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Tiara Goes Bold

The new 50 Coupe represents the next generation of Tiara Yachts. Will next-generation boaters bite?

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The customer forum audiences were all gray-haired or headed that way quickly. “I was trying to get a bead on what our customers wanted,” recalls Tom Slikkers, CEO of S2 Yachts, the parent company of Tiara and Pursuit. “It wasn’t just a wake-up but a 2-by-4 over the head.”

As Slikkers addressed roomfuls of Tiara customers over the last couple of years, he discovered that longtime owners weren’t trading in their Tiaras, but they also weren’t in the market for a new one, primarily because of their advancing age.

“I’m sitting there with 25 to 50 people at any given forum and wondering, Where is my future customer base coming from?” Slikkers says. “They didn’t say they were going to stop using their Tiaras. They just said, ‘We’ve bought our last boat.’ Right then I realized we had to … be attractive or desirable to a guy in his 40s.” The company had to get younger, it had to develop new models to appeal to that consumer.

Like many boatbuilders, Tiara is reinventing itself in a dramatically different post-recession climate. Buyers want innovative boats with smart layouts that cater to their lifestyles and limited free time. That’s some of what Tiara heard from its forums.

The builder’s response is the Tiara 50 Coupe — the first of a new generation of sport yachts from 31 to 58 feet with a contemporary look, wide-open interior spaces, and the latest propulsion and helm technologies.

Not your father’s ‘Olds’

Tom Slikkers, CEO of S2 Yachts

The 50 Coupe has been a success, say Slikkers and George Hetzel, S2’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The boat represents the next generation, the next stop,” Hetzel says. “We have next-generation styling and a big, open layout that promotes the socialization that people are looking for. We have customers talking about trading their current Pursuit for this boat or another brand for this boat, so we are getting those people who are traditional customers and newcomers.”

S2 leaders worked hard to find out what the next generation wants in their boats. “It was a process of deduction,” Slikkers says, “but we knew it wasn’t the current [look of] the Tiara.”

Slikkers and other executives asked some younger men at the forums whether they’d buy a Tiara. “They said, ‘Yes, we would buy a Tiara — when I’m my dad’s age,’ ” he recalls. “So there you had it. Why isn’t the 40-something crowd part of our demographic today? Because [the Tiara] looks too traditional, like your father’s Oldsmobile.”

S2 produced hundreds of sketches and drawings of various designs for dealers and customers to review. “We kept narrowing it down and narrowing it down — that’s how we came up with the new Tiara Coupe look, which will be scalable,” Hetzel says. “Scalable” means more boats from S2 like the 50 Coupe — smaller and larger — are in the pipeline. The follow-up to the 50 will be in the mid-40-foot range and make its debut in the spring, Hetzel says. He says there’s already a backlog of orders for the 50 Coupe.

Bold move carries risk

The new boats represent a departure from the conservative Tiara look of the past. “That first major change is a significant risk, so it’s so important to make sure you get it right,” Slikkers says. “You have to put the time in and make sure the audience is well engaged in that process. Our industry is so small that the recovery from such a major investment is a dicey proposition. It does require a lot more work on the front side because changing tooling, a mold, is extremely costly and has such rippling effects that are hard to mitigate downstream.”

S2 came away with a clear message from boaters: “People want boats and products that are exciting and innovative,” says S2 marketing director David Glenn. “They are looking for designs that are forward-thinking that give people and the product a lot of energy. And I think the openness is certainly a big feature in this boat. And the styling is everything you could want from a luxury brand. It’s a bold step, but people are really enthusiastic about Tiara Yachts.”

The new boat needed to wow the public, but so did the propulsion and navigation systems, S2 executives say. That’s where Volvo Penta enters the picture. The 50 Coupe was the first North American production yacht with Volvo Penta’s Glass Cockpit, an integrated electronics system that collects all navigation, engine and mechanical information and delivers it to touch-screen displays. Volvo Penta teamed with Garmin on this system.

The Tiara 50 Coupe features Vovlo Penta's Glass Cockpit. The layout creates 'social zones,' with an emphasis on natural light.

The Glass Cockpit also includes “Joystick Driving” technology that allows joystick steering at high speeds in addition to displacement and docking speeds. Navigation equipment works with IPS950s and twin 725-hp D11 diesels. “People are embracing the technology in the boat — the glass cockpit and the drive-by-wire system, certainly,” Hetzel says.

But S2 wanted to keep the less tech-savvy crowd happy, as well. The Volvo Penta/Garmin system can be pared down for simple functionality or geeked up to the hilt. Some older buyers may not take the electronics “to the level that someone in their 40s who is computer-savvy will,” Hetzel says, “but they certainly like how easy and comfortable the boat is to drive. It is not stressful to learn how to use the technology, either.”

S2 has mixed the modern electronics with modern styling. Curved lines and large hull-side windows have replaced the more traditional Tiara profile you may find familiar. She also has contemporary interior elements, such as modular settees and angular door handles, but holds on to brand design characteristics such as Tiara’s deck wings and swept sheer.

The interior is opened up to create a “one-space” feeling, Hetzel adds. “Social zones throughout the boat are connected, and we’ve eliminated barriers,” he says. “We want the boat to be like home.”

Sea trial

Home, yes, but also a 35-knot yacht that handles like a 22-foot runabout. I sea-trialed the boat on a snotty day on Lake Michigan. It was a good day for a sea trial, with 2- to 3-foot seas and 10-knot winds. The huge windshield and side windows give excellent visibility, and the helm and gray surface of the companion dash — a long-time Tiara feature — cut down on glare.

The twin pods got her up on plane with little fuss and little bow rise. This boat was equipped with Volvo Penta’s Joystick Driving, though you still control forward and reverse with the throttles. Steering at planing speeds calls for only slight nudges of the joystick, so it takes some getting used to. Jackshafts link the amidships engines to the drives. The installation places the center of gravity low and forward for better ride quality.

At 26 knots, the boat gets 0.5 nmpg. I heard no shaking or rattling or other noises as we sliced our way through the Lake Michigan slop, indicating tight construction and a solid, stiff boat. At cruise speeds from about 23 to 34 knots, the boat has a range of about 300 nautical miles.

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Tiara hand-lays the hull with a fiberglass bottom and balsa-cored hull sides and decks. The company uses vinylester resin in the skin coat for osmotic-blister protection, followed with a high-grade polyester. The builder makes use of resin infusion technology to construct the hardtop and employs “resin transfer mold” technology for the hatches, doors and other small parts. Ply-foam, a combination of wood and foam in fiberglass sandwich construction, is used for the stringers.

Tiara offers the yacht with two or three staterooms and crew quarters. With either layout, there is a full-beam master stateroom amidships, with a private head and long hull-side windows. Circular portlights are built inside those windows for ventilation. There’s also a comfortable settee on the starboard side across from the berth.

Sliding glass doors open the flow from the cockpit to the galley, saloon and bridge deck. The companion helm seat can face forward or aft. Overhead, the hardtop opens, and two skylights on the companion dash direct light into the cabin.

Moving forward from the cockpit, you step into a full galley. A seating area with a dining/coffee table fills the port side of the saloon, with a 40-inch LCD television and entertainment center opposite.

I spent several hours on the 50 Coupe. Longtime owners of the brand will be surprised, no doubt, with the new look, but the yacht should impress them just as much, if not more, than previous models.

Say goodbye to your dad’s Tiara.

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March 2014 issue