Six months after Torqeedo presented their groundbreaking Travel electric motor in 2006, it was included in the list of the “100 best sailing products of all time”. The “making of” story of the original Travel motor – and how it changed electric mobility on the water forever.
Like many modern tales of innovation, this story unfolds in a modest wooden shack by the shore of a lake in Bavaria, Germany. As the distant Alps rise through the sunset mist, two men are standing by a boathouse, reflecting on their day spent on the water. While it was enjoyable, they can’t help but imagine a far better experience.
In 2006, just eleven months later, the Torqeedo Travel electric motor made its debut at the world-famous Boot Düsseldorf trade fair. And the boating community instantly recognized the dawn of a new era.
Torqeedo’s co-founders, Christoph Ballin and Friedrich Böbel, were unimpressed by the electric boat motors of the early 2000s, one of which was in use on Christoph Ballin’s boat on Lake Starnberg. Those rudimentary engines were hardly better than the ones used in model planes or garden appliances and were powered by heavy and clunky lead-gel or AGM batteries. “We quickly realized that if we applied 21st-century technology, we could take them to a higher level,” says Christoph Ballin.
Equipped with powerful lithium-ion batteries and delivering 24x more torque than competing motors, the Torqeedo Travel emerged as a genuine alternative to combustion engines. It was lighter, more efficient, more powerful, and arguably better-looking. Boaters no longer needed motorboat licenses to cruise on protected lakes and could enjoy nature without harming it through emissions and gasoline spills. The Travel motor combined superior technology with revolutionary benefits and environmental responsibility – and made an instant impact.
Torqeedo quickly won innovation awards at trade fairs around the world. In fall 2006, the British magazine Yachting Monthly included the Torqeedo Travel motor in its list of the 100 best sailing products of all time. The Travel motor not only set a new standard for electric motors but actually defined the market.
Since then, Torqeedo has not only perfected the Travel motor – the 2023 Travel 1103C model has three times the range of the original motor with up to 75 km at 4 km/h – but also scaled up the concept to enter new dimensions. This elegantly slim, three horsepower-equivalent motor is the ancestor of Torqeedo’s cutting-edge propulsion products – powerful 100 kW systems (135-HP equivalent) and battery banks boasting up to 1.5 MWh capacities.
SPEED IN THE LAB, SPEED ON THE WATER
Germany, a country known for its engineering and industrial prowess, was experiencing an identity crisis in the early 2000s. The country that invented the automobile and the first computers was lagging behind the U.S. and some Asian countries in digital technology. Torqeedo, in contrast, stood out as a risk-taking, high-aiming outfit and was named Start-Up of the Year in 2008. Jens Biebach, one of the company’s longest-serving engineers, recalls the early days: “We were operating at tremendous speed and really wanted to be first to market.” Moreover, Torqeedo combined the breakneck speed of the start-up culture with legendary German engineering skills and precision.
The propeller was developed in collaboration with Potsdam Shipbuilding Institute, a leader in ship technology, and inspired by the latest research on submarines and large surface vessels. Torqeedo even installed a makeshift pool at its headquarters to test propeller performance.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
In those early days, Jens Biebach and other engineers came to Torqeedo from car manufacturers and heavy-duty industries – and brought their knowledge of recent innovations in battery tech and power electronics with them. These innovations unlocked the electric motor’s potential for mobility, a century after its invention. “An electric motor is born to move people and goods because of its instant high torque,” Jens Biebach points out. He also enjoyed starting a project from scratch and immediately seeing the outcome of their work.
The results were stunning. Whereas small outboard combustion engines had overall efficiencies of under 10 percent, Torqeedo motors achieved ratings of 44-56 percent. Engineers looked at the entire drive train – the motor, motor electronics, gearbox and propeller – and developed a fully integrated propulsion system. “The more complex the drive becomes, the better all the components have to be coordinated and communicate with each other”, Jens Biebach explains. “Especially in such challenging conditions as on the water”. The fact that Torqeedo has just extended its warranty period to five years (click here) for Travel motors shows how robust and reliable the Travel is today.
Nowadays, the distinctive orange propellers and sleek design of Torqeedo electric motors can be spotted on motorboats, tenders, and sailing ships at marinas all over the world. For the boating community the iconic appearance serves as a symbol of quality, sustainable power and, most importantly, continuous innovation: Only a couple of years after the launch of the original Travel we introduced an on-bord computer with GPS-based range calculation and made range anxiety a feeling of the past: Torqeedo users are always in full control. And if you want to go the extra mile, you could easily and conveniently swap the 915 Wh lithium-ion battery with a spare power pack or recharge with solar panels while cruising on the water.
The Travel motor was the first electric boat motor developed with an industrial mindset and an emphasis on R&D, heavy-duty testing, optimized production facilities and, of course, design. Torqeedo scaled the iconic look and integrated approach of the original motor across its entire product range – from small outboards to the powerful 100 kW Deep Blue systems used on +30-meter blue-water catamarans and autonomous ferries in urban areas.
2023 will bring the boating community new groundbreaking products with even greater power, range, and benefits. Overall, Torqeedo has now sold over 200,000 electric motors and firmly established the market for eco-friendly electric mobility on the water. On Lake Starnberg, Torqeedo’s birthplace, the number of people using electric boats has more than quintupled since the original Travel motor was launched. What started with two men at a boathouse has grown into a forward-thinking international community that values innovation, efficiency, and sustainability. With the original spirit still strong at Torqeedo, we will continue to lead the way in electric mobility on the water. Our users know they are making a difference, one Travel at a time.
For more information visit www.torqeedo.com