Exterior deck of yacht
Exterior deck of yacht

The Princess Yachts’ X95 flybridge

Antony Sheriff has transformed the fortunes of Bernard Arnault’s yachtmaker Princess, creating boats that are stylish, in demand and environmentally innovative, for a new generation of consumer. LUX gets his story
Business man on yacht

Antony Sheriff

“It’s the sports car of the range. The hull reduces drag by 30 per cent, and it has sports-car-like performance and a Pininfarina design.” Princess Yachts CEO Antony Sheriff is enthusing over a projection of the R35, his company’s cool-looking 35-foot yacht, the latest in a series of innovations he has overseen in what is fast becoming known as the most dynamic yachtmaker in the world.

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“Sometimes,” he says, “if you are doing something new and are innovating, customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them.” Sheriff has been responsible for a number of innovations at the company, which is owned by LVMH-owner Bernard Arnault through his private equity company L Catterton, both on the product side and on partnerships.

yacht bedroom

Superyacht on ocean

The stateroom (above) and exterior of X95 yacht

In 2016 he launched a collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, aimed at helping clean up ocean plastics, conserve coral and aid the conservation of marine creatures such as turtles. The Italian-American, who in his previous job launched McLaren’s hybrid P1 hypercar as CEO of the company’s road-car division, is disarmingly straight talking. “We are an industry which makes beautiful products, but we haven’t always been that mindful of the effects they have. We wanted to do something quietly to reduce the impact of yachts on the sea.”

He says the impetus has not – yet – come from the market, but from his own initiative. “We are trying to do the right thing and would rather be on the front foot than the back foot. People enjoy yachting because of the beautiful environment, and we need to try and maintain the water in the state we found it in.”

Read more: Chelsea Barracks is redefining London’s garden squares

Sheriff says that, as with cars, the need to innovate for environmental reasons has actually ended up bringing better products to market. He points to the example of the X95, which has up to 40 per cent more space than its predecessor while using 30 per cent less fuel and matching it in performance; and the Y95, another super-slick collaboration with Italian design house Pininfarina, which seems to have taken up its unparalleled design of luxury modes of transport where it left off with Ferrari after the end of a collaboration there spanning decades.

yacht on a waterway

The R35 performance sports yacht

Sheriff is a little scathing about some of the bloated products on offer from other yachtmakers, and adds: “We are putting the elegance and refinement back in yacht design, creating yachts that look like they belong on the ocean.”

Ultimately, though, he says the biggest change during his tenure since 2016 has been the change in the nature of the consumer. “Increasingly people are buying yachts not as status symbols but as places to spend a wonderful time with family and friends. You go on a family vacation in a yacht and it’s the best vacation possible: the kids stay together with you for fantastic family time, they can’t run away to the nightclub, and you get to spend time with each other in private in a beautiful place.” And, if some of the latest Pininfarina designs continue in the same vein, on a beautiful place, too.

Find out more: princessyachts.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

Reading time: 3 min

Driverless cars – this year’s big thing in automobiles – trade emotion for efficiency. Can the company that invented the motor car combine both? Caroline Davies speaks to Mercedes- Benz’s Dr Thomas Weber to find out

Tomorrow’s World: The driverless Mercedes F 015 takes to the road

Tomorrow’s World:
The driverless Mercedes F 015 takes to the road

The world of autonomous – or, in lay parlance, self-driving – cars, which has been on the horizon for a few years, is finally threatening to become reality very soon. Self-accelerating, self-braking, self-navigating models will soon follow today’s self-parking models in to the marketplace. But motoring is, for a significant minority, more than just the least painful way to get from A to B: in the world of luxury, a car is an end in itself, not a utensil. And for them, Mercedes-Benz has created a striking concept car, snappily named the ‘F 015 Luxury in Motion’.

Not available in a showroom near you ever – its purpose is as a debating point and research showcase – the F 015 re-conceptualizes the purpose of a car. Tellingly, rather than reveal it at a motor show, Mercedes-Benz selected the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the world’s biggest tech fest: a signal that this is not just a car. It is also the company’s riposte to latent threats by Apple, Google and other tech firms that they will disrupt the world of cars like they disrupted the world of the PC.

At the CES I spoke to Thomas Weber, effectively the global number two at Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, about why they had developed it. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is luxury [motoring] in the future?’” he said. “It is time, space and access to information.” That was the driving force behind the future driving concept.

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Meet the Mercedes: Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes- Benz and chairman of Daimler, unveiled the F 015 in Las Vegas

As the executive board member in charge of research and development for the world’s leading luxury car company, Weber’s view is carefully observed by industry watchers. The monolithic design of the car gives passengers the largest possible space, he says. The inside, upholstered in white leather and open-pore walnut wood, has four rotating chairs, allowing guests to look at the road or each other. The door panels are touch screen, allowing passengers to call up contacts, information, the route, music or points of interest along the way. Unlike the original cars Google produced, there’s a steering wheel, should you feel the need to take over. Also unlike Google’s cars, it feels like a car, not a disposable electronic device.

The car is, in part, a response to what Mercedes-Benz feels will be one of the major issues of the future: a burgeoning urban population. As the world moves to live in the city, roads will become increasingly congested. An automated car provides two solutions to the problem. Firstly, it gives the passenger time back, free to do what they want instead of driving. Secondly, it allows for cars to be shared; once a car has dropped off one passenger, it is free to collect another rather than sit in a car park.

“If you want to create more than only a car, then you have to do more than only look at the car,” says Weber. “You have to ask what a city in 2030 will look like. We know that more than 50 per cent of all people will live in crowded urban areas. Then what happens? What will the customer do in their car? You have to understand their lifestyle. The car is part of your daily life, your digital companion.”

Weber believes that while a self-driving car from Mercedes may be an efficient space when it is driving itself, it will still provide pleasure when you want it to, unlike other modes of transport. He does not believe that driving will become obsolete.

“[Transport autonomy] will happen in taxis and trains but not in the car,” he says. “It is comparable to skiing. Everyone takes the lift to the top, but the enjoyable part – downhill – you want to do yourself.”

City Slicker: The Mercedes F 015 could revolutionize urban life

City Slicker:
The Mercedes F 015 could revolutionize urban life

Admittedly, a machine would in most circumstances be a better driver than any human; they don’t get tired, distracted or forget which side of the road they should be on. Accidents could reduce to near zero; insurance, too. “We need autonomous driving to realize our vision of accident-free driving,” says Weber. “With sensors and these machines we can mitigate most of the critical situations where accidents happen.”

There are still issues – technological and legal – to iron out before these cars will be on the road. “There is a concern that some of our colleagues will do certain steps too early and terrible accidents could happen based on poorly realized autonomous cars,” says Weber. “If that happens then we could be forbidden from developing these cars. We need to do everything possible to mitigate these early failures.”

One such issue is strong internet signal; creating a bandwidth strong enough to control a full highway requires creating this digital infrastructure. Manufacturers will also have to wait until the legal framework is in place. Who is to blame if an autonomous car hits a pedestrian? What if a car was faced with a moral dilemma: for example, a mother pushes a baby in a pram into the path of an autonomous car on one side, as a cyclist is overtaking it on the other. Which way should it be pre-programmed to go? An autonomous car, for all its computing power, will not make decisions of its own: it will do what it has been told to do.

Weber is keen to have these discussions early. “Legal discussion, social discussion, acceptance discussion – these things take time,” he says. “But we have cars on sale with first situations of this technology. We have a road map.” The first autonomous cars will probably be developments of today’s self-parking cars, with drivers taking control at times.

Legislators have already started thrashing out these details and manufacturers have begun to steadily introduce autonomous elements, easing the population into the idea with the expectation that fully autonomous cars will be on the road as early as 2025. For many, that remains a frightening thought, but we have been entrusting our lives to aeroplane autopilots for years. At least style needn’t be a worry; with Weber in charge, autonomous cars will have plenty of panache.

Reading time: 5 min