STOWE, Vt. – Snowmobiles are part of the winter soundtrack in this part of Vermont, destroying the silence of the jungle in the worst possible way, like motorcycles on skis. But in February, the motor sleds that bounced along the forested mountain trail were silent, except for the metal runners on the ice.
The machines made by Taiga, a Canadian start-up company, were battery-powered – the first electric snowmobile to sell massively – and a sign of how all kinds of vehicles are migrating to emissions-free propulsion. Are Taiga is also offering a battery-powered personal watercraft, another form of entertainment where the gasoline version is considered a curse in some quarters.
While electric cars are gaining traction, electric lawn mowers, boats, bicycles, scooters and all-terrain vehicles are on the rise. In some categories, battery-powered machines are gaining market share faster than electric cars, which are conquering the auto world. Startups are luring investors by claiming to be the boss, cycling, or lawn mower of the lawn and garden industry.
Environmental benefits are potentially significant. Unlike cars and trucks, outboard motors or lawn mowers generally do not have catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions. They make noise, and they often use low quality fuel. According to the California Air Resources Board, a gasoline lawn mower produces as much pollution in an hour as a 300-mile car trip.
California has passed a law banning gasoline-powered mowers starting in 2024 and all new petrol-powered vehicles by 2035. But even without pressure from the government, sales of electric alternatives continue to grow.
One of the first customers of Taiga Snow Mobiles was the Taos Ski Valley of New Mexico, which markets itself as an eco-conscious ski resort. David Norden, chief executive of Taos Ski Valley, said Taos Ski patrol and trail maintenance workers would use electric snowmobiles to carry injured skiers or serve as icebreakers. When skiing resumes this year, Taos also plans to deploy an electric snow grooming machine made by the German firm Kässbohrer Geländefahrzeug.
Mr Norden said that even if electric snowmobiles, starting at $ 17,500, were more expensive than their petrol counterparts, which could cost less than $ 10,000, the resort would save money on fuel and maintenance. Will be.
“You analyze the cost-benefit, you’re probably on the verge of breaking down,” he said. “These are decisions not only for the environment but also for our bottom line.”
But sometimes people turn to electric power because it has practical benefits.
Buyers of electric lawn and garden tools, polled by the research firm Fredonia Group, cited noise reduction, lower maintenance costs and the need to store gas cans in garages as their top priorities. Most electric leaf blowers or string trimmers are cheaper and lighter than the petrol version.
Electricity has gone faster than the lawn and garden industry. According to Fredonia, in 2020, electric movers, leaf blowers and other devices accounted for 17% of the market in the United States. Electric cars account for more than three times the share of the US car market.
A critical year for electric vehicles
As the overall auto market stagnates, the popularity of battery-powered cars is growing worldwide.
Many people are reluctant to buy an electric car because they are worried about running out of power. Range Anxiety is not a concern in the backyard.
“You’re not worried about road tripping in a lawn mower,” said Jennifer Mapes-Christ, manager of Commercial and Consumer Products Research in Fredonia.
But electrifying boats and other vehicles often presents technical challenges. Electricity works for small watercraft or boats that do not travel long distances. This is the only option on hundreds of lakes where conventional outboard motors are banned due to noise or pollution.
Because of the high water resistance, however, large power boats require constant power to supply the batteries available today. (Of course, sailing boats have been running on wind power for thousands of years.)
Batteries are “part of the future answer, but not necessarily the full answer,” said David Fox, chief executive of Brunswick, which builds the Mercury Marine Engine.
Still, Mercury has unveiled a prototype electric outboard motor and is watching the transition to electrification.
“We plan to be a leader in this area,” said Mr. Fox, who runs the battery-powered Porsche. “Even though the market is small at the moment, we want to stay there and see what the market does.”
Some engineers are taking advantage of the shift to electrification to rethink design. An offshore racing series known as E1, which plans to launch events in Miami and other cities next year, will use battery-powered boats powered by hydrofuels that float on water. Raises the holes, which greatly reduces the resistance.
“We need to change the paradigm,” said Rudy Basu, E1’s chief executive. “That’s exactly what Tesla did.”
Just as Tesla has hurt the auto industry, startups are challenging companies that have long dominated their markets. Flex Marine is one of several companies trying to convert electric power to watercraft. With $ 15 million in venture capital, it plans to start selling electric outboard motors at a plant in Bristol, RI this summer.
Ben Sorkin, chief executive of Felix Marine, a summer intern at Tesla, acknowledged that battery power was not practical for large foreign fishing boats and the like. “Given what is currently available, electric propulsion is an excellent market,” said Mr. Sorkin.
But he said the market will expand as batteries get better and more practical for larger motors. Mr Sorkin said the Flex Marine’s largest motor was rated at 70 horsepower, and the numbers would continue to grow.
“Every five or so years, the lovely place changes,” he said.
Major manufacturers of boats, snowmobiles and mowers are slowing down to run on electricity. John Deere, the largest manufacturer of self-propelled lawn mowers, does not offer battery-powered alternatives, but discusses the power supply strategy with investors at a program on May 25-26. Intends to talk
The recent history of the auto industry can serve as a warning to established companies. Just as slow-moving car companies initially gave the area to Tesla and are trying to capture it, new companies like Taiga are exploiting vast open markets.
Taiga’s chief executive, Samuel Brunau, said electrifying snowmobiles was a challenge because batteries and motors had to deal with extreme temperatures and rugged terrain.
“No one was coming into the space, because it would require new technology,” he said. “This is the opportunity we saw.”
The competition is coming. BRP, a Quebec-based company that makes Ski-doo snowmobiles as well as all-terrain vehicles and motorboats, has said it will offer electronic versions of all its products by 2026. Electric two wheelers in 2024.
“There is a trend driven by automobiles,” said Jose Boisjoli, chief executive of BRP, the largest manufacturer of snowmobiles. “We cannot ignore it.”
But he said the transition to leisure would be slower. For one thing, the markets are so small that it is difficult to achieve the cost savings that come with mass production. Fewer than 135,000 snowmobiles were sold worldwide in 2021, compared to approximately 60 million cars.
And snowmobiles and powerboats do not receive government subsidies or tax breaks, which can reduce the price of an electric car by thousands of dollars. Charging in the jungle is also an issue. Taiga has installed a popular snowmobile trail network in Quebec, as well as charging stations, and is planning more.
But snowmobiles that venture deep into the desert would still prefer petrol, Mr. Boisjoli said. “The combustion engine will be in Snow Mobiles for a long time,” he said.
Dominic Jacengello, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, agreed that long-distance snowmobiles, which could easily travel more than 100 miles a day, would be suspicious.
Still, Mr Jacangelo said he was anxious to try Taiga. “In terms of performance, you have a sled that will sustain anything on the market,” he said.
Because electric snowmobiles are more quiet, they can help reduce friction between snowmobilers and those who see machines as an insult to nature. This will open up more territory for Snow Mobiles.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Jacqueline, “an electric sled will change the way environmentalists think about snowmobiling.”