Updated: Nov 19, 2022
Kevin Rice: luxury, design and sustainability must achieve the same balance.
By Maurizio Abbati
The Monaco Yacht Show 2022 highlighted also the importance of the nautical architectural design in making the energy performance of yachts and superyachts more efficient ensuring a more sustainable navigation. Alongside the fuel used or the ability to create energy from renewable sources directly on board the boat, the yacht design industry has been constantly evolving to ensure less and less impacts on the marine environment, in the face of growing demand for environmentally friendly services.
Italy covers more than half of the global market share for luxury boat building and pleasure yachts with further growth prospects. The nautical ‘Made in Italy’ stands out for high-ranked craftsmanship, creativity and innovation with increasing attention to the eco-responsibility tied up with sailing. The Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently reiterated the need and urgency to take action to reduce anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems. So, yachting is riding the wave to offer innovative and performing solutions at the same time.
“By combining our complementary competencies, we can respond effectively to the needs of ship-owners and shipyards, proposing innovative solutions”, Kevin Rice, Chief Creative Officer and Pininfarina S.p.A.
But is it feasible to match the green design with the demand of a wealthy clientele? MONACŒCOART® met one of the most influential figure of industrial design who has recently joined a milestone in innovative design thinking, the Pininfarina S.p.A. Kevin Rice (K.R.) is now the Chief Creative Officer of the well-established Italian group founded in 1930 by Battista (Pinin) Farina to reach the highest level in car design and coach building for major companies (e.g.: Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, etc.). It has become a laboratory of avant-garde ideas and Pininfarina firm is expanding its competences in many areas including luxury yachting. Most recently, the Pininfarina Nautical Department found renewed momentum thanks to the strategic partnership with Fulvio De Simoni Yacht Design fond of advanced nautical architectural knowledge. A pivotal synergy, as Kevin Rice highlighted: “By combining our complementary competencies, we can respond effectively to the needs of ship-owners and shipyards, proposing innovative solutions.”
All this has already led to important results previewed at the Monaco Yacht Show 2022, like this year’s X2, Explore X Experience, a novel research project offering a new navigation feeling never experienced before in terms of comfort, performance and details at the service of the user, as the perfect combination of automotive technology and design. The developing project of Oceanco Kairos by Pininfarina, Oceanco and Lateral Naval Architets, presented on scale model at the exhibition stand, is aiming high in terms of sustainability linked to the exclusive on-board spaces.
Kevin Rice is currently leading all aspects of the Design development (Mobility, Industrial & Experience Design, Architecture) with a special focus on Pininfarina’s Mobility Design Business Unit. His professional training and experience is consistent. Graduated from Coventry University (United Kingdom), he has been working as an Automotive Designer since 1986. His creative journey has taken him to Japan, Italy, Germany and his native country, England. He had relevant managerial experiences at great motor companies, notably Mazda and BMW, and then at Chery International as Vice President and Global Head of Design. He was awarded several acknowledgments like the Red Dot Award for the Mazda Mx5 in 2016 and the ‘Best Concept Car of the Year’ (shared with the team), within the Geneva Motor Show in 2018.
Interview with Kevin Rice (K.V.), Chief Executive Officer at Pininfarina S.p.A.
MONACŒCOART®: Kevin Rice, what does it mean to create unique design?
K.R.: We assist to a high degree of competitiveness in any kind of design sector, whether cars, boats or houses. You need to create something people remember both intellectually and emotionally. The second aspect is perhaps the most important. When you are a child there is always something sticking in your mind that immediately comes up throughout your life. As a designer I always ask myself: does it touch the inside?
MONACŒCOART®: Can luxury, yachting and sustainability work together?
K.R.: They must do that. Once, we were talking about owners of superyachts asking the captain to move up and down the ocean with any kind of weather condition even when there was no wind. That was a kind of luxury in fashion in the 1970’s and in the 1980’s to show off someone’s position of wealth. The idea was: ‘Look how successful I am …I can even change the weather!’. Nowadays this is no longer a good idea. There might be some people who have lack of respect for the Planet but I don’t think it is still so for most of the luxury yacht market. True luxury is also taking care of nature ecosystems. In terms of expenses, it could cost you about ten per cent more to have a certain sustainable power train or eco-way of using the craft to save the planet…but if you can afford a superyacht you need to be eco-responsible as well. This approach is increasingly being considered as a must, resulting from a greater involvement in social causes. The interlink we are talking about is then necessary. The yachting world is asking you to be sustainable at any level.
MONACŒCOART®: What are you more focused at Pininfarina’s Nautical Department?
K.R.: One of the big issue for the hybrid electric power train is to have charging stations at disposal. We unveiled the hydrogen train for boats at the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show. That is very ecological but, of course, we need to have hybrid supply somewhere.
We are now making it possible to turn off any fuel energy system and sail purely electric at a certain stage of the journey. In the yachting sector, challenges can be achieved only through new technology that is not cheap, unfortunately. All these things need to grow, being something completely new.
MONACŒCOART®: Do you think it is practical to achieve the ambitious goal to sail 100% electric by mid-century? Is it full-electric the right answer?
K.R.: Politicians might say one thing, engineers another, designers something else. If you go right back to motorised solutions, essentially the car, you have to consider that first cars were electric and there were very specific reasons why they moved to petrol vehicles. Most of them were financial. The fuel was very easy to find and you could refill your car by yourself. Benzine was soon after chosen because it smelled so bad for heating the houses that nobody wanted it. Thus, it was perfect to power the cars. Everything came together in a magical fortuitous way. However, performances were much lower than those we are used to today.
As a matter of fact, when a power train is fuelled only by an electric train, no pollution comes up from it. But what about the end-of-life of the batteries required to produce electricity? So, if every car in the world was electric, could you imagine how many batteries you would need to build and manage?
I would suggest decision makers to be a little bit more realistic about physics that is essential to know from the schooling age. Energy does not generate by magic. Most people in the car industry certainly have considered that: is it realistic to have only electric cars tomorrow? Absolutely not.
MONACŒCOART®: What do you expect as the follow-up?
K.R.: What will happen in the near future is to have a multisource of power. In my view, hydrogen has a great potential. Certain combustible vehicles will work for a while, too. I would be more respectful of all the above-mentioned aspects and less hermetic in telling the truth both for the car and boat sector. As for the latter, the problem is somewhat simpler since there are really a few existing highly-performant eco-vessels comparing to eco-cars. Theoretically, you can create hydrogen generators and tanks in port areas and regulate it within a due legislative framework. For boats it could therefore be easier logistically and politically than for the automotive.
So, hybrid as a combination of high technologies would be the next step for all.
MONACŒCOART®: Did you notice a change in customers’ mind towards more sustainable solutions?
K.R.: Generally speaking, the audience is more eco-knowledgeable and respectful. People who are using technologies seems to be more prone to ecology than policy-makers themselves, both in the boat and in the car world. Pininfarina has always been working on the perfect balance between design and engineering. Innovation is a key driver that has been inspiring every aspect of our activity. I refer to this term in its broadest sense, including outside and inside design. That makes quality constantly improving. The latest outcomes are so quintessential that they really stimulate your emotions. ***
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By Maurice Abbati