When I saw that Volkswagen’s MEB platform was going to be used in yachts, I was a little confused. A car platform is generally used for…cars. In the past, every platform I’ve heard of automakers using was for cars that were similar in size and functionality. The platform usually consists of a floorpan, a common placement of major components, and the distance between the axles. The top of the cars might look pretty similar or look quite different, but they’re the same basic car underneath. To see some examples of this, look at the Wikipedia page on Car Platforms.
Knowing all this, a car platform being used for boats made basically zero sense. The floorpan of a boat had better be watertight, or the damned thing is going to sink. The length of something like a yacht is going to be far longer than a car. I mean, the only thing a car and a boat have in common is that they move people and good around. Other than that, sharing platforms makes about as much sense as a screen door on a
Apparently I didn’t know much about MEB and what it is.
What Is MEB?
After reading around a bit, it started to make more sense. Volkswagen’s MEB platform (MEB stands for German words meaning “modular electric-drive toolkit”) isn’t a traditional automotive platform at all. It’s used almost exclusively for vehicles, but it doesn’t dictate the wheelbase, placement of components, or anything else.
The idea behind the MEB platform is actually to have common electric drive components for a broad variety of electric vehicles. Naturally, you’ll want to put the battery slung low and in the center for handling and safety, but MEB is more about having common motors, controllers, modular battery packs, and related components. The vehicles might vary in rather extreme ways, like the small ID.3 and the ID Buzz, but they’ll share the same parts that move it around.
This allows VW to produce a broad variety of vehicles for all of its various brands and beyond. Volkswagen is far more than just Volkswagen, as the Volkswagen Group owns Audi, SEAT, Scoda, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ducati, and others. Vans, crossovers, cars, and commercial vehicles can all have the same components that come from the same suppliers, just bolted into different vehicles to fit differing needs.
Because it can get better economy of scope with these adaptable and versatile components, it could allow Volkswagen to produce a variety of niche cars, like a new electric Beetle or Dune Buggy, without hurting the company with the cost of building a platform for a vehicle that won’t sell in high volumes.
Beyond that, Volkswagen has been saying since the very beginning that it wants to sell MEB packages to other automakers. This helps VW because the economy of scale for common MEB components would improve, and helps the automaker using MEB by helping them avoid development costs. It’s a win-win for all involved.
But Boats? Really?
The fact is the MEB platform is mostly about electronics. There’s no reason that a boat builder couldn’t purchase MEB parts from Volkswagen and install them in just about anything that moves. Selling the platform’s components to Silent-Yachts makes sense for both companies.
“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,” said Michael Jost, Head of Group Strategy Product as well as CSO of the Volkswagen brand. “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.”
When Silent-Yachts went to Volkswagen, it wasn’t like taking a trip to the local O’Reilly Auto Parts or Auto Zone, or even like going to the local VW dealership’s parts counter. Nobody said, “I’ll take 400 MEB platforms, please.” The collaboration is a lot deeper than that, but not too much deeper. According to the interview, the yacht builder figured out what it needed and Volkswagen personnel helped it figure out which MEB components were needed, but they also worked with suppliers to make sure the parts would be programmed to work best in the yacht configuration.
“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.” said Michael Köhler, CEO of the solar yacht manufacturer Silent-Yachts. “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.”
The collaboration allowed it to buy in relatively low volumes to start, but know that there’s already an industrial supply chain and manufacturing base in place to help it scale up later. Instead of eating the cost of buying expensive electric components one-by-one, the company was able to take advantage of Volkswagen’s volume buying from day one, and be ready to buy in its own volumes later.
“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.” Köhler said.
Tell Us More About The Yacht!
In the interview, Köhler gave a few details. First off, the boat is a lot like a plugin-hybrid, but with solar, and with similar environmental benefits. “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.” Köhler said.
The boat’s battery isn’t enormous, but it’s enough to cover most trips that people actually take in Yachts. Köhler said, “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.”
Sometimes, people do want to take longer trips in the yacht, and it’s prepared to do that, too. If you take the boat out further than the batteries and solar can take you, there’s a diesel generator that kicks in to keep the trip underway.
“And all this with basically unlimited range.” he said.
Motorboat & Yacht did a great video review looking at the yacht and its technical specifications:
Michael Köhler himself has a very interesting history with electric yachts. He’s been all over the world on his own boats over the years, racking up over 8,000 days and 75,000 nautical miles. From 2005-2009, he ran a test yacht in the Mediterranean using different sources of clean energy to see what actually worked best on the high seas. Once he got it going well, he crossed the Atlantic and spent years in the Caribbean. After that, he built a special boat that used solar power to supply all of the small ship’s needs, including appliances in the living area. From this project, the Solarwave 46, his idea for the company was born.
He now has manufacturing facilities in several countries building yachts.
What Else Might The MEB Be Used For?
If Volkswagen could put its MEB platform in yachts, it’s clear that it could find its way into many other types of vehicles. Smaller boats are an obvious one, as it’s clearly adaptable to vehicles of differing sizes, but you’re not going to get 10 kW of solar power on a fishing or speedboat. Trucks, RVs, and many other land-based vehicles should be adaptable as well.
I don’t know a lot about running a startup, but if you’ve got a crazy idea that needs power, Volkswagen might be the people to talk to.