Interview with Alexander, Product Manager of Spirit 1.0

This interview was made by Chandler, Marketing Manager of ePropulsion. This is the text version for helping users to understand the R&D stories and ideas behind ePropulsion products


Q: Alexander, please tell me a little bit about your background.

the automotive engine. I joined ePropulsion in 2014 as Product Manager and I am responsible for the Outboard and Pod Drive products. But to be honest, I like to drive a car more than a boat. Ha-ha. In my spare time, I like fishing. I’m very glad that my fishing skill is good for the company.

Q: What are your thoughts of the transition from the automotive engine field to the electric outboard motor?

A: You will find that there are many commonalities in the user experience of electric propulsion applications in various fields, such as cars, ships, electric motorcycles, personal sports equipment, drones, and those experiences is extremely good. For example, the maintenance and installation time requirements are substantially reduced, and the system reliability is greatly improved, not to mention the noise control and comfortability. Therefore, the ship owners and technicians of our product think that this is a revolutionary technology. I am sensitive to other electric propulsion products because I think those product managers are really good. I can always find a lot of product inspiration from them, such as the design of DJI Inspire for rapid deployment, which let me realize that shortening the installation time is very important. If you lose 15 seconds, valuable scenes might be gone, so I added the foldable tiller design. Many users think that the foldable tiller design is only for the portability, but that is just one of the reasons.

Q: Wow, I always thought that the foldable tiller is mainly for easy handling. Back to ePropulsion products, what is the product development positioning of Spirit 1.0?

A: Lightweight, portable and easy to use, these are the core concepts, and the priorities of all product definitions are set around these concepts. As a product manager, my understanding has three aspects:

Maintenance-free: the regular maintenance is time-consuming and annoying, such as change engine oils and clean water cooling chambers for petrol outboards.

Easy to deploy: such as battery slot for battery installation, you don’t need a fixed rod to install and uninstall battery.

Portability: the lightweight motor and foldable tiller realize a high portability.

Our design is based on these core concepts. That is why Spirit 1.0 is perfect among the sailing user community and much easier to carry comparing a petrol outboard.

Q: Maintenance-free is an incredible design, how do you come up with it? How is it achieved?

A: At the beginning of the stage of ePropulsion, we did not think too much about the meaning of electric outboards. The concept of the product was purely environmentally friendly and pollution-free. However, the trend of lithium battery products of Tesla and DJI at that time made us think that the timing and direction of electric boating are great. Until the establishment of Spirit 1.0, we have already had a lot of researches and development practices on electric outboard motors, so we have a deeper understanding of its meaning. Electric outboard motors obviously cannot replace petrol power for now. It represents a high-end experience of boating. Even though the cost is higher, some consumers are looking for a better boating experience of low noise, no oil and low maintenance. After a large number of user surveys and analyses, we believe that low maintenance is the most important of these three core advantages for workboats or leisure boats. The noise problem can be personally tolerated, and the oil problem does not affect the owner and only affects the environment. In terms of maintenance issues, it is a real money and time savings for customers. So what do we think about the ultimate experience of low maintenance? The conclusion is the lifetime maintenance-free.

The difficulty in achieving lifetime maintenance-free is actually smaller than we expected. According to the expected product life of 10 years, the key issue is that the maintenance-free life of the motor has to be higher than the wear life of other components, such as the motor casing, handle, and cable. With a direct drive design and a brushless motor, the overall system structure is exceptionally simple also the gearbox is eliminated. To know that the gearbox brings most of the maintenance, just like a car, the problem is much simpler. The big probability is that after 10 years of user use, the non-motor part of the machine has been scrapped normally, but the motor is still working. ePropulsion is still a young company, and Spirit 1.0 hasn't really experienced up to 10 years of sales, but I'm confident that the currently sold Spirit 1.0 will still be perfectly fine after 10 years of usage.

Q: Can you talk about noise control? There are a lot of good comments about that.

A: Frankly speaking, the noise control is not a high priority in the design stage, but mainly a result because of FOC and direct drive technology. In actual sales and user feedback, noise control is the most appreciative feature. A large number of users are mainly using Spirit 1.0 for family and friends to travel and fish, and the noise control feature brings them more comfort. This is also one of the fun parts of being a product manager because there are a lot of surprise features from electric products.

Q: What are the important design details of Spirit 1.0 that users may easily ignore?

A: This is a good question. Many excellent designs are not user-aware, but our developers are very proud of these designs. It is undoubtedly the stable and reliable BMS of Spirit 1.0. You will feel how important BMS only if there is a problem with your battery. BMS is actually very simple in terms of the effect of implementation. It is important to achieve protection against over-heat and short-circuit, and optimize the output & input in performance, but the implementation is very complicated. I am not a BMS expert, but during the development process, I experienced the entire BMS debugging and optimization process as a project leader, solved hundreds of technical problems and optimized hundreds of battery management logic, and saw the satisfying experience of Spirit 1.0 from users in the end. Thurs, I believe the BMS is the important detail that users may easily ignore, but not the mechanical parts.

Q: You have also participated in many after-sales cases. Any suggestions to share with our users?

A: I have contacted almost all of the Spirit 1.0 after-sales cases. In fact, there are really few mechanical and motor problems, which can withstand very bad working conditions. The most frequent problem is that users are not familiar with lithium batteries, and their bad battery usage habits lead to a decline in battery performance. In the future, our marketing team will promote more lithium battery consumer education content to help our users better to use power lithium battery products. I believe this is also helpful for them to use other electric propulsion products, such as new electric vehicles and drones.

Q: How do you come up with the design of the floatable battery?

A: The logic behind the battery can is the running time demand. We don't want users to worry the motor remaining running time whether they are in fishing or family travel. So a simple and fast battery replacement is a must-have design. The Spirit 1.0 battery is integrated on the top of the motor. When the battery is replaced, the battery may fall into the water. We don't want the user to have this concern, so we come up with the floatable battery. After more than two years of testing, this design has solved the psychological concerns of users to change the battery. In actual use, we have never heard of anyone who dropped the battery into the water, but we will keep this design in the future.

Q: What are the most anticipated improvements for Spirit 1.0 in the future?

A: I can't talk a lot the expectation, because Spirit 1.0 is a product with an extremely long life cycle. The ultimate product experience is not only from the machine itself, but also from the overall system, such as electric steering, remote control, and intelligence program which will be released later. Electric propulsion is the premise of an intelligent system. The data of each key function module can be collected and controlled in real time. I look forward to seeing Spirit 1.0 as a carrier in the next few years to install more functional modules and achieve a much better user experience.

Q: What are the mysteries of anti-corrosion coatings?

A: This is confidential. However, I have also experienced a lot of after-sales problems about that. My only suggestion is to contact the dealer if any paint is peeled off. Don't wait, whether you are using our products in freshwater or saltwater, if a small piece of paint is peeled off, it will quickly cause corrosion in the surrounding area, and the area will continue to expand. So please call the dealer to fix it as soon as possible.

Q: Thank you for sharing so many stories behind Spirit 1.0 for us.

A: You are welcome. There are a lot more great ePropulsion products coming soon.

Melissa Rewi