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Former Tesla exec unveils locally built electric boat

Mark Parker

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Former Tesla executive John Vo, founder of Blue Innovations Group, publicly launched his first all-electric boat Dec. 16 at the company's Pinellas Park headquarters. Photos by Mark Parker.

In December 2022, Tesla’s former global head of manufacturing pledged that he would unveil his latest venture’s flagship all-electric boat within a year. His plan to disrupt the boating industry is right on schedule.

John Vo, founder of Blue Innovations Group (BIG), showcased the first complete R30 at the marine startup’s Pinellas Park headquarters Saturday (Dec. 16). While inclement weather Saturday postponed in-water demonstrations at the St. Petersburg Pier, Vo remains eager for residents to test drive the 30-foot day cruiser with 800 horsepower.

Vo plans to revolutionize the boating industry by bringing technological ingenuity typically found in Silicon Valley to St. Petersburg. He believes his emotional detachment from traditional boat manufacturing will help accomplish that goal.

“I look at it from the boat owner’s … point of view,” Vo said. “Why do you want to buy a boat? What do you want to do with the boat? Then I use physics and science to answer that question.”

That mindset was part of his rationale for creating an inboard rather than an outboard motor. Vo said unreliable traditional engines necessitated increased accessibility and believes he fixed the root problem.

Vo noted an inboard motor provides more activity space around the boat’s stern. The R30’s rear sides also fold down to create an ocean terrace for fishing or lounging.

John Vo explained the importance of creating additional activity space around the boat’s stern (rear).

A 221 kWh battery pack powers dual motors that produce 800 horsepower. The silent and pollution-free propulsion system has an eight-hour runtime or 100-mile range, and Vo plans to double that mileage in offshore models.

The “R” in R30 stands for revolution, and BIG’s engineers will continue optimizing the boat’s capabilities. Owners can expect perpetual software updates.

“When you buy our boat, it’s not done,” he said. “It’s just the beginning because you get upgrades and all sorts of things.”

The R30’s satellite-enabled Wi-Fi and interconnectivity stores and transmits valuable data. Vo said that will increase operational efficiency and safety features.

The 12-person boat comes with a rooftop solar array. Vo said his Blue Fast Charger (BFC) could fully charge the R30 in about 45 minutes.

BIG plans to install the first BFC locally before expanding its charging network throughout the U.S.

He said watertight battery compartments built within the boat’s aluminum hull prevent saltwater intrusion. Vo noted that an innovative battery management system provides additional protections, but “the key is don’t get it wet.”

The R30 is the first 30-foot electric day cruiser designed and manufactured in Florida. Vo relocated to Tampa Bay from Northern California and founded BIG in late 2021.

He has repeatedly expressed gratitude for a local community “that has embraced our mission from the very beginning.” Vo also stressed the importance of maintaining previously set timelines.

“The one thing in startups that I learned over the years is that everything changes except for the schedule,” he said. “You change the schedule, you’re dead.”

John Vo and engineer Steven Cast (right) highlight the R30’s integrated infotainment and navigation system’s capabilities.

The R30 features a bathroom with a bidet, a kitchenette and refrigerator, air conditioning, remote access and an integrated infotainment system. Pushing its yoke steering system forward delivers immediate thrust while pulling back brings the boat to an abrupt halt.

Vo said the independent motors also increase turning capabilities. Those produce a target max speed of 45 mph.

The R30’s initial price point is around $300,000. Vo said that’s comparable in cost to similar-sized luxury boats with fewer amenities and technological advancements.

He also believes reduced fuel, maintenance and repair costs add to the R30’s value. Vo expects prices to decrease with future manufacturing efficiencies and plans to build smaller, more affordable versions.

BIG will continue manually assembling the R30. However, the company will soon automate welding and fabrication processes.

Vo expects to initially produce about 500 R30s annually, or close to two daily. His goal is eventually building a boat every 30 minutes.

“When we first started out with the Tesla factory, it took us like four weeks to finish a car,” Vo explained. “But right now, they do one every 55 seconds. If I can make a car in less than a minute, I can definitely make a boat in less than 30 minutes.”

Customers can reserve an R30 for $1,000. A $5,000 “BIG Reservation” allows access to one of the first 100 boats, with deliveries beginning in late 2024.

Vo is looking for land around the Port of Tampa to house an expansive manufacturing facility. However, he said BIG’s design headquarters would remain in Pinellas Park, as younger engineers prefer the proximity to more “cosmopolitan” St. Petersburg.

The R30 on a recent test drive around St. Petersburg. Photo provided.

 

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