Will an Italian builder become America’s top brand?

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Launched at FLIBS, Azimut’s 82-ft. Metri 25 is an example of how U.S. buyers are choosing larger motoryachts.

Launched at FLIBS, Azimut’s 82-ft. Metri 25 is an example of how U.S. buyers are choosing larger motoryachts.

Azimut plans to become the top yacht brand from 40 to 100 feet in the U.S. within two years, according to Federico Ferrante, president of Azimut/Benetti USA. The Italian builder said it has the sales to make that happen.

“The sale of 15 yachts worth about US $50 million at FLIBS 2018 is the best way to describe the outstanding success achieved by Azimut Yachts, the leading foreign shipyard in the United States,” said Ferrante in a statement. “This success rewards our propositions, which increasingly feature sophisticated content in terms of design and technological innovation, and our ability to offer outstanding local reach and a five-star after sales assistance service.”

Azimut sells its boats, ranging in size from 34 to 120 feet, in 72 countries, making it the most global brand in the industry. Ferrante says that the American market now represents 38 percent of its total value of production. MarineMax is the brand’s exclusive U.S. dealer.

Ferrante told Trade Only Today that Azimut has more than doubled the number of boats sold in the U.S. from about 49 units in the five years after the downturn to more than 100 units this year. The Italian builder introduced the Azimut S6, 25 Metri and Atlantis 51 models at FLIBS.

Federico Ferrante, president of Azimut/Benetti U.S.A., is pushing his brand to the top slot.

Federico Ferrante, president of Azimut/Benetti U.S.A., is pushing his brand to the top slot.

“We’ve seen growth from both a recovering economy and the added value in distribution because of the Sea Ray shutdown,” says Ferrante, referring to the decision by Brunswick to close the Sea Ray yachts and sport yachts division. “That created opportunities for us since a number of owners wanted to stay in the MarineMax family. They’ve migrated to Azimut, or in some cases, the Galeon brand.”

Among non-U.S. brands, Azimut has a long history of exporting boats to the U.S. There were only five Azimuts in the USA when Azimut CEO Paolo Vitelli recruited John Keim as the brand’s sales director (importer) in 1994. “One of those earlier models (105') was owned by Orin Edson, founder of Bayliner. Another 105' was owned by the founder of the Auto Trader magazine,” said Keim. “During my four-year tenure we imported and sold about 25 units ranging from 46' to 100'.” Keim said an additional six units were on order when Sea Ray became the brand’s U.S. distributor in 1998. Sea Ray CEO Bill Barrington opted out of the agreement after two to three years, leaving six to eight dealers to sell Azimut in the U.S.

Azimut established a U.S. office in 2004. “We did $226,000 in sales that year,” says Ferrante. “Now, 14 years and 16 employees later, we’re doing about $170 million in new-boat sales, with $14 million in boat trade-ins and $1.5 million in parts and accessories.”

Its 2008 agreement with MarineMax to become its U.S. distributor was a turning point for the company. “Between the economy recovering and the added value through distribution, we’re seeing tremendous growth,” says Ferrante.

Leftover inventories of Sea Ray yachts are “going pretty fast,” says Ferrante, which will “create more opportunities” for Azimut inside MarineMax. “We’ve seen a significant transition to our brand,” he says. “We’ve lost some sales of smaller cruisers to Galeon, but we’re seeing steady increases in larger boats.”

One of the boats sold at FLIBS was the 27 Metri, an 89-ft. motoryacht, that is a sistership to the 25 Metri that made its U.S. debut at FLIBS. Visitor numbers to its booth were up 20 percent this year.

Ferrante expects Azimut to become the leading brand in the U.S. in the next two years. He forecasts that will happen in both the inboard and outboard categories. Azimut’s only outboard model, the Verve 40, will be joined by a new 48-ft. model shortly.

Italian styling in the motoryacht segment is key to the brand’s U.S. success, says Ferrante. “There are certain things that Europeans do very well,” he says. “If you look at the car industry, most of the luxury autos are German. There’s really not an American equivalent. We see the same thing in the motoryacht industry. The leaders are all Italian. The global numbers are very clear that we’re the world leaders in our categories.”

Ferrante has seen a lot of U.S. boaters “migrating” to Italian motoryacht brands, away from American sportfishing convertibles. “There is a beauty and style to these yachts,” he says. “We’re finding the women of the households are more inclined to favor these types of yachts over the fishing boats.”

Florida continues to be the primary sales territory for Azimut, followed by the Northeast and Midwest. Ferrante says Azimut and MarineMax plan to start more owner’s rendezvous while with having a stronger presence at the leading U.S. boat shows. Azimut’s Flybridge range and Grande collection remain its two top sellers in the U.S. 

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