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Finansavisen: Former Minister of Transportation, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, takes the helm in Bård Eker’s new ferry venture

Hydrolift and Bård Eker is joined by Ketil Solvik-Olsen as CEO in its new venture Hydrolift Smart City Ferries. Hydrolift has large ambitions for its move into autonomous, electric vessels. 

– We kick off on August 1st. This is when Ketil Solvik-Olsen gets going as CEO of Hydrolift Smart City Ferries, and we get to work in securing strategic and financial partnerships, says Bård Eker, the founder of Hydrolift Smart City Ferries. 

The former minister is excited about Hydrolift´s growth ambitions and returns to Norway after a stay in the US together with his family.  

– I have been keeping track of Eker for a long time and remain impressed by the concepts he has developed. The opportunity to work with his team is awe-inspiring, says Solvik-Olsen.

Untapped potential 

Hydrolift has been designing and manufacturing high-performance boats for private and professional use for 35 years. With its new venture, Hydrolift Smart City Ferries, Hydrolift aims to use its expertise to provide sustainable, cost-efficient, and scalable waterborne passenger transportation solutions to congested cities all over the world. The goal is to have more than 200 autonomous, zero-emission ferries in operation by 2029.

– Most major cities around the world have immediate access to rivers and waterways. These waterways have an unrealized potential as a means of passenger transportation. Most existing ferries service longer routes and are too large and too expensive to be put in service on short crossings. Our aim is to replace a 15-20 minute detour on a bus or train with a short ferry ride that will cover the same commute in a few minutes, says Solvik-Olsen. 

– Over the last few years we have seen tremendous development in terms of how technology enables new and innovative solutions to everyday challenges. The latest developments in battery technology, charging solutions, sensor technology, and communication capability are all paving the way for exciting innovations that can reduce costs while increasing capacity. We believe the timing is ideal to launch this venture, says Norway´s former minister of transportation. 

Door opener

According to Eker, Solvik-Olsen will play a key role in driving discussions with potential customers and partners. 

– Solvik-Olsen is a highly respected individual with a broad network. Our future success depends not only on developing a competitive product but doing so in close collaboration with stakeholders all over the world, including city administrators, government officials, political leadership and local operators. Having Solvik-Olsen on our team means we will have the necessary access as well as the appreciation for the political decision process. 

International ambitions

According to Eker, the company will initially target opportunities in Norway. Solvik-Olsen reveals that several suitable sites are already being considered. 

– We see an interesting potential in several Norwegian areas, including Arendal, Fredrikstad, Drammen, the Oslo metropolitan area as well as the Haugesund/Sandnes/Stavanger region. We are putting out feelers with public transportation companies in many of these areas, says Solvik-Olsen. 

According to the Hydrolift duo, international growth is highly realistic. 

– We aim to secure strategic partnerships abroad. Our main strategy is to build joint ventures with local operators leveraging their knowhow and goodwill in their local communities, says Eker. 

– Candidates to support international expansion will depend on their interest for our solutions and local regulations, says Solvik-Olsen. 

– We envisage international expansion to include large markets like the US and Asia. In Europe, London and Paris may be suitable candidates, Solvik-Olsen elaborates. 

Good prospects for financial support 

Through Eker Group, Bård Eker has a controlling interest in the subsidiary Hydrolift Smart City Ferries. He believes that receiving financial support from external sources is realistic. 

– Our funding estimates show that we will require 130–140 million NOK of external funding. We have applied for grants through Innovation Norway, and according to our financial advisors attracting outside investors is realistic, says the Hydrolift owner. 

– We have evaluated the financial outlooks for Hydrolift Smart City Ferries, and conclude that the financial upside is substantial, says Eker. 

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