Howard Root, the veteran med-tech executive who led Vascular Solutions to a $1 billion sale in 2016, is accelerating his fledgling electric-powered pontoon business.
Root, 59, plans to double sales of his Elux Marine’s Breeze and Stealth pontoons this year, he said at the recent Minneapolis Boat Show.
The Breeze and Stealth models are among the few recreational electric-boat lines made in America.
But he’s not in danger of becoming a Brunswick or Bennington.
“We want to be a small boat company, not Tesla,” said Root, who operates from a small boat works an hour west of the Twin Cities. “Our goal is to sell 10 or 15 boats a year. This will just be our third year on the water. ”
Here’s the long-term strategy: Root, who said he has $1 million-plus invested in the business, hopes to eventually interest a big pontoon maker such as a Bennington or Manitou in licensing or otherwise adapting for mass production the electrical-propulsion system that Root and his veteran boat-mechanic partner, Bart Jones, have developed at their Mayer, Minn., skunk works.
Root, a corporate lawyer 30 years ago, before his successful med-tech career, has always loved boating.
Elux has 10 boats in inventory and under construction as the boating season nears; pontoons are built out of Minnesota-made components from manufacturer-suppliers in Clara City and Grove City, respectively.
“I’m kind of Bart’s gopher at the shop,” Root said. “I spend half my time screwing in bolts.”
Elux will debut the latest model of the Breeze and the new Stealth at the Lake Home and Cabin Show next weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The Breeze is a 21-foot aluminum electric pontoon that seats 10 and retails for $69,000.
The 2020 Stealth is a 24-foot fiberglass electric pontoon that seats 12. It features GPS navigation and a five-star sound system, and costs $89,000.
Root proved a pretty good strategist at Vascular, including winning a product-related case several years ago.
“There’s no FDA and no DOJ in the boating industry,” he quipped.
Although very small, Elux is another example of Minnesota’s industry of about 65,000 workers employed in the fast-growing renewable-energy industries, including wind and solar power, electric vehicles, energy-conservation software and others. I recently wrote about the promising marriage between the solar-farm trade and the honeybee industry, which uses otherwise vacant land to restore much-needed pollinators and boost honey production in Minnesota and other states.
The Elux electric boats are powered by a 72-volt, 420-amp lithium battery pack propelling a direct-drive inboard electric motor at speeds that can top 12 miles per hour.
The electric pontoons run for 10-plus hours on a single charge and are recharged with a standard electrical outlet.
The boats are emission-free, with no oil or gas spills.
And they are quiet. The fiberglass hulls and customized trailers are also made by Minnesota manufacturers. The battery pack and electric motor are made in China.
Pontoons generally range from 16 to 27 feet, and the average boat sells for under $30,000, with higher-end boats running to $50,000 or more.
A top-of-the line pontoon can cost $200,000, according to manufacturer Manitou’s 2019 catalog.
Elux has delivered a stylish, and not inexpensive product that seeks to be a disrupter with its green technology.
Elux boats also feature LED lighting, spacious seating, slide-out cabinets for coolers, trash and recycling, and a high-end shade to protect against sun and rain, and a hand-held vacuum cleaner.
Jones, the boat designer and manufacturing boss, said he wanted a pontoon that looked fast and sleek.
Root said Jones is as good a designer and builder as anybody he met during his med-tech career.
Root a Lake Minnetonka resident who made around $50 million on the sale of Vascular, has long loved watercraft.
Back in 2006, Root had Jones restore a rust bucket that had once plied the Gulf of Mexico.
Root then drove the 31-foot, 1994 Sea Ray Amberjack up the Mississippi. The two struck up a friendship that became a business.
Jones had developed a small battery-powered boat, which became his two-person, electric Go-Float “sun loungers.”
In 2016, Jones and Root bought a 1980 Harris FloteBote pontoon that they jury-rigged into the prototype for Elux.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.