Torqeedo CEO Fabian Bez: “We’re building the future of marine mobility”
Founded in 2005, Torqeedo is now working with forward-looking builders on electrifying their motor boats, sailing yachts, catamarans and RIBs, as CEO Fabian Bez seeks to help the water-based electromobility pioneer “define the future”.
Interview: John Higginson Photos: Torqeedo & Shipyards
Fabian Bez, CEO, Torqeedo
Fabian, having studied mechanical engineering in Munich, what led to your career in high-tech mobility and eventually to Torqeedo?
Funnily enough, I grew up on Lake Starnberg, Torqeedo’s home lake outside Munich. As a kid, I was always on the water, rowing and sailing as often as I could, so I was a first-hand witness to the development of this hotbed of electric boating and the growth of Torqeedo as a company.
Like many young people, I was fascinated with how things work, especially cars. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together. While it was clear engineering might be my future career, I was also really fascinated by how ‘making things’ works as a business.
I was a serial entrepreneur throughout my studies, and further pursued a degree in engineering economics at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (2003-07). This turned out to be a key combination: to be an engineer and understand the technology behind highly technical products, while also leveraging that knowledge to run a strong, healthy business.
Later experiences in the automotive industry and building up Webasto’s battery-systems and charging-solutions business units also informed my development as a leader in innovative drivetrain development, and electrification and alternative-fuels strategy.
Nimbus offers E-power versions of its 305 Drophead and 305 Coupé
All the professional experience, consulting jobs and education prepared me for leading Torqeedo, but the heart of it is that I love being on the water. That strong connection to nature and the waters I grew up on was, and is, important. I want everyone to experience that connection.
When you started as CEO of Torqeedo last October, what were your brief and key targets for the coming years?
Any new CEO job comes with financial and performance targets, as did this one, but my key targets are differently defined. Personally, I want to feel connected to where I’m investing my time and energy. I need to believe in what I’m doing, to be a part of something worth being proud of. I think most people need that.
My first priority is to build a company that acts with respect for its employees, its customers, its partners and the planet. A place where everyone is excited, engaged and happy to contribute. If you manage this, you’re well on your way to meeting the financial and performance goals.
At the same time, I’m drawn to companies where there are challenges. There’s huge potential in the electrification of the marine industry and the Torqeedo brand is strong and well respected. Customer interest is skyrocketing, and the eyes of the industry are on this company as we build the future of marine mobility.
Nimbus E-power models use Torqeedo’s Deep Blue 50i 1400 drive with BMW i3 42.2kWh batteries
Essentially, Torqeedo created and is now riding a massive sea change and my job is to make sure we keep our heads above water. These are “good problems to have”.
Over the last year, we’ve invested in our manufacturing infrastructure and optimised our R&D processes. Our new structure of two business groups will ensure we have the proper products and services to continue to connect with today’s and tomorrow’s boaters.
It’s my task, together with our leadership team, to leverage our assets – a proven product portfolio, partnerships, almost two decades of experience, and technical excellence – to become a true series manufacturer of complete, customisable systems and services that will continue to lead boating into its emission-free future.
How is the company structured in terms of headquarters and regional offices?
Torqeedo recently moved into our new headquarters in the Weßling municipality west of Munich, consolidated three manufacturing locations into that new headquarters, and invested in improving our production capabilities and internal processes. We’ve implemented lean manufacturing strategies and are ready to meet the growing demand for sustainable boating solutions.
The electric Delphia 11 has a Torqeedo Deep Blue 50i 1400 inboard
As well as maintaining two regional headquarters in the USA and Thailand, Torqeedo has a worldwide sales and service network with partners in more than 100 countries. From our Asia-Pacific headquarters in Bangkok, we see strong growth markets for electrification, especially in luxury yachting, in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the UAE.
Torqeedo produced its 200,000th motor earlier this year, in the same week the company celebrated its 18th anniversary. The company founders were confident demand for electric boat propulsion would increase due to growth of population and middle classes, limited oil reserves and efforts to limit global warming. Are these reasons still as relevant today?
The key drivers for electric mobility on land and water are the same as they were when Torqeedo was created. Electric boating is clean, quiet and easy to use – for many people, it’s just a nicer way to boat.
Electric boating enables closer connections between boaters and nature, and boaters and their friends and families. Concurrently, we’re failing to adequately address our warming climate. Our cities continue to suffer from air and water pollution while becoming increasingly crowded.
Electrification is the most basic and obvious ‘tool in the toolbox’ for creating a greener, healthier future for our communities and the world. The policy is divided into two parts: make power production as environmentally friendly as possible by using renewable energy, and then electrify everything possible.
Frauscher’s 740 Mirage Air uses two 100kW Deep Blue inboards
For example, energy production in Southeast Asia currently relies heavily on fossil fuels, with renewables making up about 17 per cent of the total energy mix.
The region is one of the most at-risk from climate change yet the tropics are obviously ripe for solar-energy production. Over the next two years, ASEAN has set a goal of raising the renewables ratio to 23 per cent, and most countries have proposed strategies for making their grids cleaner, with most aiming to reach net zero by 2050.
Electrification of transportation has taken on a sense of urgency in many governments in Asia, as they strive to position themselves as EV (electric vehicles) manufacturing hubs and attract ‘clean economy jobs’ by offering tax breaks and incentives to buyers of electric cars, as well as manufacturers, and investing in charging infrastructure.
The Ocean Explorer 72 offers Torqeedo’s Deep Blue Hybrid system
Currently, EV adoption for four-wheel vehicles in Southeast Asia lags behind Europe, China and the US, but we see that changing. When you can buy a Tesla for the same price as a Camry, as you now can in Thailand, you can expect rapid adoption. And as more people experience driving electric, they want the same experience on the water.
For us, creating products that allow people to have a closer, more authentically enjoyable experience in nature and on the water is just as important as creating climate-friendly products, which we see as the bare minimum task of a company that hopes to be selling products in the coming decades.
But the dream of Torqeedo lies in making boating better in every way: cleaner, safer, easier, quieter and more luxurious. Choosing an electric boat doesn’t have to mean making compromises.
Of its first 200,000 electric motors, Torqeedo produced 100,000 in the last three years. What are the reasons behind this exponential growth?
We were the first to market with many of the original products for emission-free water transportation, and the institutional knowledge created within this company since 2005 is unrivalled in the industry.
Torqeedo’s Deep Blue 100i 2500rpm inboard
Of course, the Covid pandemic brought many new boaters to the water in many markets, as people sought ways to recreate outdoors. The industry was enjoying record order books, overcoming supply chain issues and generalised economic uncertainty.
But the factor that has contributed the most to our recent growth is the strength of the partnerships we’ve built. Torqeedo has partners in over 100 countries around the world, a global, highly professional sales and service network, and is the electrification partner for some of the world’s biggest boat brands and equipment manufacturers. The industry trusts Torqeedo. Boaters trust Torqeedo.
Yacht Style has featured Torqeedo’s collaborations with yacht builders like Beneteau (sailing monohulls), Excess, Ocean Explorer (sailing catamarans), Nimbus, Frauscher, Delphia (motor boats), Highfield and Zodiac (both RIBs). How does the company cater to such a variety of boating types?
One of Torqeedo’s key assets is the array of single-source, turnkey drive systems we provide to the industry.
The Excess 15 offers Torqeedo’s Deep Blue Hybrid system
In the past year, our boatbuilder partners have announced electric boats ranging from small pontoon boats, tenders and daysailers up to Delphia’s electric lineup of inland waterway cruisers and the Swan 88, a large sailing yacht with the Deep Blue Hybrid system.
We continue to make Torqeedo’s emission-free drive systems more accessible, easier to install, and integrate an ever-expanding variety of marine products into our system architecture.
Can you outline Torqeedo’s collaboration with BMW and Tyde on The Icon, which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May?
Tyde is interesting as it’s building more than just a luxury electric yachting experience – The Icon feels like it’s flying because it’s ultraquiet, smooth and comfortable. The avant-garde design and attention to detail, down to the sound design, are stunning.
Torqeedo developed the propulsion for The Icon in collaboration with BMW and Tyde
It’s based on a foiling platform that can be leveraged for a variety of uses, including commercial passenger ferries or tour boats. Lifting a hull up on foils greatly increases efficiency and range. The propulsion system includes twin Deep Blue 100 inboard motors and six Deep Blue batteries.
Leveraging tested, proven components and systems like Deep Blue and BMW’s batteries allow us to share the technology for electrification between land, air and water. It was a very successful project and we’re proud to be part of it.
How is Torqeedo’s production split between outboards (Ultralight, Travel, Cruise, Deep Blue), Deep Blue inboard and hybrid systems, saildrives and pod drives?
In Asia-Pacific, outboards now make up roughly 75 per cent of our sales. These are mostly Travel motors for daysailers, tenders and dinghies, as well as Cruise motors for boats up to around 10 tonnes. We also sell a lot of outboards for water taxis and small passenger ferries. Workboats tend to be heavier, so most of these systems are Deep Blue.
Beneteau’s electric version of the First 44 features two Torqeedo Cruise 12.0 pod drives
Pod drives are a great option for sub-40ft sailboats, which can even charge their own batteries while under sail. Inboard motors are mostly used by electric tenders, catamarans and big sailing boats.
So, what types of boats are best suited for Torqeedo products?
Certain types of boating are ideal for electrification. On sailboats, going electric frees up space below decks, eliminates winterisation and reduces maintenance, plus you can use your electric drive system to charge your batteries. Big or small, sailboats are a perfect platform for electrification.
If exploring rivers, lakes, bays and tributaries is more your style, repowering smaller displacement boats with an electric drive system up to 25hp-equivalent (12kW/48V) can be done yourself or at any boatyard.
Torqeedo’s Cruise 12.0 R outboard
Small outboard electric motors are perfect for dinghies and tenders. They’re super lightweight, clean and quiet, and the dinghy starts with the push of a button, not a pull cord.
If you love to fish in inland or nearshore waters, electric can work for your fishing boat, while displacement cruisers up to around 40ft could consider either a fully electric or a hybrid-electric setup with a diesel generator backup.
If power is the main issue preventing builders of larger luxury yachts from going all-electric, how and when can this be changed or overcome?
Currently, the key limiting element is the energy density of batteries. On a technical level, batteries will continue to advance, as will the infrastructure for electric boating. As a result, our offering will expand, we will enter new markets, and we will gain market share in categories where we already provide solutions.
A Highfield RIB using the Torqeedo Travel 1103
Marinas are already aware that their shore power capabilities, while adequate for overnight charge, will need to expand to accommodate fast charging. Renewable onboard energy generation, such as solar and hydrogeneration, will continue to increase in efficiency, providing considerable opportunity to extend range and improve life on board.
Torqeedo’s innovative hydrogeneration algorithm for sailing yachts optimises power generation while reducing drag. While sailing, the Excess 15 generates approximately 75 per cent of its daily hotel load consumption.
Every year, solar photovoltaics become more economical and efficient, and we’re incorporating hydrogen fuel cells into the Deep Blue system architecture.
Torqeedo’s Travel 1103 outboard
What warranty and service follow-up do you offer owners of Torqeedo engines in Asia?
The standard warranty is two years for recreational use. Torqeedo has service partners in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Korea, Japan, India, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.
What else should our readers in Asia know about Torqeedo?
In partnership with our management team, Heiko Vietmeier, our CFO, and I are instituting a new strategy for the company. Torqeedo is the trusted partner of the world’s most reputable boating brands, and has one of the most loyal and passionate customer bases you can find in this industry.
To build on that, we will make Torqeedo even more customer-centric by providing more optimised products for specific market segments. Torqeedo is a powerful brand, and we are the pioneers of electric marine propulsion. We’re determined to maintain that position as we define the future.
Heiko Vietmeier (left) started as CFO a month after Bez joined as CEO
Our ambition is to put Torqeedo on every boat, to deliver joyful experiences and enable authentic connections, giving our customers a multi-sensory movement experience when on the water. We aspire to offer a barrier-free boating experience – no fuel, no noise, no odour and no anxiety. Simply the pure pleasure of being on the sea.
I want to take Torqeedo to a new level by thoroughly exploring our brand’s essential attributes: pleasure, power and respect. We will build a whole suite of boating products on that foundation, allowing people to boat in full connection with each other, nature and their values.
Based in Greater Munich, Bez has been CEO of Torqeedo in since October 2022. His early career included an internship at Porsche before he spent six years as a working student at BMW Group, completing his diploma thesis in New Jersey, US. During the same period, he was founder and Managing Partner of Quanten, a digital startup. His next five years with American consultancy Kearney were split between two years in London and just over three in Munich, before he focused on electric engines during six years at automotive supplier Webasto Group, while also developing CAT (Carbon, Aluminum and Titanium) bicycles and mountain bikes. Before joining Torqeedo, he spent 3½ years as a management consultant in the fields of alternative drives and renewable energies, including 10 months with Keyou focused on hydrogen-powered engines for commercial vehicles.