BY APB Staff on 3 May 2021

The world's largest yacht builder is looking to the electric car industry for solutions

Giovanna Vitelli, executive vice president of the world’s biggest yacht builder, Azimut-Benetti, says that the yacht industry needs to look to the electric car industry for its future.

Pointing to the size of the automotive industry and its progress in electrification, Vitelli said that Azimut would take its cues from the electric vehicle industry for future development. “We depend on what are the next steps of the automotive industry,” Vitelli told Asia-Pacific Boating.

“The near future will be electrification; this is the main the road we have to focus on. At the present moment, it is still a niche because of the cost – (it is) very high compared to the total value of the boat.”

Vitelli said that battery research in the electric vehicle industry would be key.

The April 2021 Global EV Outlook by the International Energy Agency reported that electric vehicle sales represented 4.6% of total car sales in 2020, and the pace of sales is increasing. Electric vehicle sales rose in 2020 by 41% compared to a 6% decline for traditional cars. In the first-quarter of 2021, global electric car sales rose by 140% compared to the same period in 2020, driven by sales in China and Europe.

Vitelli says that Azimut builds around 200 yachts per year in the 40 to 80-foot range. Progress in electrification for this category of yachts will be crucial, particularly in terms of cost and benefit. “This is the direction we are looking with our suppliers for the near future.”

Vitelli also touts the existing achievements that Azimut has made in cutting fuel consumption through efficiency in hull design and lightweight construction. “We have real achievements already; in the latest generation of yachts, there is a reduction of 25 to 30% of (fuel) consumption compared to five or seven years ago.”

Vitelli says that Azimut is considering an all-electric model and that the company is talking with propulsion suppliers on this subject. “We are not yet on prototype, but there are ongoing studies in that direction.”

Azimut-Benetti Group maintains a substantial R&D department of 30 engineers that is focused only on new technologies, including developing zero-emissions solutions, according to Vitelli. The department has developed strong links with the University of Genoa for its maritime engineering and with the University of Turin for its connections to the automotive industry.

There are challenges beyond the yacht propulsion technology. Marinas around the world also need to offer electric charging stations for huge battery banks. A few marinas in Europe have begun to install dedicated electric charging stations for boats. But for Vitelli, the trendline is clear.

“You can imagine that in ten years, we will not hear the sound of engines in cars anymore. I think it will be very weird that when you go to a marina, you turn on the engine – it will be out of bounds for what we consider acceptable.”