Outside Tampa Bay, ex-Tesla exec bets on electric boats

As Tesla helped introduce electric vehicles, a Tampa Bay company is trying to do the same with boating.

Blue Innovations Group, founded by former Tesla global manufacturing chief Chuan “John” Vo, is working on a 30-foot pure electric boat in Pinellas Park.

In January, Blue Innovations Group will demonstrate the hull and propulsion system of its first boat, called the R30, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company, which started operations a year ago, will test the product throughout 2023 and expects to start selling it in the second quarter of 2024. The R30 boat is expected to run for 8 hours horsepower using a 220 kW battery and an 800 hp dual motor powertrain. It will also have an on-board solar charging platform.

Vo, 51, said he chose to start his company in the Tampa Bay area rather than Silicon Valley because of the waters, tech culture and the influx of people into the area.

“Maybe I’m speculating, but I’m seeing a shift in technology development in the Tampa area from tourists, retirees, how people from different areas change the type of economy,” Vo said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “I just wanted to grab that.”

Vo said he believes electric boats are the next step in sustainable transportation after electric vehicles popularized sustainable alternatives to gasoline. Compared with electric vehicles, this is an untapped market. The electric boat market in the US is expected to grow 13.7% to $11.35 billion by 2028. research publication It was released last month by market research firm Insight Partners.

“It’s the perfect place to sell boats because people here buy boats,” Vo said. “It will be more competitive in cost of living compared to San Francisco. Tampa will be a better center for Blue Innovations Group than Silicon Valley.”

Vo managed global manufacturing for Tesla for 6 years until 2017, before working at several other EV companies. His last venture was at Lordstown Motors, an electric pickup startup, where he and several other executives drew the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission for selling stock ahead of the turmoil. Vo sold his 9% stake in Lordstown Motors in February 2021, about three months after the company went public and weeks after a prototype pickup truck caught fire, Wall Street Journal reports. Vo must return profits from short trades, the illegal sale of shares by company insiders within six months of purchase.

Portrait of Blue Innovations Group CEO and former Tesla executive John Vo
Portrait of Blue Innovations Group CEO and former Tesla executive John Vo [ Courtesy of Blue Innovations Group ]

“I want to forget about that,” Fu said, adding that he lost $1 million investing in the company. Based on his experience working in the field of electric vehicles, he said that electric vehicles require a lot of infrastructure and investment. As more and more big players such as Ford and Toyota enter the EV market to compete with Tesla, Vo said there is not much room left for newcomers.

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Cars are also much more expensive to mass-produce, Vo said, while boats don’t have to be produced in the same quantities to be profitable.

Tampa Bay’s EV scene has grown in recent years.Tesla is trying Developed its first Pinellas County dealership in Lealman, while Swedish brand Polestar opened a showroom in downtown Tampa.Boston-based aerospace firm Regent selects Tampa for late 2021 Testing its electric boat-motor hybrid It will be available in 2025. Today, Blue Innovations Group has a manufacturing facility and headquarters at 3690 70th Ave N. in Pinellas Park.

Vo said he was taking some inspiration from his former boss and Twitter’s new boss, Elon Musk, on how to run the company.

“I won’t speak for my old boss, but I did learn a lot from him about his audacious goals and how to achieve them. I wanted to create a company where people could share a common purpose and vision and They feel like they can belong to something bigger than themselves, collectively, that we can create beautiful products that are good for the planet and economically meaningful for the people,” Fu said.

But he also emphasized building the R30 electric boat to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“With good planning and the right culture, you can have your cake and eat it. You can have fun and be productive at the same time,” Vo says. “You don’t have to be too extreme.”

In order for electric boats to take off with consumers, they need to be cost-effective, Vo said. While the original sticker price for the R30 boats is comparable to any other boat, Vo says boaters save money in the long run. Charging the boat is cheaper than buying gasoline for every trip, and Blue Innovations Group plans to make more durable components so boat owners don’t have to spend as often on maintenance.

In addition to boats, Blue Innovations Group is also developing a charger for boats called the Blue Fast Charger. The company will begin implementing these measures in Florida before expanding nationally and globally.

“In sunny Florida, you can charge for free all week and weekends. It won’t cost you anything,” Vo said. “Economics is what drives adoption.”