent-Yachts

Production efficiency

Silent-Yachts’ main focus is on production and component efficiency. This applies to solar modules as well as to the electric motors. On a yacht, the only way to achieve the required performance levels is to produce and use energy in a narrowly defined area.

Silent-Yachts installs electric motors with 2x50 kW, 2x150 kW and 2x300 kW depending on the boat model. This makes things easier and means the company can adopt Volkswagen Group components without major restrictions and conversion measures. “Our current plan is to install up to six batteries per yacht and to enable 500 kW power for yacht sizes of around 50 feet plus,” adds Köhler.

Respect for the oceans

The collaboration is beneficial for the Volkswagen Group too. It helps increase the enthusiasm for electric mobility, demonstrating the technological strengths of its platform and showing that clean mobility is possible on the high seas too. The MEB platform’s powertrain is not only powerful and quiet, but almost vibration-free. Meanwhile, the batteries – produced with green electricity – improve the boat’s overall carbon footprint.

Most yacht owners want to get from A-to-B quickly, but don’t need to cover large distances – the trip to the next bay or island usually doesn’t take more than an hour,” says Köhler. “These distances can be easily completed with electric drives because the solar panels charge the batteries when the yacht is stationary. In any case, all Silent-Yachts models have a diesel generator in case of emergency.”

Design with CUPRA appeal

The new Silent-Yachts catamaran boasts design by CUPRA, the Barcelona-based Volkswagen Group brand which focuses on developing uniquely high-performance electric vehicles with stimulating design. For the car designers, it was a whole new experience: they had to think of dimensions, proportions and surfaces in completely different terms, adapting their ideas to the geometry of the yacht.

The jointly declared goal of the Volkswagen Group, CUPRA and Silent-Yachts is to put a ship with the MEB platform on the water in the course of 2022. After a start-up period of four years, at least 50 of the MEB-based “Silent Yacht 50” are to be produced each year. Volkswagen Group components will then also be installed in all other Silent-Yachts models.

SourceVolkswagen AG

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