Sitting on the flybridge of the latest Horizon 120RPH as we cruise through the sprawling harbour of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, it quickly becomes evident that the Horizon shipyard is based in a hub of marine and shipbuilding activity. Tankers and freighters sit on long, commercial docks while lighters, Naval ships, fishers and a hotchpotch of vessels of all sizes jostle on the quays and wharves. The 120RPH gleams in the sun, its fine finishing and graceful style a testament to the experience of this 30-year-old marque. CEO John Lu is smiling, one suspects out of both enjoyment and pride – Horizon continues to enjoy solid sales in the global market, and is continually investing in new designs and innovative processes – and it’s not long before we’re talking about Trump, the economy and his predictions for the future.
“The global market overall is still gloomy I would say, and I believe it’s still not very clear for everyone in this business – but I’m quite optimistic,” he says. “It is hard to predict where the market will be in the next five to ten years, but the work that we have done at Horizon will remain the same – we have to focus on and invest in our branding power, we still have to invest in research and development, and come up with new models, all of which is important to keep us in the right position.”
“But I do think that in five to ten years Europe should have come back,” he adds. “I think that now it’s moving a little and I think we should soon have a contract from there – it has been slow for so long. America will be hot for the next few years – we already have a few new orders from there – and Japan and Australia are another big market for Horizon.”
Pulling through the lean years post-Global Financial Crisis (GFC) meant Lu had to dig deep into company resources to finish stalled contracts, working on the philosophy that a part-completed yacht is worth little, but a finished yacht can sell when the market returns. He also believes that the economic impact of the GFC was not necessarily the reason the superyacht industry was hit so hard. “I think uncertainty is a bigger killer than a bad economy,” Lu explains, “because in a bad economy you tend to find still the same number of high net worths but they won’t buy because they want to see what is going to happen. They are so smart. I think that is key to my observation – [the slow market] is not because of financial issues.”
In order to capitalise on the market rebound, Lu has made a point not only of strengthening the Horizon brand as a whole, but in continuing to invest both in new models and in new technologies. The recently unveiled, Cor D. Rover-designed 85 Fast Displacement model, for example, has already proven popular with two in build and a further two orders expected shortly. The fact that the design is radically different to anything in the current or previous Horizon range hints at an important facet of the Horizon approach – that so-called ‘design DNA’ through a brand’s historical range is less important than developing on-trend models that appeal to owners’ sensibilities of current aesthetic and proposed usage.
In addition, the tailor-made epithet continues to form a central tenet to the Horizon method, with clients able effectively – across the size range – to customise their Horizon to an almost one-off level. It begins with discussions of a client’s intended usage which informs a design proposal, and the resulting model or custom variant coalesces from those early discussions. Further, Horizon continues to push the boundaries in its build methods, from its early adoption of vacuum infusion technology for all the GRP hulls and components to heavy investment in sector-leading non-destructive technology as a guarantee of product quality. “There are very few yards that can do that,” says Lu. “Once you finish a hull, how can you break it [to check for voids etc]? So we have developed methods using x-rays, ultrasound and other elements and we keep records for every hull – so we can show a client that there are no voids or cracks, for example, in the whole of the 120ft hull of his yacht.”
There’s no doubt that Horizon has come a long way since its founding in 1987, but one thing that has remained constant is the name. “I named it Horizon as it has a good meaning,” Lu explains. “It’s very bright and it’s looking forward, all positive things. We also still use the slogan ‘define your Horizon’ because it’s not only that we say you should decide your own life, but also that we can tailor the product for you. I still like the slogan and the name very much.”
This article will be published in full in issue 177, the third edition of The ‘new’ Superyacht Report, published in April 2017. The magazine is available free for VIP subscribers. To apply please click here
Photography by Tim Thomas/The Superyacht Group (120RPH aerial and saloon photographs courtesy of Horizon Yachts)