By Matt Trulio
Electric Avenues: Inside the Cigarette-Mercedes AMG E-Drive Top Gun
A close look at the most intriguing go-fast boat in decades.
When it comes to “buzz” in the go-fast powerboat world, it’s tough to beat the annual Miami International Boat Show. But at the 2013 event, that word took on a whole new meaning with the introduction of the Cigarette AMG Electric Drive Top Gun. The 38-footer is world’s first and likely fastest—at least when it’s ready for the water—high-performance offshore electric powerboat.
For Cigarette Racing Team owner and chief executive officer Skip Braver, the boat is more than a successful collaboration between the top echelons of the custom go-fast boat and luxury sports car worlds. It is, at least to some degree, the shape of things to come.
“The concept of it is so far-reaching,” says Braver. “We are looking to the future of where the industry is going. People don’t understand how this partnership between Cigarette and AMG, and this technology, is going to change the industry. They don’t understand how it’s going to change the game.”
Braver readily admits that the game won’t change overnight. The electric boat project began in earnest last spring, but had been discussed between Braver and his Mercedes AMG partners for a few years. Its introduction this year at the Miami shows coincides with the introduction of the new SLS AMG Coupé Electric Drive sports car.
Here’s how it works: Like the sports car, the boat has electric motors, except rather than four motors—one for each wheel in the car—the boat has 12. The Cigarette Top Gun also has a few more rechargeable HPP lithium-ion batteries than the car — as in 3,400 cells weighing a combined two-plus tons.
“The motors in the boat are set up in a double-star arrangement,” says Peter Kagi, a top engineer from Mercedes-AMG who worked on the project, “Each engine propeller is fed by six engines. Each engine weighs 50 kilos and there are two gear boxes [before the Mercury Racing M8 drives]. So it’s a very light drive system. All of the cells have inverters, and it all is controlled by a CPU fed through a BUS system.”
Pumping out approximately 2,200 hp (1,650 kilowatts) and 2,200 foot-pounds of torque—at start-up, no less—the system uses what Kagi calls “a hybrid” of AC and DC power. Because the Cigarette Top Gun has no generator, the boat has an additional automobile battery for starting all its systems and providing auxiliary power to its various systems such as its GPS, instrumentation, lighting, and stereo.
Despite their exposure to the marine environment, the batteries required no additional protection, according to Kagi. “Water is no problem,” he said. “The battery is completed sealed. It’s the same battery we use in the car, so it has to be very safe. For example, in the event of a crash it has to stop immediately.”
At present, the crew at Cigarette Racing Team is preparing the AMG Electric Drive Top Gun for its first sea trial. Kagi estimates the boat will be able to run for an hour on one charge, with a safety measure of reserve battery power. That running times includes 15 minutes of idle time on each end of the run, 30 minutes of running time at 70 mph, and “a few blasts” to top speed, which is estimated to be more than 110 mph.
If the Cigarette AMG Electric Drive Top Gun were for sale—and it’s not—it would list for $5 million. That’s quite a bit more than its electric sports car counterpart, which will retail for approximately $1.1 million. But according to Braver and Kagi, price isn’t the point. It’s all about transferring automotive technology to the high-performance marine world.
“The world has changed, and people can’t believe it,” said Braver. “Four years ago, I drove a prototype of the electric car in Germany. I thought, there’s no way I’m going to like an electric car. No way. I came back from driving the car and said, ‘I thought the torque was going to break my neck.’
“This relationship between Cigarette and Mercedes AMG is unbelievable,” Braver continued. “AMG doesn’t ‘share’ technology. They don’t do this because I buy a new car from there every year. They do it because they recognize the quality of our brand. Working on the boat with us was not a decision they made lightly. As I said, this is an unbelievable partnership, and it’s been one of evolution since we introduced the first Cigarette AMG 46. People don’t understand it yet. But they will.”
Added Kagi, “Five years ago, if you said AMG was building an electric sports car, people would have laughed. But now we have it. I think we will see many things in this field.”
- Matt Trulio is the co-publisher and editor in chief of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site with a weekly newsletter and a new bi-monthly digital magazine that covers the high-performance powerboating world. The former editor-in-chief of Sportboat magazine and editor at large of Powerboat magazine, Trulio has covered the go-fast powerboat world since 1995. Since joining boats.com in 2000, he has written more than 200 features and blogs.
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