September 23, 2009

Luxury With a Conscience

SINGAPORE — Since Lehman Brothers sank a year ago, marinas have been awash in mothballed luxury yachts waiting for the financial tides to turn, while canceled orders have left many boat builders struggling.

Now, at suitably trimmed prices and amid signs of renewed buoyancy in capital markets, “there’s an optimistic feel about evolution in the short term, at least on the pre-owned brokerage market as well as on the charter market,” says Laurent Perignon, director of marketing at the high-end yacht broker Camper & Nicholsons International. Still, Mr. Perignon said, “we remain cautious” about the timing of a market recovery.

Yet, if plain vanilla luxury boat builders have felt buffeted, the mood at the top end of the market is very different — as reflected in the unveiling by leading luxury brands of two new yachts at the start of the Monaco Yacht Show this week.

“WHY 58x38” is the first offspring of Wally Hermès Yachts, a joint venture announced last year between the Paris fashion house Hermès and the Monaco yacht designer and builder Wally.

“Aeon” is the concept offering this year from Feadship, the luxury yacht brand of the Dutch boatyard Royal van Lent, acquired a year ago by LVMH.

The Wally Hermès boat mimics the wide-stern triangular geometry of modern seismographic research vessels. With a beam of 38 meters, or 125 feet, for her length of 58 meters, the yacht is designed to be a luxury floating villa, “safer and more stable than a typical yacht,” said Luca Bassani Antivari, president and chief executive of Wally.

The hull form requires less power at cruising speed than a conventional boat of equal size and a diesel-electric propulsion system provides eco-friendly power, backed up by the incorporation of nearly 900 square meters, or 9,680 square feet, of photo voltaic panels that in sunny weather can drive most of the boats’ auxiliary systems.

Aeon’s designers also aim to please super-yacht owners with a green conscience. The 75.6-meter yacht has a hull inspired by the hydro-dynamics of a whale shark’s body. Again, large areas are covered in solar paneling, one of the many green power sources for the yacht.

The propulsion system is entirely electric, powered by generators running on synthetic fuel that can be produced from natural gas, biomass or algae. The engine room houses equipment to convert bio-diesel into hydrogen, fuel cells to convert the hydrogen into electricity, and batteries for power storage. Carbon dioxide, water and heat from the conversion process are recycled: an algae bio-reactor captures the CO2 and a steam turbine converts waste heat to electricity.

Not withstanding the current state of the market, Antonio Belloni, the group managing director of LVMH, says he is optimistic about the long term, sustainable growth potential of the super-yacht sector.

“The strongest brands, the brands that have the products and financial backing, will certainly emerge stronger from a phase where the market is more demanding than it had been in exuberant years,” Mr. Belloni said.

At Feadship, “there has been absolutely no cancellation of any order,” he said. The yard introduced several yachts in the past year, and it is working on more than 20 projects, representing a full order book to 2013. “So frankly, we’re very confident about the future.”

“We think that the fundamental factors that generated growth in excess of double digits for the last 10 years for the large yachts will continue to be there,” Mr. Belloni added. “I’m less sure if it’s going to continue being double digit, but I think there is still ample room for the market to grow.”

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