Sun, Aug 18, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Princess Yachts undergoes revolution under Sheriff

By Jamie Kitman  /  Bloomberg

Sheriff, a 56-year-old with American and Italian roots, grew up in New England, but has lived much of his adult life in England. He started at Chrysler before moving to Fiat, then jumped to a top role at McLaren in 2003. He is credited with the successful launch of the F1 constructor’s first 21st-century road car, the MP4-12C, and its £1.3 million P1 gasoline-electric hypercar.

However, he clashed with then-company chairman Ron Dennis, as, it is fair to say, did many others whose path crossed that of the successful race team owner.

Sheriff’s ties to the automobile industry remain strong. He sits on the board at three promising new-tech automotive ventures: Rivian, a Michigan-based start-up that plans to build electric pickup trucks and SUVs; Rimac, a dynamic and highly regarded Croatian outfit whose advanced electric vehicle technology and engineering nous have already attracted significant investment from Porsche and other heavyweights; and Pininfarina.

Reinvigorated with the backing of new owner, India’s Mahindra and Mahindra, it is building a 1,900-horsepower, all-electric, all-wheel-drive hypercar: the US$2.1 million Pininfarina Battista.

Sheriff still talks like a car guy — for instance, when describing Princess’ just-launched R35 “sports yacht.”

“It’s our nautical equivalent of a supercar,” Sheriff said of the swoopy, 10.89m V8-powered yacht, which looks like a large-but-sleek racing boat, with a swishy cabin that will travel at a brisk 50 knots (93kph) until the fuel runs out.

One strategy Princess took from the car industry is “platform sharing,” the idea that the parts hidden from view — the undercarriage and mechanical systems, for example — can be shared across a variety of models, while the exterior surfaces change, reducing cost and complexity.

“You’ll see a hull which has the same hull molding, but a completely different concept for the boat above.” Sheriff said. “So what sits above the deck is differently laid out, with different shapes. What sits below deck is identical.”

That means tweaks to exterior design and treatments create the appearances of new yachts, when in fact they are born from the same mold.

The overall approach has captivated the industry press, said David Robinson, a longtime UK yachting business journalist. “This company has been totally rebuilt using investment as a catalyst to boost product development, upgrade manufacturing facilities, increase its marketing and enhance its international distribution network.”

“The outcome of these efforts shows through,” Robinson said.

Beyond the sheer number of millionaires and billionaires, Sheriff sees two more industry tailwinds.

The big one: Just like supercars, improved technology means pretty much anyone can skipper a yacht.

“If you know how to drive a Fiesta, you can drive a McLaren,” he said. “Boats are the same. They’ve become a lot less intimidating... You want it to stay where it is? You just hit a button. It locks into the GPS — no matter what the current is, it stays where it is.”

The other trend is a push for solitude.

“People buy them because they love spending time in a quiet place with their family, away from everything else, where the kids can’t run off,” he said.

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