Q&A with Ron Huibers, Volvo Penta of the Americas
Ron Huibers assumed the helm as president of Volvo Penta of the Americas in 2012. He is responsible for Volvo Penta leisure marine, commercial marine and industrial engine business throughout the Americas. He is also responsible within Volvo Penta for the global marine leisure gas segment.
Huibers has been with the Volvo Group more than 20 years. Prior to joining Volvo Penta, he served as president of sales and marketing for Volvo Trucks North America and has also held other executive positions within the Volvo Group, including Volvo Construction Equipment, Volvo Financial Services and the Mack Trucks division.
We talked to Huibers about some of the challenges facing the industry and Volvo Penta’s outlook for 2014.
Boating Industry: The marine market continues to be challenging. How is this affecting the marine engines business and what are the solutions being employed at Volvo Penta to overcome these challenges?
Huibers: Though we have seen challenges within the market, Volvo Penta sales actually grew in 2013. In part, this is because some of our key OEM customers are gaining market share with innovative thinking, and we tend to be closely aligned with those progressive boat builders and their loyal dealers.
We believe that innovation is the driver that will propel growth in the boating industry. At Volvo Penta, we adhere to a philosophy of continuous innovation driven by a vision of making it easier for families to buy, own and operate a boat. This Easy Boating initiative guides our extensive R&D investment.
When you look back, it’s amazing how far we have come. It is within most readers’ experience that onboard systems were not integrated with each other and we navigated with paper charts. Today, we deliver improved customer experience through seamless electronic integration through our Electronic Vessel Control (EVC) system. Through the years, Volvo Penta innovations like the sterndrive, Duoprop, IPS and joystick control have helped bring new families to the boating lifestyle. This year, we’re especially excited about our new Glass Cockpit, which took the IBEX Innovation Award and METS DAME Award last year. The Glass Cockpit is a fully-integrated control and monitoring system that gathers all driver information, including navigation, engines, warnings, alarms and other data, on customizable multi-function flat-screen displays at the helm station. It makes operating a boat more like driving a modern car, and brings engine control and monitoring into the total boat-control dashboard with a common ergonomic user interface. The result is easier and safer boating for both experienced and inexperienced owners.
We also see that builders are adapting their product lines with new innovations. Segments such as pontoons, jetboats and wakeboard boats are attracting new buyers. We’re seeing increased interest in sterndrives among builders of pontoons and deckboats, and our new-technology sterndrive engines are an attractive alternative for those boats offering improved performance and easier activity platform access.
Boating Industry: What’s Volvo Penta’s outlook for the market in 2014?
Huibers: We expect to see continuing growth in 2014, as existing boaters upgrade their current vessels and new boaters enter the market.
We continue to make significant investments in R&D in all segments, including our gas sterndrive business. You’re already seeing the results in the range of new products we’re bringing to market this year.
Boating Industry: What segments are you particularly optimistic about?
Huibers: As mentioned above, we continue to infuse new technology into our sterndrive products. In addition to our new technology gas engines, we are seeing growth in demand for diesel sterndrives, especially in commercial craft. It’s interesting, when you look at it, that gas sterndrives are very rare in the European market. Almost all sterndrives there are diesel powered. That’s because gasoline (petrol, as it is often called on the other side of the Atlantic), is rare and expensive. Very few marinas have gas pumps, while diesel is readily available everywhere. We see interesting growth opportunities for this technology in the U.S. market in coming years.
Boating Industry: How concerned are you about E15? What is Volvo Penta doing to help its dealers and customers protect their engines?
Huibers: We are certainly concerned about the effects of ethanol blends, which can damage marine engines, fuel storage and delivery systems due to the corrosive properties of alcohol.
Many operators continue to be unaware of the phase separation that occurs when ethanol fuel is left in their tank for a period of time without stabilizers. Newer Volvo Penta engines are designed to accept E10, however, we do not recommend the use of E15 here in the U.S. We have developed our own Ethanol Fuel Treatment additive specifically designed for use in Volvo Penta gas engines, but it’s suitable for any outboard, inboard and sterndrive system.
Our proprietary mixture is totally alcohol-free. It contains special antioxidants to combat fuel breakdown and also contains chemical corrosion inhibitors that form a protective barrier on fuel system components. Today’s oxygenated and ethanol-blended fuels can begin to oxidize in as little as 30 days if left untreated in the boat’s tank. We strongly recommend that the Volvo Penta Ethanol Fuel Treatment be used whenever the boat’s tanks are filled with ethanol-blended gas.
Boating Industry: What are the top threats to a continued industry recovery?
Huibers: It’s interesting that the poll of boat manufacturers and dealers published in your January issue of Boating Industry cited “affordability” and “competition from other activities” as the top two concerns when asked about long-term challenges to industry growth. The challenge for all is to continue to innovate and offer current and new customers more versatility, value and simplicity in owning and operating a boat. This is the motivation behind our Volvo Penta Easy Boating initiative. The value proposition of the boating lifestyle is unbeatable. There’s nothing to match a day on the water with family and friends and improve quality of life.