Russo Marine dives in with innovative Greenline Hybrid yachts
Larry Russo Sr., president and CEO of Boston-based Russo Marine, has struggled right along with the rest of the marine industry looking for growth after the recession. With drastically fewer boats being produced every year, new-age demographic challenges and younger people less interested in powersports (or even cars, for that matter), growing sales has been a challenge. Getting a larger slice of the pie has been Russo’s answer to add sales and reinvigorate his three-location business.
After going all-in on used and brokerage sales, like many dealers at the time, Russo and his team decided to look for a nontraditional boat brand to add to their portfolio, something with classic looks and New England heritage. While many niche builders fit the bill, they wanted something they could sell in greater numbers to justify the investment.
Russo’s latest growth opportunity started at the beginning of 2013 after reading a trade article about Greenline’s trio of innovative diesel-electric yachts, at the time, ranging from 33 to 46 feet (now 48).
Greenline rose out of the ashes of a failed Beneteau-Seaway collaboration that was abandoned during the recession, leaving behind ambitious drawings and little else.
Seaway carried on with the project after the Beneteau Group dropped out, designing, producing and then selling its first yacht models in Europe, deeming the United States marine market too weak as production initially took flight.
After reading more about the Greenline boats — built from the ground up by Slovenia-based Seaway Group — Russo’s team was further impressed by the design and technology of the boats, as well as Greenline’s stylish website and marketing materials.
“The more we dug, the more we liked, the more we found, the more it was interesting,” Russo said. “Then I found they built 300 of these during the recessionary period, and then sold them all — they’re not sitting in inventory around the world looking for buyers. This convinced us that this boat has merit, that there’s a price point, there’s a buyer, there’s a believer in this technology.”
Russo still had his own stumbling blocks, expecting the boats to be too expensive or have other faults he had yet to discover.
“Every time I turned the page there was another revelation of, man, this makes sense for us,” he said. “Then I thought to myself, ‘This boat’s going to be stupidly overpriced, because it embodies all these technologies that the industry hasn’t seen before, they’ve got pioneering costs, R&D costs, this boat is going to be a half million bucks … I’m probably only going to sell one or two of them to some whack-job that needs a diesel electric solar powered cruiser.”
Fired up about the possibility of a diesel-hybrid yacht with roof-mounted solar panels, a sailboat-like hull, exceptional design, ultra-lightweight construction and competitive pricing. The 33 Greenline is priced near $350,000, which is in line with non-hybrid competitors. The very next month, April 2013, Russo traveled to Fort Lauderdale for a sea trial.
Once out on the Atlantic, Russo was pleased to encounter rough seas that would challenge the boat’s speed, handling and overall performance.
“I expect this boat to be sluggish, I expect this boat to rock and roll because I understand how the hull is shaped … we did everything to try to make this boat perform badly and we couldn’t,” he said. “It was just amazing.”
The team was impressed. The 33, to Russo, felt like a much larger boat, he was impressed with design details like the roof-mounted solar panels mounted flush for a clean integration, overall performance, fuel efficiency, and the ability to occasionally run solely on electric power.
Russo quickly signed on to Greenline, becoming the exclusive dealer in all six of the New England states. Complementing his existing lineup that includes Sea Ray, Boston Whaler, Bayliner and Meridian Yachts, he expects the Greenlines to attract a different customer, one with higher education, higher net worth and somebody looking to appreciate a product on a higher level.
“Somebody who doesn’t care about going 30 knots and burning 60 gallons of fuel per hour will embrace going 15 knots burning 3 gallons per hour, or going 7 knots and burning zero gallons per hour on electric,” he said.
As his dealership group takes the mantle of promoting Greenlines throughout its region, both on the showroom floor and at shows, Russo is playing the long game, and making a full commitment to the brand.
“After this matures in 3 or 4 years, we need to be selling 8 to 10 of these a year,” he said. “I’d be thrilled with that, because 8 or 10 of these a year will mean $4 or $5 million in sales to us, that’s significant.”
Greenline at a glance
- Parent company, Seaway, has designed more than 250 boats, leading to 60,000 boats and yachts manufactured by 48 boat builders in 19 countries.
- Greenline started production on its first model in 2010
- Its first model, the 33, quickly became the world’s best selling yacht of its size, with 300 boats delivered to 28 countries in the first three years
- The vast majority of Greenline’s sales thus far have been in Europe
- Greenline has received many awards, including the Boat of the Year 2012 Award at the Internautica International Boat Show, Swedish Environment Award (2010) and Best Green Yacht Award by the AIM Group in 2012
- Super lightweight construction means most Greenline models can be powered by only one engine, further lowering cost and weight
- The “superdisplacement” low-drag hull is much like a sailboat’s hull from the waterline down, requires less energy to move through the water
Larry Russo Sr. on the state of the industry
“As I look forward from where I’ve come from, boating’s never going to return to its peak years of the 1950s and then the 1980s, and then the late 90s-early 2000s,” Russo said. “You follow the boat production trends [and] you see that every time the industry booms, when it goes bust the bust takes us to a new low, and the next boom is shorter than the last one.”
“The real issue is cost. The cost of a boat is beyond the reach of middle America,” he said. “Back in the 50s, when boating first boomed, boats were cheap, boats were fun, boats were unrestricted, uninhibited, it was wonderful.”
“It’s sad, because this is my life not only my career. I’ve done nothing else but work in the boat business. I say this to a lot of people, from my father, to me, to my two sons; we’ve never drawn a paycheck outside of the family business. We’ve got a lot invested in this. I can go around being sad all day long about what boating used to be and the glory days, but you can’t do that,” he said. “You have to look at today and you have to look at tomorrow and say, ‘How do I re-shape my business to the new norm?’ And what is the new norm by the way? This is what this conversation’s about. Nobody knows what the new norm is.”