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Customer experience crucial for shift to sustainable boating solutions

by Volvo Penta 16 Nov 04:15 PST
Customer experience crucial for shift to sustainable boating solutions © Volvo Penta

Volvo Penta and Groupe Beneteau are revealing further insight into the needs and behaviors of leisure boaters, where comfort is emerging as a key driver towards sustainable boating.

This comes from testing and research into hybrid-electric solutions conducted in collaboration with a cross-section of stakeholders across the marine industry.

Both companies are passionate advocates for harnessing a variety of sustainable solutions towards decarbonization at sea including renewable fuels, hybrid and electric solutions, fuel cells and innovative boat design. The central findings of the research show how comfort and experience will be crucial to boaters when adopting sustainable solutions.

Volvo Penta and Groupe Beneteau have completed the second phase of their study into the key drivers that will help the boating industry shift toward more sustainable boating solutions in the future. The focus of the research was on the viability of hybrid-electric solutions as an option in what is predicted to be a multi-faceted boating future.

In 2023, the companies welcomed 120 boaters to participate in a bespoke trial that tested a hybrid-electric leisure boat concept. This unique project delivered feedback that will help transform the future of experiences on the water across both companies. Participants included stakeholders from across the leisure boating segment, with trials held at Volvo Penta's Krossholmen facility in Sweden in June and the Cannes International Yachting Festival in France in September.

Better comfort, improved experience

The study incorporated 240 hours of real-world trials and gathered precise, in-depth information on the market readiness of the unique hybrid-electric experience and what could attract boaters to adopt the technology.

"What we learned from this demo is that we can leverage unique technology features, with comfort in mind, as an enabler towards choosing more sustainable boating solutions," said Johan Inden, President of the Marine Business Unit at Volvo Penta. "What impressed people most was the improved experience the hybrid-electric concept provides. Features like silent cruising; peaceful nights onboard with batteries in place of a generator; or Joystick Docking in electric mode which makes leaving or arriving on dock a silent and stress-free experience. This is what will motivate consumer behavior in future."

A concept to map boater needs

Planning for the initiative began back in 2022, and participants ranged from beginner boaters to experts. Customers, dealers, boat builders, OEMs and media all took part, with stakeholders coming from far beyond both Volvo Penta's and Groupe Beneteau's networks. The testing spanned users of cabin cruisers, multihull vessels, motor yachts, recreational trawlers and more, with the trial open to a wider database of end customer via social media, online event and email invitations - as well as walk-on participants at Cannes.

Ages ran the full gamut from under 25 to over 65, with a split of men and women from across Europe and as far as Brazil and Australia. The study was designed and executed in conjunction with Swedish company Detector, an independent market research and consulting organization.

Attracted by interest in hybrid-electric

When asked what their primary motivation was for joining the testing, the group cited three main aspects: more silent boating experiences, the potential for reduced carbon footprints and exploring new technologies.

During testing, each person underwent a 1.5-hour sea trial aboard the concept vessel followed by a 30-minute interview. This delivered 240 hours of observations and insights.

Comfort and experience are the enablers

Volvo Penta and Group Beneteau analyzed the data and found that users responded most favorably to the overall elevated experience, as well as indicating that lower emissions when cruising in electric mode was also a motivator. The sound of silence, increased precision and control, and a seamless onboard experience were highlighted as the top-rated aspects of the new technology. Over 38% said the improved comfort was their most-liked aspect of the hybrid-electric experience.

Other eye-catching insights include:

  • Exciting new experience: After trialing the concept, respondents scored the experience an average of 4.3 on a scale of 1-5. Over half (53%) gave it a maximum score of 5.

  • Changing boater behavior: 87% said the concept could change how they boat. 46% would imagine more low-speed cruising. 31% could imagine staying more nights off the grid ('silent nights') and feeling more comfortable without disturbing fellow boaters.

  • An integrated system is the difference: Initial impressions ranked 'Seamless System Integration' as one of the standout features, with Joystick Docking in electric mode scoring high alongside 'Lower Sound Levels' and 'Acceleration & Performance'.

  • Charging infrastructure in place: Around half of respondents indicated they had access to charging infrastructure at their home docks with a further quarter indicating a variety of setups already in place.

  • Lower emissions: Enjoying zero emissions at low-speed cruising was a highlight. It scored an average of 4.5 on a scale of 1-5, and 45% of participants gave it a maximum score of 5.

  • Willingness to change: Over three-quarters (76%) said they are 'Very Likely' or 'Likely' to look at a hybrid-electric system next time they purchase a boat.

Presenting the full findings

Full details of the analysis will be presented in the next phase through a webinar from leadership at both companies.

"These trials showed us how powerful comfort, experience and an integrated system are in shaping where we go in the future. With the hybrid-electric concept, users were immediately impressed with the instant power, control and acceleration of the integrated system. Defining use cases and how people enjoy their boats is invaluable to helping us understand what can motivate people to make the shift towards hybrid and electric solutions," said Erik Stromberg, Vice President of Power & Motor Yacht Development at Groupe Beneteau.

In the coming webinar further details will be provided on the experiential insights the trial delivered. For example, it will explain why Joystick Docking in electric mode scored so highly, with users praising the quiet, responsive and simple control. It will also look at why trialists were excited at the option for longer stays on-board without relying on a generator. The findings of this research are already influencing ongoing project development.

"We learned so much with this project and still have more to learn. The future of sustainable boating lies in bespoke solutions. We will need to get even closer to boaters to match their needs and intended use of the boat to the ideal solution," Inden explained. "As an industry, we need to work collectively, and we're excited to share our knowledge and insights further to shape the future of leisure boating."

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