Q&A with Elco Motor Yachts CEO Steve Lamando

From Trade Only: Posted on October 27th, 2014, Written by Richard Armstrong

Elco introduced its first electric outboard this year, available in 5- and 7-hp equivalents, and a 25-hp model is planned for 2015.

Electric hybrid technology has become commonplace in the auto industry — each of the major manufacturers builds one. Toyota, with its popular Prius leading the way, now offers 15 hybrid models and sells about 6 million hybrids a year. Look around; hybrids are in every parking lot.

The Electric Launch Co., now known as Elco, was founded in 1893 (yes, 1893) and subsequently became a part of Electric Boat and General Dynamics. Elco now finds itself positioned to usher hybrid technology into the mainstream recreational marine market.

There are other competitors, most notably Germany’s Torqeedo, but Elco, under ownership led by CEO Steve Lamando, is focused on pushing the barriers of horsepower culled from electric marine motors to new limits.

Lamando says his company has partnerships with at least a dozen OEMs, including Beneteau.

Elco offers six patented electric inboard motors ranging up to a 100-hp equivalent, and the company launched its first outboards, including 5- and 7-hp models, this year. A 9.9-hp equivalent will debut in early 2015, and 15- and 25-hp equivalent outboards will follow later in the year.

“We plan to grow our product suite to get to 500 hp on the inboard, which would really kind of help us become the go-to company outside of Siemens and GE, which build hybrid systems for cruise and other very large ships,” Lamando says. “Then on the outboard side, we see a lot of opportunity to grow beyond where we are with our 5, 7 and 9.9, and then the 15 and 25. We’re going to see where market demand goes for that, but we’re at least penciled to look at horsepower beyond 25. Obviously it’s a function of demand.”

Lamando, 50, grew up in upstate New York. The Lamando family purchased the small regional wooden boatbuilder Hall’s Boat Corp. in 2006 and acquired Elco in 2009.

The original Elco won the contract to build 55 launches, each 36 feet, to shuttle visitors to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Riders were duly impressed by the quiet, clean propulsion in the days of steam and naphtha power. More than a million people rode the launches that year. Industrialist Henry Ford and inventor Thomas Edison were among the celebrities who bought Elco electric launches and took them back to their estates.

After establishing itself as a defense contractor, building both electric- and combustion motor-powered boats — Elco trailed only Chris-Craft as the top recreational boatbuilder in the mid-1940s — the company was merged with General Dynamics after World War II.

Elco was revived as a standalone company in 1987 when Joe Fleming purchased the naming rights with the intention of building replicas of the old Elco launches.

The company, based in Athens, N.Y., on the west bank of the Hudson River, was then acquired in 1996 by another area resident who was inspired by the electric boats on nearby Lake George.

After Lamando’s family bought Elco, Fleming returned as a design engineer. Lamando and Fleming sat down recently for an interview with Soundings Trade Only.

The workboat market is heating up for Elco. Here twin Elco EP-1000s power a 40-foot dredge tender operated by the New York State Canal Corp. The motors are powered by 36 AGM batteries.

Q: How has Elco evolved over its 121 years of existence?

A: Elco has an interesting story. It’s an amazing company and a big part of American history. The company was launched at the World’s Fair in Chicago, where electricity was the theme, and won a contract to build 36-foot launches that were powered by pure electric. It was quite an accomplishment and those launches shuttled about 1.2 million people around that fair.

It was completely quiet, and up to this time, besides sailing and rowing, the only modes of marine transportation were steam and naphtha. Both of those were noisy and dirty, so electric power was an amazing advancement.

Elco built more than 500 PT boats during World War I and more than 600 in World War II, including John F. Kennedy’s famous PT 109.

Most of the boats the company built after 1910 were not electric boats.

They were the second-largest production boatbuilder up to about 1948. Chris-Craft was No. 1 as far as units, but Elco did have a much broader spectrum of boats.

The company was then purchased by a battery company that also owned what would become Electric Boat. In the 1940s the owners decided to focus on building a defense contract empire and Elco did not re-emerge on its own as a recreational boatbuilder until the 1980s.

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