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Volvo Penta's IPS development is a major advance, says Phil Draper. And don't let anyone tell you different.

FEBRUARY 2007

How can it have taken so long for someone in the marine propulsion business to work out that to get the best from a propeller it needs to carve its way through as clean and turbulence-free water as possible and that the best way to do that is to have the propeller facing the direction of travel and pulling as opposed to pushing? After all, the basic principle has served the aviation industry well enough for pretty much all of its history. But then often the best inventions are the ones that you can’t believe no one had thought of before.
What Volvo Penta has done with its new Inboard Performance System — or IPS for short — is quite something. Just check out the quite amazing claims for it. According to the Swedish propulsion system builder, an IPS installation is around 35 per cent more efficient than a conventional shaft installation with comparable horsepower. Similarly top speeds are said to be 20 per cent higher and accelerations 15 per cent quicker, which can mean more performance or the same performance for less engine and less fuel consumption. Noise and vibration transmissions are also said to be significantly less.
Oh and the benefits don’t just stop there. Installations are also said to be markedly quicker and easier; and little needs to be done to existing hulls to accept the IPS legs, which simply locate from underneath up into suitably cut large holes.

“So will it change boating forever?
No. Of course it won’t. But is it a big deal?
Yes it is. It's a very big deal indeed!” 

So that brings us to the only real downside as far as I can see it — price. Obviously it will come as no surprise to learn that Volvo Penta is not giving its new propulsion system away and that there is a substantial premium to pay for all those benefits — but even that is not as big an issue as one may think initially. Such premiums will simply be passed on to the boat owners, those that in increasingly large numbers are bound to be won over by the technical arguments for what is a superior product. And remember we are talking about boating, about a luxury pursuit where price is rarely the only driver.
The only real problem about IPS prices is that Volvo Penta seems to be way ahead on this one. With no competition out there to keep pricing sensible, and with apparently nothing remotely similar even at the development stage among the competition, pricing is likely to stay high. Until something comes along to compete with IPS, Volvo Penta will just have to decide on the balance it wishes to strike in terms of unit demand, as that will ultimately be governed by the prices it sets.
When I first heard Volvo Penta’s claims that IPS would ‘change boating forever’, I flinched. Marketing speak has that effect on me, as I guess it does on most of us. But when asked by a cynical colleague whether I thought it really was such a big deal, I simply couldn’t knock it.
So will it change boating forever? No. Of course it won’t. But is it a big deal? Yes it is. It's a very big deal indeed!
It won’t change all boating by any means, but it will have significant impact on the mid-size powercruiser and motorcruiser sectors, and eventually, very probably, the motoryacht end of things too.
Check it out.

© Phil Draper