““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
A Lear without wings
It doesn't have wings and doesn't fly, but it's definitely a Lear, as its sleek lines and innovative design suggest. The Lear204, a 20-foot electric boat, will carry 11 passengers 50 miles on a fully charged set of batteries at a cost of about $2. What's more, it comes by the Lear name honestly: Shanda Lear-Baylor, the eldest daughter of Learjet creator Bill Lear, developed the fiberglass craft with her husband, Terry Baylor.
Lear-Baylor said she doesn't consider a boat such an odd thing for a daughter of Bill Lear to design. "Remember, my dad also invented the car radio and the eight-track cassette," she said. "[He] always said if you want to make money, find out what people need and give it to them."
For Lear-Baylor, the Lear204 project began about 10 years ago, when she met Terry, who at the time was experimenting with the idea of an electric boat. After spending $4.5 million in investment capital and going through several years of testing and refinement, the Lear204 is now ready to be sold, she said.
The boat's 5-mph cruise speed will hardly leave the ghost of Bill Lear breathless, but it's not being targeted to those with a need for speed. Florida, the initial target market, has more than 700 miles of restricted waterways "and not one electric boat," Lear-Baylor said, adding that much of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and thousands of small lakes have speed restrictions of four to six knots.
Starting at $40,000, the Lear204 features power steering, a small lavatory and a JBL sound system that includes a CD player, a 600-watt subwoofer and an iPod jack. Add a soft top, fixed hardtop or retractable hardtop and the price jumps $10,000. But, Lear-Baylor pointed out, with its sink and toilet it qualifies as a second home, allowing the owner to deduct the interest on the loan.