Electric boats making waves in Metro Detroit water industry

Farmington Hills-based company develops new battery for electric boats

ORCHARD LAKE VILLAGE, Mich. – We associate boating with a day off work, but on Thursday, our business editor found a way to make it his job.

It turns out there’s serious marine research taking place on a Southeast Michigan lake involving boats powered by batteries. As quickly as things change on the road with electric cars and trucks, it seems they’re changing out on the lake just as fast.

Local 4 zipped around Orchard Lake Thursday on an electric tri-toon with the same power as a 250-horsepower motorized engine. Hercules Electric Mobility Engineer Jim Breyer put his “Bolt-boat” through a shakedown cruise.

“You have the power and the torque available to pull a skier or a tuber just like you would in a normal gas boat, but you do it with much more efficiency,” said Breyer.

Battery-powered boats have the equivalent power to tradition ones, but electric boats are about 20% more expensive.

Farmington Hills-based Hercules originally floated the idea of an electric pickup truck but, armed with a patent for a malleable battery platform, their research led them to bail on the trucks entirely and hit the water, where there’s little competition.

“The efficiency of a gas outboard on a boat and the amount of pollution it puts out is 25 times that of a car, and so we really want to make a bigger impact,” Breyer said.

Julie Tolley isn’t a boater, but she said she saw a vast opportunity.

“People who are boaters typically care about the environment and want to have a clean and quiet experience when they’re out on the water,” Tolley said.

A unique selling point is how the battery is hidden under the rear deck and seat.

“The play space on a boat is the back end of the boat,” Bryer said. “That’s where everyone is, where you tow your boat ... that’s where the party is when you’re at the sand bar, and we open that deck space up.”

And as fast as that Bolt boat is, their journey from trucks to boats has been faster.

Four months ago, the Hercules team started working on this project. Now they already have a major, multimillion-dollar boat builder looking to go electric, and Hercules seems to have a very bright future on the water.

The earliest anyone would be able to purchase an electric boat is 2023, according to the company. The company says consumers could also buy a conversion kit for an internal combustion setup, purchase the battery -- which will also be available next year -- and put it in their boat.

About the Authors:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.