Electric Road Trip

A hot ride on an electric boat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The work of Minnesota battery-electric vehicle missionaries doesn't end on the road.

On a chilly afternoon yesterday, an association called MN Electric Vehicle Owners offered members a short electric motor boat ride on a finger of the Mississippi River that curls past St. Paul. Reporter Jeffrey Tomich and I took a break from the Electric Road Trip to try it out.

We took seats and headed out in a bullet-shaped 20-foot aluminum "gentleman's runabout" built by Marcel LaFond, whose Symphony Boat Co. is moored in Duluth. Inside the hull is a German-built electric motor rated at 50 kilowatts. A 40-horsepower outboard motor would replace it in a conventional craft, LaFond said. The price tag is around $100,000.

Once away from the marina, LaFond gunned it and the Six-1 Conductor stood up on its stern and took off, pushing out plenty of wake but not a sound. It couldn't be further from an ear-splitting cigarette powerboat, but it is a hot ride, and perfect for sneaking up on loons, one of his customers told him.

At a comfortable 5 mph, the batteries will go for 45 minutes, LaFond said. At a top speed of 27 mph, the range is about 13 miles.

LaFond, 59, is the kind of do-it-myself techie-craftsman whom you'd expect to find among early EV adopters. Growing up with boats on Minnesota's lakes, he proceeded to college, where his senior industrial studies project was converting a Volkswagen Bug into a Bradley GT with an electric engine he built.

He designed yachts and private aircraft before starting his own company to build the electric boats. The runabout is a boat designer's showcase, with an aluminum hull and varnished bamboo topsides.

We owe the ride to MN EV Owners founder Jukka Kukkonen, an automotive engineer and area manager for Ford in Europe before starting PlugInConnect, a Minnesota consulting firm working on transportation electrification. The boat outing is one more way of challenging preconceptions of what electric engines can do, he told us.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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