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Cruise with the current – Area firm building electric powerboat

By   /   Friday, June 19th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Cruise with the current – Area firm building electric powerboat

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While the Bay Area has Tesla Motors rolling out high-end sports cars powered by laptop batteries, the Tri-Counties can claim a company specializing in cutting-edge boat technology married to retro styling aimed at upscale buyers.

Going green may have its price, but Oxnard-based American Beauty Boats expects customers to line up to pay for prestige and environmental responsibility in the latest marine technology.

Rob Hoberman is president of the company that started in 2007 with Ventura County couple Jeff and Doreen Thomas. Hoberman joined them when their plan was still on the drawing board.

“The consensus was that the Thomases wanted something different,” he said.

Hoberman and the Thomases settled on what they call a “revival of the beauty and luxury of yesteryear’s hand-built classic wooden runabout,” a style popular in the 1940s.

But the difference with American Beauty’s boats is what’s underneath or, rather, behind the 18-foot long boats.

Hoberman said this style of marine craft is typically inboard-driven, meaning the engine is hidden underneath the body.

“We chose an electric outboard because it’s more user-friendly and better for people new to boating and easier to direct,” Hoberman said. “We thought it would be a lot nicer for people to get started with.”

That electric motor is made up of the same type of batteries used in golf carts, powering a 36-volt motor. The electric motors are made by Ray Electric Outboards based in Florida. They are shipped to Oxnard, where the final assembly on the boats is done.

An outboard motor combined with the electric design means the boats are largely maintenance-free. And even if there are some repairs to be made, the motor can be removed without having to disassemble the boat.

Crucially, charging the boat doesn’t require a special power station or electrical outlet. A 110-volt outlet, available at most docks, is all that’s needed.

Prospective customers can visit American Beauty’s facility to test-drive the boat and look at the different trim and equipment options.

A design feature Hoberman is especially proud of is the use of a displacement hull, unusual on such boats. He said the Thomases listened to potential clients, for whom stability was important.

“These boats are rated for 11 people, and they can move around comfortably so that (the boat) doesn’t rock,” Hoberman said.

The boats start at $29,950. Customers can choose between two styles, the Cabriolet or the Gatsby, but there is a long list of options that can boost the final price.

“Typically what we’re seeing is that people are spending between $10,000 to $18,000 on extras,” Hoberman said.

One of the most popular add-ons, he said, is a hard-top canopy that covers the part of the passenger area.

“It’s different from the canvas top normally on these types of boats, but it’s easier to clean and lasts longer.”

Hoberman declined to say how many boats the company has sold.

“We want to keep that number under our hats,” he said. “This is our rolling-out year, but we’ve sold a few so far.” Hoberman hinted at ideas to introduce more body styles and perhaps other types of electric motors, including some built by tri-county companies.

“Our founders are constantly looking at ways to improve technology and find motors with longer ranges and better batteries,” he said. “People in the Tri-Counties have been shopped around and looked at to make this new technology.”

Most of the customers are individuals rather than companies looking to add to their fleets, but Hoberman said he’s received inquiries from film companies looking to use the boats as props in movies.
Having their headquarters in Oxnard puts American Beauty Boats “in the middle of things” as Hoberman puts it.

“It just seemed like a real good fit. People can come out and get test rides. We’re all from the area, so it’s great to work in your backyard.”

But American Beauty Boats is holding the line when it comes to expansion, focusing instead on customer service. That’s why there aren’t more distribution locations set up, despite other companies’ offers to market the boats.

“We’re fielding dealership inquiries and people who have come to us who want to sell these,” Hoberman said. Factory-owned showrooms are a possibility in the future, he added.

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