With 47,000 boats delivered globally since the brand’s beginning in 2011, Highfield Boats is now the world’s number one in the RIB tender sector and a global player in the 5m + sector. Barry Thompson spoke to Julien Carussi, MD, for Highfield Boats, at the recent SCIBS in Australia.
Highfield Boats is a joint French/Chinese-owned company, with the boats all built in a state-of the-art production facility in Weihai, China. Under European management, the facility covers 26,000 sqm, employs 350 staff and has adopted the latest technologies to guarantee the highest quality production. Highfield had their detractors when it started building aluminium-hulled yacht tenders for the European market. While alloy RIBs were already popular in places like New Zealand and Australia, it was more soft bottom tenders in Europe. Carussi explains that with the release of the first boats at the La Rochelle boat show in 2011, customers quickly realised the benefits of the alloy RIB, and a dealer network soon followed.
That has now grown to over 45 distributor countries with around 300 dealers. In 2022 the company produced 10000 boats, split between 8000 open tenders, 1000 mid-size console boats and the 5m+ segment making up the rest. Highfield Boats biggest market is the USA, France, UK, Australia and Canada. “Our most significant growth is coming from the US and Australian markets, which is undoubtedly assisted by a solid company and dealer representation in both countries. Plus, they both have active economies and willing buyers who appreciate quality. “Australia was somewhat fragmented until a few years ago, but we now have that back on track with a solid dealer base, and with some strategic planning from Australia/New Zealand General Manager Peter Pembroke, we have made some big strides in the past three years. Australia and New Zealand are important growth markets for us”, says Carussi. He adds that by doing all the brand awareness marketing, they have better control of the message that gets out to the market and don’t have to leave that to the dealers. “We would rather they were out selling our boats”, says Carussi. Carussi says that the company is the only manufacturer with its own factory in China and is fully integrated with every component made in-house. Plus, all products and parts are designed using CAD and CNC cut. Highfield’s core is performance and strength, which the brand has focussed on above anything else. “Highfield’s hulls are dry-riding, very seaworthy and always over-built. The heavy-duty approach to design and build allows leisure and commercial owners to have the confidence needed to go that extra mile and tackle conditions many others avoid, ” says Carussi. Depending on the market, the company is 50/50 Hypalon or PVC, while all hulls are the highest quality aluminium. Having personally tested the Highfield 700 and 660 Sports I can attest to the boats exceptional handling, soft and dry ride. The finish is exceptional and the layout typifies the best there is in an RIB of a similar size.
With the recent release of the EJet330 powered by Zerojet and the 340E utilising an EPropulsion outboard, Highfield has introduced their customers to a whole new market. With the Propulsion 340E, it was simply a matter of bolting on the outboard and making provision for the battery to an existing hull; however, not so with the Zerojet adaptation. “Although we started using the Sport 330, we soon realised that it had to be redesigned to compensate for the weight and the different aspects of the handling of a jet drive. We now offer the EPropulsion unit on four models, the 310, 340, 360 and 380, but just the one model with the Zerojet”, says Carussi. However, he adds that the electric power market is evolving very quickly, so the Zerojet or even larger electric outboards may be available for future models. “It’s all about the battery technology, and that is a very evolving scene, so it is imperative for us to be at the forefront and already working within that space, so we are ready for any quantum shifts”, said Carussi.
He points out that the electrification aligns with the company’s already strong sustainability DNA. All the hulls and structures are built in aluminium, which is infinitely recyclable. In addition, Highfield powder coats in an enclosed area to ensure that their footprint remains low from the beginning of the manufacturing process to the end of each product’s life. “We don’t plan to expand the size range of our boats, just the volume and develop our boats in the 6-8m segment. Over that, the volume is not significant, so we will leave that to other brands. “Our 5.4m to 7.0m market is solid, and I can see substantial growth in this area. We have a number of models that slot into this segment, and plans are to concentrate future growth into this area”, adds Carussi. However, he points out that they continually focus on retaining their leadership in the smaller tenders as this is the “bread & butter” for the company, and they will never neglect that market. One market that Highfield is not considering at this stage is the amphibious market. Carussi says, however, that if they did, they would want to do something different, with a unique set of points and certainly be a better boat than any current brands. While Carussi would not elaborate on what the company has planned for the future, he did say some exciting new models were being developed, especially in the Adventure style segment. He said they have the capacity to build 30% more than they currently produce, and they are expanding with a new building next to the existing factory.