Cannes 2014. Grand Soleil turns over a new leaf. More quality and amazing new boats

Bee_planamenteThe Salons are also an opportunity to engage with key players in the boating industry. In Cannes we met Fabio Planamente, general manager of Cantiere del Pardo, who tells us about the shipyard’s turnaround, from corporate travails to the birth of the new Long Cruise line. Not to mention the quality improvements made by listening to customers’ advice and the connection with Sly Yachts.

Fabio Planamente, General Manager Cantiere del Pardo
Fabio Planamente, General Manager Grand Soleil

Forty years and three thousand eight hundred boats later, the Leopard Shipyard turns over a new leaf. For the first time in its history, which began in 1974, the Grand Soleil manufacturer is launching a second product line alongside the historic “Performance,” five models from 39 to 54 feet.

The novelty, which can be physically seen at the Dusseldorf Motor Show in mid-January 2015, is called LC, which stands for Long Cruise. It starts with a 46-footer (just under 15 meters), and if good mornings are any indication, it certainly looks like the new management got it right; three boats have already been sold on paper, two in Italy and the third abroad. But the 46 will not remain alone; by the end of 2015, a smaller sibling will also touch the water, while we will have to wait until 2016 for the larger model.

The historic range, Performance, will also be enriched in 2015 with a new GS on 56/57 feet (17/18 meters) which, they assure, will be particularly attractively priced.

We are curious to learn more about Grand Soleil’s new course and it is the Grand Soleil general manager Fabio Planamente, a Turin-based sailing and mountain enthusiast, with a solid management career in the sailing world and a fresh qualification as vice president of UCINA (the association that brings together Italian companies in the sector) who tells us what is happening inside the Italian shipyard. Starting with the acquisition of ownership from the Trevisani family, which already owned the Sly Yachts brand.

While we are at it, to interrupt malicious dockside chatter we ask him, first of all, to go over the corporate affairs of the last few years of the Forli shipyard, admittedly somewhat troubled.

Plainly, who has lived through all the hot phases of the affair, traces the steps that led to the new ownership. At the end of 2010 Grand Soleil (which also has ownership of the French Dufour Yachts in its belly) was bought by the American investment fund Oaktree, which already owns the German Bavaria.

Grand Soleil 43, one of the top models in the Performance range
Grand Soleil 43, one of the top models in the Performance range

Oaktree’s idea is to occupy the sailboat market with three complementary brands: Bavaria for the pure cruising segment with excellent value for money, Dufour with higher quality products but the same topology as Bavaria, and then Cantiere del Pardo/Grand Soleil, the spearhead with high quality performance boats with refined aesthetics. Nice idea, but the strategy clashes with the market, which, in spite of all analysis, is not restarting after the crisis that began in 2008, in fact it is getting worse.

Thus, in the fall of 2012 the U.S. fund decided to focus only on Bavaria and put Grand Soleil and Dufour up for sale. The Italian shipyard going through a composition with creditors that put it in a position to be sold, in late 2013 it was acquired by the Trevisani family, chosen by the court from three other potential buyers. Meanwhile, Dufour slipped out of the complicated shareholding whirlwind, the majority being acquired by Italian Salvatore Serio, who was already CEO of the French shipyard, along with six in-house managers.

Grand Soleil’s new owner, the Trevisani family, is well known in the Romagna area for being the largest shareholder in the Trevi Group, which is based in Cesena, a few kilometers from Forli. Trevi is no small group, listed on the Milan Stock Exchange with more than 1.1 billion in sales in 2012, a world leader in underground drilling of all kinds, from oil and water exploration to the construction of underground parking lots and dams, with more than 6,000 employees in more than 40 countries.

But the story that ties the Romagna family to Grand Soleil also has other roots that are not only related to pure business, but also to the passion that is always the real glue for those who decide to invest in such a difficult sector as boating. Galeotto was indeed a Grand Soleil; in fact, the Trevisans’ first major boat was a GS 46.3 purchased in 2002. Hence the emotional connection with the Italian shipyard. And it is also a story of passion for sailing the acquisition in 2010 of the Sly Yachts shipyard, which produces sporty models from 38 to 61 feet.

One of the first actions of the new course, as Fabio Planamente tells us, was to concentrate production of the two brands in the historic Cantiere del Pardo shipyard in Forlì, the largest production unit in Italy with an area of more than 20,000 square meters.

OUR TEST OF THE GRAND SOLEIL 39

The general manager is keen to emphasize that Grand Soleil’s new course is not only marked by the launch of the new Long Cruiser line, which starts with the 46-foot LC 46. Freed from the constraints of the previous owner’s “all-numbers” bond, taking advantage of the skills of the shipyard’s workforce and facility technology even the models currently in production are constantly improving in quality.

We have listened to and incorporated the advice of hundreds of our customers,” Planamente stresses.” and we have translated them into quality and aesthetic improvements across the entire range. Even with interventions that seem trivial, but make a difference, such as adding solid wood finishes or using more porous natural paints that enhance the quality of the woods used in the interior. Credit for this work, in pursuit of a more perceptible quality, is also due to Stefano Marinoni, technical and production director, a very competent and passionate person.”

The new Grand Soleil 46 LC will be presented in Dusseldorf
The new Grand Soleil 46 LC will be presented in Dusseldorf

When we ask more about the new LC line, Planamente lights up even more. It places emphasis on the choice of partners to work alongside the Forlì shipyard. They are the top of the much-vaunted Made in Italy excellence. Water lines are the work of Marco Lostuzzi, who has designed fast boats such as the Sly, Millenium, and Arya 415, while interior design is by Nauta Yachts, a world leader in this field with clients such as Beneteau, Southern Wind, and Lagoon.

“LC 46 will be an amazing boat, studied in every detail. Innovative yet respectful of the tradition of yachting canons,” he says confidently.

We provoke him, “Yes, but that roll bar, while very useful and multifunctional, will not turn the noses of Grand Soleil aficionados.” Planamente has no doubts: “We will know how to make even our most traditionally minded customers reconsider. That roll bar that is so useful and integrated into the design will become a strong point of the LC 46. Be assured of this.”

 

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