Out of Tampa Bay, ex-Tesla executive bets on electric boats

While Tesla helped usher in electric cars, a Tampa Bay company is looking to do the same for boating.

Blue Innovations Group, founded by former Tesla global manufacturing head Chuan “John” Vo, works from Pinellas Park on a 30-foot-long boat powered solely by electricity.

In January, Blue Innovations Group will present the hull and propulsion system of its first boat called R30 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company, which began operating a year ago, will test the product throughout 2023 and expects to begin sales in the second quarter of 2024. The R30 boat is expected to operate eight hours with a 220 kilowatt battery and generator twin-engine powertrain with 800 horsepower. It would also have an on-board solar charging platform.

Vo, 51, said he chose to launch the company in the Tampa Bay area instead of Silicon Valley because of its waters, tech culture and the influx of people moving into the region.

“Maybe I’m speculating, but I see the transition of technology development changing in the Tampa area coming from tourists, retirees, and how people from different geographies are changing the type of economy,” Vo said in a statement. interview with the Tampa Bay. Times. “I’m just trying to catch this.”

Vo said he believes electric boats are the next step in sustainable transportation after electric vehicles popularized sustainable alternatives to gasoline. And that’s a pretty untapped market compared to electric vehicles. The electric boat market is expected to grow by 13.7% to reach $11.35 billion by 2028 in the United States, according to a published study last month by market research firm Insight Partners.

“It’s a perfect place to market a boat because people here will buy a boat,” Vo said. “And it’s going to be a lot more competitive with the cost of living compared to San Francisco. Tampa will be a better hub for Blue Innovations Group than Silicon Valley.

Vo managed global manufacturing for Tesla for 6 years until 2017 before working at several other electric vehicle companies. His last venture was in electric pickup truck startup Lordstown Motors, where he and several other executives came to the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission for selling shares before the uproar. Vo sold 9% of his stake in Lordstown Motors in February 2021, around 3 months after the company’s IPO and weeks after a prototype pickup truck burned down, the The Wall Street Journal reported. Vo had to return profits from short-term trading, which is when a company insider illegally sells shares within six months of buying them.

A portrait of Blue Innovations Group CEO and former Tesla executive John Vo [ Courtesy of Blue Innovations Group ]

“I like to forget that,” Vo said, adding that he lost $1 million investing in that business. From what he has learned from working in the electric vehicle world, he said electric vehicles require a lot of infrastructure and investment. As more big companies like Ford and Toyota entered the electric vehicle market to compete with Tesla, Vo said there wasn’t much room left for newcomers.

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It’s also much more expensive to mass-produce cars, Vo said, while boats don’t need to be produced in the same quantity to be profitable.

Tampa Bay’s electric vehicle scene has grown in recent years. Tesla is working on development of its first dealership in Pinellas County at Lealman while the Swedish brand Polestar has opened a showroom in Midtown Tampa. Regent, a Boston-based aerospace company, chose Tampa in late 2021 for test its electric boat-plane hybrid brought to market in 2025. Blue Innovations Group now has its manufacturing site and headquarters at 3690 70th Ave N. in Pinellas Park.

Vo said he takes inspiration from his former boss and new Twitter owner Elon Musk on how to run a business.

“I won’t speak for my former boss, but I learned a lot from him, like his bold goals and how to achieve them. I want to create a company where people can share a common goal and vision, that they feel they can belong to something much bigger than them, collectively, that we can create a beautiful product that is good for Earth and makes sense for the people’s economy,” Vo said.

But he also focused on building the R30 electric boat with a healthy work-life balance.

“With careful planning, the right culture, you can have your cake and eat it. You can have fun and be productive at the same time,” Vo said. “You don’t have to be extreme.”

Vo said that for electric boats to take off with consumers, they need to be cost-effective. While the original price of the R30 boat will be comparable to any other boat, Vo said boaters can save money in the long run. Recharging the boats would be cheaper than buying gasoline for each trip and Blue Innovations Group plans to create more durable parts so owners don’t have to spend on maintenance costs as often.

In addition to the boat, Blue Innovations Group develops chargers for boats called Blue Fast Charger. The company will begin implementing them throughout Florida before expanding nationally and then globally.

“With Florida sunshine, you can charge for free all week and weekends. It costs you nothing,” Vo said. “Economics is what will propel people into adoption.”

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