Paolo Vitelli, founder and group president of Azimut-Benetti, the world’s largest integrated marine company, is a veteran of good times and bad times. A realist who is not given to hyperbole, he shared with us his views of the current worldwide marketplace and discussed Azimut-Benetti’s current investments into new technologies, hull design and propulsion.
Jill Bobrow:Last year at FLIBS you gave us your take on the economic crisis. What are your feelings this year about the market?
Paolo Vitelli: We have strong indications from the Cannes, Monaco, Genoa and Fort Lauderdale boat shows that the market is livening up; there is definitely more movement.
What new models did you launch in the past year and how have they been received?
We launched several new models, all with a very high level of finish and quality. We sold 12 of our new 34 Atlantis; our new Azimut 54 also is having brisk sales. Another new model is the beautiful Azimut 84 (turn to page 82 for a first look at the features of this Yacht & Brokerage Show debut). We sold six or seven of our new 43 Magellano. My daughter Giovanna, who is now the Magellano product manager, has put her heart and hard work into the brand. We also have had three new orders for our flagship Magellano 76. Not new, but a consistent seller is the Azimut 116—we sold two of them recently. It is a very popular boat. As for Benetti, we are booked for the next three years and we have new orders pending.
Will Benetti join the bandwagon of builders who are in the “big big” game?
We have a 93-meter (305-foot) yacht under construction that is diesel electric and being built with a high degree of advanced technology.
No, since we are only at 70 percent of our full capacity, we will not initiate production in a new country. Building boats in a new place is not an easy exercise. At our factory in Brazil, for instance, it has been challenging finding local materials and training people. We know we will make it a success, but it is hard work.
What is your current feeling about the Chinese market?
They are still not there. In fact, while there is a lot of interest from the Chinese in our boats, our sales have gone down a bit there. We have even designed models with karaoke rooms and such to attract their attention, but in my opinion, the Chinese yachting mentality is simply not developed. Still, the Chinese market can burgeon at any time, and when it does, we will be prepared.
What about the rest of Asia?
Hong Kong has a healthy yachting mentality, but there is a problem there with lack of berthing. We tried to work with the authorities there on a marina, but the bureaucracy is very conservative. They need a few years to even study a plan, let alone make a decision.
So, in a nutshell, what are the best markets for Azimut-Benetti?
I feel Brazil is medium, and India and China are rather flat. Russia, however, is very strong. The Russians have learned quickly how to enjoy yachting and have become more and more knowledgeable. Our traditional market in the Middle East is steady. Sales in Italy are the worst; Italians used to account for 20 percent of our sales, but today it’s only 1.4 percent. Italy is so low, it can only go up. The rest of Europe is slowly waking up. Central and South America (particularly Mexico and Venezuela) are doing well, as is the United States.
Going back to the 93-meter diesel-electric yacht being built at Benetti, what are you doing in terms of new technology?
That 93-meter is a custom, very particular boat. In general, I feel most owners do not want diesel-electric propulsion. It’s different for the automotive industry. When you brake or reduce speed on a car, you can generate electricity; in a boat, you never brake, so you can only enjoy the benefit of batteries in the beginning of your trip. In my opinion, diesel-electric will not be a terribly successful trend for most yachting.
Instead, we are working in a couple of other directions, including innovative reduced-weight hull designs that offer less resistance, and innovative propulsion packages. We recently announced our innovative D2P—displacement to planing—hull. I can’t go into great details, but it is a semi-displacement hull that will obtain 15 percent more efficiency. We are designing several models with this hull and all future Azimut Grande models will have it.
We are also introducing carbon fiber into our construction. We are moving slowly—it’s an evolution not a revolution. Finally, we are working more to utilize pods. We have made an agreement with Rolls-Royce and are developing a new pod type that we will launch in 2013/2014. We are currently working to install these pods on a 40-meter (131-foot) boat. We expect they will increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent and reduce noise and vibration by 35 percent, thus providing more comfort.
You have been able to manage the economic crisis well. To what do you attribute this success?
Our customers trust us. They know we are solid and in the business long term. No doubt it is critical to keep up with new models and quality. Also, perhaps because of the crisis, we have chosen better dealers. And because of the crisis, we have a more integrated team that is more efficient; we trimmed the fat. We are proud to be a family company. There has always been a lot of continuity. Azimut-Benetti is not for sale and we are not dependent on the banking world.
So are you thinking of slowing down, perhaps just go cruising?
I am not slowing down; I like working and I am passionate about my company. Naturally, I enjoy boating. I had my own Azimut 103 for several years. However, this summer I cruised aboard a brand-new 93-foot Delfino. We had 10 people on board, and I was happy to say there was not a single defect even though we were the first to use the boat. We had an idyllic cruise all up and down the Italian coast, Sicily and the Amalfi Coast without one problem. Now, that made me proud to be owner of the company. n
For more information, see azimutbenetti.it
For a look at Azimut's 84 Fly, click here.