International Intrigue

Foreign manufacturers are choosing to build boats in the United States. What gives?
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Toyota is having the Lexus LY650 built at the Carver-Marquis plant in Wisconsin.

Toyota is having the Lexus LY650 built at the Carver-Marquis plant in Wisconsin.

VanDutch Yachts is a Dutch company that builds high-end dayboats. Beneteau is a division of Groupe Beneteau based in France. Japan’s Toyota Corp. is entering the yacht segment under the Lexus brand. Ocean Alexander is a well-known Taiwanese yacht builder.

These companies focus on very different styles of boats, but they’ve all decided to build in the United States for strategic and cost benefits. VanDutch and Lexus share a symbiotic link because the former had its boats built at the Carver-Marquis facility in Pulaski, Wis., while the latter has contracted Carver-Marquis to build its motoryachts going forward. Beneteau imported molds from Europe for its Antares series, which is built alongside Four Winns, Glastron and Wellcraft models at the Groupe Beneteau USA facilities in Cadillac, Mich. It’s said that other molds could be brought from Europe. Ocean Alexander is building boats at the former Sea Ray plant in Merritt Island, Fla.

At VanDutch, its Americas operation took control of the global brand in 2017 and set up production facilities in Egg Harbor City, N.J., and in Fano, Italy. “In our experience with customers on the U.S. side, they want to touch it, they want to see it, they want to feel it,” says Reed Nicol, director of operations at VanDutch. “U.S. manufacturing is always going to be a huge selling point, whether it’s for peace of mind or the excitement of seeing your boat in the production process. The reduction on global shipment times isn’t bad, either.”

VanDutch boats initially were laid up at the Tiara Yachts facility in Holland, Mich. VanDutch then partnered with Marquis. When its European entity, VanDutch Marine Ltd., went insolvent, its American entity and now global operator, VanDutch Inc., re-established production and parted ways with Marquis.

The 100,000-square-foot VanDutch facility in Egg Harbor City is a manufacturing collaboration with Buddy Davis, where both brands are built. VanDutch will build its 30- and 56-foot models at this location. Nicol expects to build six to eight 56-footers in 2019, with the eventual goal of building 12 a year. The company also plans to produce a dozen 30-foot models in the United States this year.

VanDutch started building boats in Fano in April 2017 and is manufacturing its 40.2-, 48- and 75-foot models there. The long-term goal for VanDutch is to have duplicate molds at both facilities so it can produce all models in the United States and in Italy.

Carver-Marquis has had a long, interesting connection with Toyota Corp. A couple of decades ago, Toyota built inboard water-sports boats at a facility in Tennessee, and some folks who were part of that program are now at Carver-Marquis. About four years ago, Toyota’s marine division approached Marquis about building a boat for production. “They chose us for our willingness to allow them to come into our facility and adjust our processes,” says Matthew Vetzner, vice president of marketing at Carver-Marquis.

The one-off, 42-foot Lexus that emerged two years ago was created by the Lexus Design studio in Japan and was part of the company’s “Experience Amazing” marketing message, but it never went into production. Serious interest from consumers, however, prompted Lexus to look more closely at getting into recreational boating.

“They decided to come back to the table to explore building another boat,” Vetzner says. “We led the design based on dialogue back and forth with Japan.”

The Lexus LY650, a 65-foot flybridge yacht powered by Volvo Penta IPS pods, is expected to be unveiled later this year at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. It will have its own exhibit space that will be separate from Carver and the relaunch of the Marquis brand.

Vetzner says the design partnership is 45 percent Carver, 45 percent Lexus and 10 percent Nuvolari-Lenard, the Italian firm that designed Marquis yachts. The Italians will focus on the new yacht’s interior.

Carver-Marquis will manufacture and market the LY650 and provide after-sales service everywhere except Japan, where Lexus will market and sell the boat. There is obviously a financial advantage for Carver in building and selling the Lexus, but Vetzner says the relationship has brought other benefits to the Pulaski facility. “The Toyota and Lexus engineers come here often, and Toyota Lean is training and transferring knowledge to our staff,” he says.

Efficiency improved by 35 percent when lean manufacturing was instituted on the Larson production line.

Carver has dedicated 15 employees and 15,200 square feet of manufacturing space to the Lexus project.

Will this trend of building European and Asian boats in the United States continue? Of course, it depends on each company’s strategic goals, but Beneteau’s announcement to move boatbuilding to local markets could be a sign of the times ahead.

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue.

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