Volkswagen Group is clearly committed to the Paris climate agreement and is pushing ahead with environmentally friendly drive technologies and production methods at full speed. Throughout the Group, the company has committed to becoming CO2-neutral in balance sheet terms by 2050. A key contribution to this is the clear focus on electromobility. The Group’s all-electric platforms are a key asset in this regard. A large proportion of the 26 million all-electric vehicles projected by 2030 are based on the modular e-drive system (MEB). 19 million of them are expected to hit the road over the next ten years.
As a common platform for different brands, it makes the production of electric vehicles more efficient, variable and cost-effective in the long term. At the same time, Volkswagen offers the MEB as an industrial solution to other manufacturers. Now the Austrian solar yacht manufacturer Silent-Yachts has also secured MEB know-how. In an interview, Michael Jost, Head of Group Strategy Product and CSO of the Volkswagen brand, and Silent-Yachts CEO Michael Köhler explain how the collaboration came about. And why the MEB is well suited for use on the high seas to enable climate-neutral mobility.
Interview with Michael Jost and Michael Köhler
Michael Jost, Head of Group Strategy Product as well as CSO of the Volkswagen brand, and Michael Köhler, CEO of the solar yacht manufacturer Silent-Yachts, talk about how the modular e-drive MEB system moves from the road to the high seas – “packaged” in the contemporary CUPRA design.
How did the cooperation between Volkswagen and Silent-Yachts come about?
Within the Volkswagen Group, we have set up an innovation fund to promote innovative business ideas. About 18 months ago, I was presented with a project to use the MEB in a yacht. At first, I thought the idea was absurd. But then we got to know the potential partner, Silent-Yachts. We were impressed by how committed the company is to the topic of CO₂ neutrality as a supplier of solar-electric powered yachts and has long been considered a sustainability pioneer in the industry. I then discussed with Michael Köhler what we could deliver in a cooperation – namely emotional design and proven technology and can thus bring the Modular E-Drive System MEB from land to water for the first time.
Köhler: As a developer and manufacturer of electric solar yachts, efficient drive trains are a big topic for us. Motors and batteries are plentiful, but there is hardly a complex stand-alone system that can do it all in one – from charging the batteries through the solar panels to integrating a generator and shore power. Previously, we had incorporated a battery and motor system that we were very happy with and had sailed thousands upon thousands of miles on various oceans and even across the Atlantic. The problem was scaling and deliverability.
What do you mean by that?
Köhler: With our 400 employees, we produce in very small batches, each piece is manufactured individually – this not only affects the price, but also availability. But we want to continue to grow – and a strong partner like Volkswagen, which brings innovative technologies and has a corresponding supplier network, is of course very helpful. The main focus here is on efficiency. This applies to our solar modules, which we have mounted on the roof, as well as to the motors. We have to produce and use the maximum amount of energy on the yacht in a narrowly defined area. This is the only way we can achieve the performance we need to be successful – and here we can learn a lot from Volkswagen. The fact that we install electric motors with 2x50 kW, 2x150 kW and 2x300 kW depending on the boat model – exactly the range that Volkswagen also offers – makes things easier, and we can therefore adopt Volkswagen drives without major restrictions and conversion measures.
What exactly does Volkswagen supply?
Jost: Our Spanish CUPRA colleagues supply the design and we supply the MEB-based powertrain – i.e. batteries, pulse-controlled inverters and the engines from the Volkswagen portfolio. Our software partners also adapt applications – a pulse-controlled inverter is programmed differently for a car than for a yacht. Silent-Yachts can also further adapt the interfaces of our software for their needs. Our current plan is to install up to six batteries per yacht and to enable 500 kW power for yacht sizes around 50 feet plus.
What is the construction schedule?
Our goal is to have a model in the water during the course of 2022. Then we’ll see how many are built, and the market will have to decide. One thing is certain: the production of a ship takes significantly longer than that of a car.
Köhler: Yachts are indeed not a mass market product such as cars, in terms of construction alone they are much more elaborate. One example: If you work around the clock in a three-shift system, it takes about four weeks just to build the hull. Many production steps have to be carried out in succession, which again significantly increases the minimum production times. Our goal is to produce at least 50 units per year of the MEB-based “Silent Yacht 50” model after a start-up period of four years, and more if necessary. Subsequently, we want to install Volkswagen components in all other models as well.
What advantage do solar-electric yachts offer customers?
Köhler: Most yacht owners or charterers want to get from A-to-B quickly, B should at the same time not be far from A and the trip to the next bay or island should not take more than an hour. Such distances can be easily completed with electric drives. A trip with an electric yacht works something like this: You sail to your favorite bay and go for a swim. During that time, the solar panels charge the batteries. After the swim, you cruise back to the mooring and you haven’t wasted any fuel, you haven’t polluted the environment, and you’ve just enjoyed the peace and quiet. This is the sustainable comfort that we, together with Volkswagen and CUPRA, promise to everyone who steps aboard with us. And all this with basically unlimited range. If the e-range is used up, the built-in diesel generator steps in in an emergency.
Why does the project pay off for Volkswagen?
Jost: For us, compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement is of central importance – as a company, we therefore want to promote climate-neutral mobility at all levels. Moreover, with this cooperation we are demonstrating that our MEB platform is also suitable for and open to other mobility companies. With MEB-based silent yachts, we can also bring CO₂ emissions to zero on water. This is a good step for climate protection worldwide.
Michael Köhler has spent over 8,000 days on board his yachts and sailed over 75,000 nautical miles on all the world’s oceans. From 2005 to 2009, he compared different alternative energy sources on his test yacht in the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic with it and spent several years in the Caribbean. He focused on self-sufficient power supply, energy storage and electric propulsion. In 2009, he built Solarwave 46 – the first ocean-going yacht to use exclusively solar energy not only for propulsion, but also to power all the household appliances on board. Silent-Yachts was born out of the project. The company now offers electric solar yachts in a range of sizes from 55 to 100 feet and employs around 400 people across its manufacturing operations. Silent-Yachts is headquartered in Austria, with production facilities in Italy, China and Thailand, among others.