2013 seems to chart some of the biggest milestones in the history of Italian shipyard CRN. To mark its golden jubilee, the Forli-based company launched the largest boat ever, christened Chopi Chopi. At 80m, it is valued at over 80 million euros and is also the largest boat Italy has ever seen. Another, J'Ade, is also the world's only megayacht with a floating garage.
At next month's Monaco Yacht Show, one of the world's most prestigious luxury boating events, both Chopi Chopi and J'Ade will grace the event venue at Port Hercules.
In 1963, Costruzioni e Riparazioni Navali (Italian for Naval Construction and Repair) —or CRN in short — was founded on the Adriatic coastal region of Ancona by entrepreneur Sanzio Nicolini. In 1999, it was bought over and become an integral part of the Ferretti Group (which also owns other top-tier brands such as Pershing, Riva, Bertram and Itama). Past patrons include Richard Burton, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.
In doing so, it further expanded its businesses in the design, construction and direct sale of luxury motoryachts, which eventually saw its acquisition of the neighbouring Mario Morini shipyard, thus consolidating its position as a significant megayacht manufacturer, with nearly 80,000sq-m of production facilities (one of the largest in Europe).
Today, CRN contributes about 25 percent of Ferretti Group's total turnover. Its specialty remains in the manufacturing and marketing of fully customised displacement steel and aluminium megayachts, up to 90m long.
In January 2012, the state-owned Shandong Heavy Industry Group-Weichai Group —China's larget bulldozer-maker — bought the Ferretti Group, with full retention of its existing management, headquarters and production facilities in Italy.
Prestige was flown to Hong Kong to speak with CRN Chairman and CEO Lamberto Tacoli, where he presided over the grand opening of its Hong Kong office to make gateways into East and Southeast Asia.
The Italian is actually no stranger to Singapore. As a young man, he participated in international squash meets held here in the 1990s. Then in 1997, when he was still a junior executive at the Ferretti Group, he was tasked to deliver a 21-m boat (considered huge then) from the Adriatic Sea to berth at Raffles Marina for a Malaysian client. The Group then had a sales office at Raffles Marina.
Yachting today is still largely an European leisure concept. But with CRN making headway into Asia in such a big way — launching mega-boats under the auspices of its new Chinese owners — how would you introduce a different kind of seafaring culture to Asia?
Lucky for us, the world is very similar everywhere. And for sure, we have an important advantage because one, we are now owned by a Chinese group and two, we have many brands in our [Ferretti Group] portfolio, so we can offer different kinds of yachting experience.
If you want to promote yachting as a lifestyle, as a new kind of luxury, it's a challenge especially for societies that do not view sailing as something they can easily enjoy. How do you plan to change that mentality?
That's not easy for sure, but we do it step-by-step. We intend to use our stock boats to invite them to spend a day out with the boat, cruise with the boat, enjoy...and I think that step-by-step, people will then like it more.
It's important to first create a culture. We have to attract people into yachting to let them be curious about certain things — What is a boat? What is nice to do on a boat? What is inside the boat?
And, “what do you do with the boat after you buy it”?
Exactly. You cannot deny that the yacht business is a luxury business, so it is natural that, because you're wealthy and you want to show that you've achieved a certain position, buying a yacht is, for sure, an ego point to say “I'm there”. You buy a boat not just to show off the boat. It's like buying a car: You put in the garage and you say to people “I show you my car”. It's better if you can drive it too.
You do realise that because you're building a boat over 40m long, it means that you're no longer looking at using the boat for the day. It's usually overnight, or over a number of days and that is a lot of hassle for the consumer — fuel, navigation, crew, supplies, etc — because urbanised folk are not used to being on the water for that stretch of time.
When you enter a market so different from yours, it's important to understand its desires, attitude and needs. Yachting should be seen as an uncomplicated event, as simple as taking the boat out, to be free, to enjoy and to have fun. This is something that is not directly in your culture. But it's important for the future of our business to transfer, step-by-step, this new way of looking at yachting.
CRN is a megayacht specialist. Is big always beautiful?
Absolutely not. Big is big and sometimes, it's beautiful, but sometimes small is also beautiful. It just depends on what works for your lifestyle. What is always beautiful, however, is the yachting experience, regardless of size.
Unfortunately for you, other brands have wised up to the fact that there is a market for customised designs and they are now also competing in terms of offering tailor-made options. How do you face up to the competition? What are some of the customised options that clients can only get from CRN?
First of all, I don't have the ambition to be unique in the world. I think our mentality is closer to the North European shipyard model. Feadship (a Dutch superyacht manufacturer), for example, became a semi-custom boat-builder, because they customised boats that they have already designed. So we're even more “custom” than them. CRN has entered the world's Big Five, where we want to build something really different and really special. Custom means not just offering something cosmetic, but in terms of designing a boat from scratch. Now that's the big difference.
Much has been said, or over-said, about design when it comes to customising. And you're correct, customising is more than just the design. It involves tweaking the technology to suit the ownership too.
Absolutely right. In the last few years, technology has become extremely important, because ships are getting very complex. For example in our Darlings Danama 60-m megayacht, built in 2011, we developed a noise-cancelling system with Ancona's Università Politecnica delle Marche to give the feeling to the owner of being in a bubble, to cancel out almost completely every sound around all day long. So when we say “customise”, it's to create a little private universe, where form and function are connected to each other.
Italian builders are some of the world's most meticulous craftsmen when it comes to building boats. What separates Italian design from, say, Dutch or English ones?
I would say the Dutch give a stronger product and the Italians are more stylish.
It's very sexy. The lines usually are sexier. Dutch design is stronger, bigger, heavier and comes in steel and similiar materials. But an Italian boat, with the Italian architecture, obviously, is probably sexier.
Gone are the days when brands still consider the whole of Asia as one collective market. Today, China stands on its own, as do Japan and Korea. Southeast Asia also offers unique market opportunities that are still under-exploited. When it comes to cruising, boating or sailing, places like Thailand offer better sailing opportunities. And when you offer better opportunities for a yachting lifestyle, there's definitely bigger potential for yachting companies to grow. So why not consider launching and making headway into, say Phuket, where the yachting lifestyle is so rich?
Absolutely. I agree with you about Thailand. It's in a different position compared to other countries around. It developed a culture of yachting quite fast compared to others. Hong Kong is just a starting point, a base — an important base for sure — for us, for our business and for our group. But for sure we will continue to develop that in all other specific areas. I plan to be in Malaysia and Thailand in the next month. So Hong Kong is just a decision to be here for a start.
For the immediate future — 2013, 2014 — what are CRN's goals for the Asia market?
To get an order for a megayacht in Asia-Pacific. This is something that we're working hard towards. There are a few prospects and for us, it's an important starting point. We're not looking for thousands of clients. We're looking, every year, for six to eight new clients and if in 2013, one or two are coming from this area, it's a great, great goal for the company. The rumours that we have in Europe today are that Singapore is probably more exciting in terms of business than Hong Kong.