North America

A powerful partnership: Volvo Penta and ZEM come together to drive marine electrification

Last week, we made an exciting announcement about expanding our electromobility capabilities, experience, and range through the acquisition of the Norwegian company, ZEM AS. Here I share some reflections on why this is an important move forward for Volvo Penta in our marine electromobility journey.

To start with, truly sustainable transportation and power solutions are an absolute certain transformation in our industry. It is not a matter of if, it is when and the sooner the better, given the urgency of the climate situation. However, to transform, the marine industry has to overcome a significant challenge. The needs of marine electromobility solutions differ from those found on and off-road. Even though to some extent, the base technology needs are similar, the use-cases, the application engineering, and the optimization needed for the unique requirements drive unique solutions. Not to mention the infrastructural challenges at sea. These are things we simply need to resolve and with the added time pressure, close collaborations, partnerships, and acquisitions are essential.

The acquisition of Norwegian marine battery and electric driveline solutions supplier ZEM AS is an important step for Volvo Penta in the journey towards sustainable solutions and our ambitions of becoming a net-zero emissions company – in line with the Volvo Group’s recent commitments to the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi).

As companies, both Volvo Penta and ZEM have an array of knowledge, experience, and expertise. Volvo Penta will support ZEM’s growth through our established network, while ZEM’s electromobility experience will help us accelerate development projects within that field. Together we will expand and accelerate Volvo Penta’s range and capabilities in marine electromobility.

The perfect fit
Strong internal research and development as well as excellent shared learnings from the Volvo Group’s development over many years, means electrification is not a new topic for us at Volvo Penta.

Additionally, we also have a lot of experience of taking strong automotive on-road technology to the marine industry. Efficient marine propulsion is really in Volvo Penta’s DNA, which becomes more important as we move forward into sustainable solutions.

To develop real-world solutions, you also have to analyze the needs of different marine applications – hence the electrification trend drives a more bespoke approach to system development. Finally, solutions need to be certified and optimized for marine use. ZEM has in-depth competence as a pioneer and has proven success in taking marine electrification to the market. I must say I was impressed when – as part of the acquisition process – we went through the list of deliveries ZEM had already made, and the number of hours these vessels already had in the market. This became one of the key reasons we took this step to acquire ZEM. It truly turned out to be the perfect fit at the perfect timing.

Eyes on the horizon
Our long-term strategy is to become a serial supplier, delivering a fully integrated systems approach as we do with today’s technology for use at sea. However, the process for reaching this aim will be different compared to today’s approach. It requires a new way of working where collaboration and a stepwise approach are key. Volvo Penta has an integrated helm to prop, full systems approach, combined with a strong service network. By adding ZEM AS’s competence and strength in electrification, we will deliver unique electric solutions to the marine industry. It’s an exciting time to join forces. Together we are on a learning journey.

On board technology is not the only factor to rapidly advance marine electromobility. Governmental support and policy changes are required, as well as infrastructural changes. From a policy perspective, the marine sector is not as mature as on land and there is an opportunity for decision-makers to speed up this process so that together companies and society can make this transformation as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I have been told that many years ago, when larger electromobility initiatives had just started to accelerate, a well-respected top Volvo Group executive said: “We are part of the problem but we are also part of the solution.” I must say these words are more valid than ever. Volvo Penta has now expanded the “innovation ecosystem” for electromobility with yet another strong tool in the toolbox through the acquisition of ZEM, enabling us to become a key part of the solution in a faster and more impactful way.

To say it’s an exciting time, would be an understatement. I wake up every morning with a really strong feeling of endless opportunities to make a real difference!