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Talkin’ Boats

With Bob Apple, Senior V.P. Sales, Marketing – Volvo Penta

Bob Apple is the senior vice president of sales and marketing of Volvo Penta North America, based in Chesapeake, Va. Before joining the engine manufacturer, Apple, 50, spent 22 years in the automotive industry, including 11 years for Saturn Corp., where he was instrumental in helping build the new car company.

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He started at Volvo Penta in 1999, leading the Lexington, Tenn., marine engine plant in the implementation of lean manufacturing concepts that resulted in a significant turnaround in business. This opened an opportunity for Apple to be promoted to vice president of manufacturing, ultimately becoming head of global manufacturing for all of Volvo Penta’s facilities in the United States and Sweden. He took his current post in October 2008.

Bob and his wife, Ann, currently live in Chesapeake, Va. They have three adult children and enjoy boating and traveling in their free time.

Q: Let’s start with Volvo Penta’s latest product in the recreational market — the OceanX sterndrive. What can you tell us about this new sterndrive?

A: Our OceanX sterndrive is technology that is leading edge in the world of corrosion protection. We’ve tested over a number of years a number of different coatings that could help our core product become better in terms of resisting corrosion in salt water, and we’ve developed this process and product that is a quantum leap for the industry. We’re very excited about launching this.

Q: The new OceanX sterndrive has two alarms that alert the owner to water intrusion. Can you tell us more about these features?

A: Yes, the first sensor is a water-in-bellows detection sensor. We’ve taken a look at performance data of our product in the field. If they have a problem with the bellows and water intrudes in there, this is one of those challenges that the consumer may not be aware of in a timely manner. If it goes on for long enough, it can lead to catastrophic failure of the drive, so we think this is an excellent safety feature that will provide an extra level of security and protection. The consumer will be advised and warned quickly. The second sensor is a water-in-oil sensor, which basically detects if there is water that enters the drive system. It more or less provides the same type of protection — early warning of a potential problem if the drive unit is not serviced in a timely manner. Before, when a consumer had a problem in this area, whether it’s our product or a competitor’s product, there has not been a good way of notifying the consumer that there is a problem in the system that really needs to be taken care of. So this is a very nice consumer-friendly feature that will help raise the bar as it relates to reliability and long-term performance.

Volvo's new OceanX sterndrive is designed to resist corrosion in salt water.

Q: Given the anti-corrosion materials and technology, how many more hours or years of service will the OceanX provide compared to its predecessor or its competitors?

A: When you talk about more hours or years of service, it is difficult to define, because the problem does not happen all that often. But when it does happen it is difficult for the consumer to realize, and if it goes on long enough it can be catastrophic. So it’s a more proactive way of protecting the product. So we see it more as being a feature in a preventative maintenance benefit as opposed to it providing hundreds of hours more of service. Yes, it will extend the useful life of the product in normal applications, but it is difficult to put a handle on that.

Q: Tell us a little about one of Volvo Penta’s other new products, the Joystick Sterndrive.

A: The Joystick Sterndrive is a product that basically provides IPS-type performance in a sterndrive dual-

engine package. The beauty of it is that now we can take that joystick experience and take it to smaller boats — as small as 24 or 25 feet with dual engines — and allow the operator to be able to dock it and maneuver it at slows speeds much like the IPS pods with joystick. We’re excited because a lot of people want to move up in the size of the boat they have. And, of course, the bigger the boat, the nicer it is to have features to make it easy to handle and maneuver. You can basically spin it around on its own axis. Docking in high wind or strong current becomes much easier than operating the old dual-stick method.

Q: Why did Volvo Penta decide to introduce the OceanX and Joystick Sterndrive in a recession?

A: Both of those products are ready at this time. Fresh product has a way of attracting the consumers who are interested in staying in the boating world.

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue.