At today’s opening of the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show, Annapolis Yacht Sales will show off the Beneteau Oceanis 46.1. The boat is noteworthy not only because it’s the first model off the line from the Beneteau America facility in Marion, South Carolina, but because a nearly identical model is being constructed in Europe by Beneteau’s French division.
“From the original concept and drawings, we decided that we’d build the 46.1 in Europe and the US,” Jean Francois Lair, president of Beneteau America, told Trade Only Today. “We knew this boat would have significant appeal on both sides of the Atlantic, so it seemed like a no-brainer.”
The 46.1 model made its debut last fall at major U.S. and European boat shows, quickly becoming one of Beneteau’s “most popular sailboats ever,” said Lair. Beneteau has already built 50 units in France since last November for the European market. The U.S. division also imported three models for the U.S. boat shows last fall to kick-start orders by American dealers and their clients.
The concept of building a Beneteau in Marion is not new. The company started manufacturing Beneteau sailboats for the North American market in 1986. It also produces models for other Groupe Beneteau brands. The same simultaneous-build philosophy will eventually happen at the Groupe’s facilities in Cadillac, Michigan, where several models of European brands will be built.
Lair says that the European- and American-built 46.1’s will be “almost identical,” though the U.S. boats will have some minor changes to meet U.S. regulations.
“All the boats built in Marion will also have equipment from U.S. suppliers--sails from North Sails, hardware from Harken and masts from an American supplier,” he said. “The only other difference with the European-built boats might be the number of air-conditioning units that are ordered on the American boats.”
Beneteau built the first 46.1’s in France several months earlier than the first one hit the production line in Marion, in order to correct any potential build problems.
The Marion facility also sent four production managers to France to bring any new construction techniques back to South Carolina. “That made it much easier to start the boat here,” says Lair. “We also had two guys come over from Europe to help support the build process. It’s gone very smoothly.”
Besides supplying North American dealers, Lair says the Marion facility will build 46.1 units for charter operators in the British Virgin Islands.
Manufacturing in the U.S. is much less expensive than importing the boats from France, says Lair. Plus, it gives the company the ability to put a sticker on the transom that reads: “Proudly built in the U.S.A.”
“Our customers like the fact that the boats are built here,” says Lair. “That gives us a very strong competitive advantage.”