Inside Volvo Penta’s vision of sustainable and accessible boating
Volvo Penta has 115 years of experience and expertise in moving people and products from point A to point B. Looking ahead, the Swedish marine and industrial engine manufacturer envisions social and accessible life at sea for everyone — without harming life below the surface.
30 May 2023

Seafaring is undoubtedly the reason behind some of humanity’s biggest cultural and scientific developments. Thousands of years of life at sea have intertwined our biggest cities with oceans, lakes, fjords, and rivers so that humans could learn more about each other. In this day and age, most people use other means of transportation in business and leisure, and only a small minority take part in private recreational boating. A shame, if you ask Johan Inden, Volvo Penta’s President of the Marine Business Unit.

— There is something magical about getting out on the water by boat, perhaps naturally because there’s a deep connection between humanity and the waterways. But unfortunately, we are polluting them so much that they have become a threat to humans, he says, adding:

— We believe that if we get more people out on the water, we will naturally care for it more and spend our energy preserving it because it’s such a fantastic environment in a private sense, as well as business and for humanity as a whole.

”We believe that if we get more people out on the water, we will naturally care for it more and spend our energy preserving it.”

From a social and lifestyle point of view, this future persuasion is most clearly envisioned through the future concept ”Boating for everyone”. It not only accelerates its business towards connectivity and community, but also carbon neutrality. Sustainable solutions and green thinking are already established at Volvo Penta, with operating boats already equipped with hybrid combustion engines and power-efficient hulls designed by in-house naval architects, but the Boating for everyone vision steps it up a notch. The future concept, originally presented at CES 2023, includes a fully electric Boating as a Service solution, where automated electrical boats could take people out to sea, and neighbouring harbours. It also includes self-sustaining Volvo Penta Islands. Here, passengers could enjoy restaurants and concierge services while they charge their boat. It’s a fun and engaging way to envision social boating in the future — just imagine cruising in complete silence to these man-made islands for a summer evening concert.

— Why does it feel like I’m stepping back three decades in tech history when I go to my boat from my Tesla? Boating has pretty much looked the same for decades, Johan Inden asks himself.

In some ways, I guess people that own boats these days are the same people that own Teslas. How do you widen your scope past people that naturally would turn to recreational boating?

— It’s a good point. Today, boating is not an occasional experience and there are multiple barriers for someone that wants to get going. It’s a fairly steep investment to get a boat, and it also requires a boating licence and experience to feel safe and comfortable. We envision ourselves evolving our already existing Assisted Docking technology to create full automation for newcomers, and lower levels of automation for accomplished boaters. Boating today also requires planning, and we want to imagine a subscription-based on-demand platform that today’s boat clubs or shared ownership models can’t offer, Johan Inden says.

The man-made islands below the surface.

Interestingly enough the boating industry has seen a surge in interest since the start of the pandemic, just like many other outdoor industries have. This has introduced new minds to the historically closed boating culture. Historically speaking the biggest advancements for an industry come from technological innovation and collaboration — usually, it’s the eager innovators and big investment guys with a new mindset that can make things happen. Johan Inden agrees:

— To be frank, if you’ve grown up with a sailboat you’ve had to get used to the hassle of scraping the boat every season, painting the hull, and taking care of the engine — it’s a lifestyle. Most new boaters are not at all interested in that, they come with a tech-savviness, and I think that’s the way to keep boating contemporary and interesting. And perhaps most important of all, I think it helps this industry to build a long-term sustainability strategy.