Written by Scott Alle
30 July 2020
The brand’s new Fast Displacement (FD) series by Dutch yacht designer Cor D Rover has struck a chord with buyers appreciative of the chunky purposeful styling and the extra internal volume gained by carrying a generous beam forward to the bow.
The FD’s also benefit from Horizon’s high-performance piercing bow that cuts cleanly through the water, increasing efficiency while noticeably reducing slamming. But the hull integrity pedigree is apparent right across Horizon’s eight-model line-up that offers diverse choices, including monohulls and catamarans ranging from 15–38 metres.
CEO John Lu founded the company in 1987, drawing on his background as an alumni of the National Taiwan Ocean University where he majored in Naval Architecture. More than three decades and some 800 boats later, Horizon is the largest luxury yacht manufacturer in Asia and in the top ten of global builders.
Despite starting Horizon quite young, Lu has said he didn’t really have a mentor. Instead, he says, “the people I surrounded myself with were all successful, so I was able to gain insights into their leadership styles. I learned just by listening and interacting with like-minded people.”
Paying close attention to the client’s needs and desires – and successfully incorporating them into design and construction – has been a constant focus for Lu. “I’m constantly talking with my employees and clients,” he acknowledges.
“I take their input as a personal challenge and this provides an opportunity to reflect on my leadership and how I can improve myself,” he adds.
Australians have long recognised the build quality and finish of Horizon’s entire range.
Horizon Yachts are well suited to and eminently capable of handling the challenging conditions often encountered cruising our extensive coastline.
Based in Sanctuary Cove, Horizon Yachts Australia, the exclusive Australia/New Zealand distributors for Horizon Yachts, believes that the unprecedented success in the 75–120-foot market is a reflection of Horizon Yacht’s visionary and progressive approach to design, style and build quality.
This, they say, is backed by a genuine commitment to delivering the highest quality vessels customised to each owner’s preferences. The philosophy is also reflected in Horizon Yacht’s domination in the Australian superyacht segment.
Ocean’s Associate Editor Scott Alle spoke with Horizon’s John Lu about the company’s ethos of customer-focused input and the new models on the way.
John, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Firstly, to date, Taiwan has been very successful in containing COVID-19. From our viewpoint, disruption appears to be minimal compared to many other countries?
There’s been very little disruption. Our labour force is fine and the only problems we have encountered are with some of the equipment supplied from Europe and the United States. Other than that, our production is quite normal.
And, it seems to be quite counter-intuitive, but yards are reporting strong demand. Has that been your experience at Horizon?
Yes, it’s interesting. At the very beginning of the pandemic, it slowed down, but now it seems stronger than before. We have definitely seen a higher number of enquiries, whether that’s because people have more time to look at things online, it’s hard to say. The challenge for us is to turn the interest into real deals.
You certainly have been turning out boats at an impressive rate, including one of the new Fast Displacement range, an FD 102 just last month. They have proved very popular. What features are attracting clients’ attention?
We have produced 25 FDs now and that’s the second FD 102 we have delivered so far this year, with another probably in September; the boat hasn’t been shown to the market yet.
It’s all about the volume – it’s actually a lot bigger than 110- or 115-foot boats – it’s comparable to a raised pilothouse 110. I think people appreciate that. The whole FD series offers extra space on their platforms. I would describe it as greedy thinking – how can we get more into the boat.
Can you explain a bit more about the customisation process? It’s a hallmark of Horizon and an area you really excel in.
We listen first. Then we make the calculations to make sure it will work. Over the past three decades, we have built over 800 boats and none of them are the same. We use that long experience and put it into any new build.
We like to position ourselves to provide a total solution to the client, quite often well beyond their expectations.
I see you are building a Custom Collection 98 for an Australian complete with touch-and-go chopper pad and provision for a submarine. I think it’s his fourth Horizon – there can’t be many owners who’ve bought more than that?
I think the record is six boats – so not quite. More than 40 percent of our business is repeat clients, which is very pleasing. The client also wanted to have space for as many water toys as possible. The upper deck is full carbon fibre to accommodate the helicopter. The submarine may not happen straight away, but we have to prepare for that. It’s a very interesting project, I must say.
Australians expect and need their boats to be able to handle tough conditions. It must be gratifying to have a solid following here?
We always believe that in a way, the customer is the best designer. Australians are a little different to people in other countries. They come up with some interesting ideas.
We learn a lot from our clients – after all, they use the boat every day, so they know what they need and what they are facing when they leave port.
An Australian client took his new FD85 from Taiwan to Australia – well over 5,000 nautical miles. When you talk to those clients, who are undertaking major ocean voyages, how do use the feedback they give you?
We use it all the time. For example, customers’ comments about slamming in a boat with a hard chine. I have a background in naval architecture and I know that if you want a soft ride, you must have a very fine entry so you can cut through the water. But, if you make a fine entry in the bow, you reduce the interior space. So we made the High-Performance Piercing Bow, which really reduces slamming. It also cuts down the noise of the waves against the hull.
What is the efficiency gain there in comparison to a traditional planing design?
It decreases resistance and fuel consumption by 10 percent compared to a traditional planing bow. Those figures come from real conditions, so we are very pleased with that feature.
The PowerCats continue to generate strong sales, with three PC60s and two PC52 models currently in build for US clients. What do they offer over a monohull?
The PowerCat is a luxury power catamaran and for many clients, that is very useful and appealing. In the past, catamarans had mainly been a sports type of thing, so we applied luxury design to the PC format and we’ve sold almost fifty boats now.
What are you doing in R&D? What is coming down the track?
We are concentrating on the FD Series at the moment. The next step is from 102 to 125, but we are also receiving feedback from customers all over the world and I think we will extend our (FD) range. We are thinking about an entry boat because 75 is still a big boat for some people.
We have a slogan, Define Your Horizon, and we like to make it happen for our clients.
Do you foresee changes and consolidation in the market? Potential buyouts?
Perhaps. We have to keep a close eye on what’s happening in our industry. Obviously, the business model has changed and could change more as boat shows and large public gatherings may not be possible. There has been a shift and I think you have to take care of your own marketing channel. We have been doing that with virtual boat shows and other smaller-scale events.
What is the most satisfying aspect for you when you arrive at the yard or the office each day?
Every day I like to step into the shipyard and walk around and talk to our workers and see how things are going. I like to be involved – with the design teams, with the engineering, and in the production.