Interview / Bénéteau: "We are moving from Americanization to French / US co-design of boats"

Christophe Lavigne, President of the US brands of the Bénéteau Group

BoatIndustry met Christophe Lavigne, President of the US brands of the Bénéteau Group. An opportunity to take stock of his career, his projects for Scarab, Glastron, Wellcraft and Four Winns, their place in the group and the effect of American taxes.

Christophe Lavigne took up the position of President of the American brands of the Bénéteau Group in October 2018. BoatIndustry was able to meet him and ask him some questions about his career, the news and the project of the Scarab, Glastron, Wellcraft and Four Winns brands.

You have just taken over the leadership of the Bénéteau Group's American brands. Can you tell us about your journey to these responsibilities?

I have the three nationalities of France, Canada and the United States. After my studies in France, I left for international cooperation for Jeanneau in Quebec with Doral. When Jeanneau had problems, I stayed in Canada, taking over the product management. Then in 2007, I joined Four Winns. After the bankruptcy in 2008, I helped to reconnect with the Bénéteau group. I was in charge of products and customer service.

What is your role now within the Bénéteau Group in the USA?

Until now, there was only one position as President of Bénéteau US, in charge of all aspects, but especially commercial. My newly created position as President of US brands corresponds to a more industrial management. I am responsible for Cadillac's production site, including the manufacture of the French brands' boats in the United States. The group employs 625 people at Cadillac. He's one of the top five players in the United States.

How do you work with the Bénéteau group in France and Europe?

We're starting to work on co-design. We are now only doing Americanization for the normative and electricity parts. We mix cultures. The US design is efficient and often cheaper. We are beginning to be involved in the design of French boats.

For production, one of the group's strengths is its ability to produce in Europe. The construction of American brand boats in Europe is accelerating and is expected to be completed in less than a year. This is a strong desire of the group and Hervé Gastinel. This is a long-term strategy, especially for small boats, which are plagued by transport costs.

Is there also a Europeanisation of American ships?

It started a long time ago. The RecBoats group had a strong export culture and a strong presence in Europe. Today, Wellcraft is performing very well, especially in France and Spain, because the brand has been very well understood at Jeanneau. It is a little more complicated for Scarab, whose growth is lower. We have therefore resumed direct management by the United States. The other 3 brands remain distributed via Jeanneau and Bénéteau.

What are your measures in the face of US tariffs and European retaliation?

Since the reprisals in July, we have helped our network with discounts. On the other hand, sourcing through the various entities of the Bénéteau Group is a good lever to manage tax issues. There is a shift towards the outboard in relation to the sterndrive. The high-end connotation is also paradoxically an advantage for Wellcraft compared to Boston Whaler.

Will the Bénéteau Group's portfolio of US brands be expanded?

With Glastron, Scarab, Wellcraft and Four Winns, we cover all US markets well. We have a jet range, a centre console offer, a cruiser offer and a run-about offer. There is no need for expansion today, the rest of the sector being covered by our French brands. Instead, there are gains to be made in our product lines. 2 million was invested in Cadillac this year to reopen boat construction lines closed 10 years ago during the crisis.

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