The marine industry is full of car-influenced design. We routinely see retractable soft tops and car-style cockpits. We see flared aft mouldings, reminiscent of a sportscar’s wheel arches, alongside seats, steering wheels and trim detailing virtually cloned from the car industry. We even see various boats overtly piggybacking the populist appeal of cars with marketing speak that draws direct parallels - like ‘People Carriers of the Sea’, ‘SUVs of the Sea’ and, in the case of Finland’s famous Targa yard, “4x4s of the Sea”.

Often, those parallels amount to little more than expressions of intent, but sometimes they are taken to their logical conclusion in the form of high-profile crossover products. Either a car builder creates a marine project that embodies its own core design principles; or it teams up with a specialist marine partner to put its design into production. Big names like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Audi have all had a hand in boat design; and Porsche, Jaguar and Lancia have also enjoyed flirtations with luxurious, power-driven leisure craft. However, as things stand, the following four car companies are doing more than most to warrant our attention…

The crossover between car and boat is very well established

The crossover between car and boat is very well established.

Aston Martin AM37

The AM37 (from Aston Martin, Mulder Design and the Quintessence Yachts shipyard, see AM37: Aston Martin enters the powerboat market) is a fast and luxurious 37-footer, designed to marry the finest features of the powerboat and the British sports car. To that end, the hull features high-tech composite with epoxy resin, alongside vacuum infusion technology and structural parts built from carbon fibre. Despite the apparent simplicity of the AM37’s lines, not to mention the classical wood and leather fit-out, the on board equipment looks equally modern. It comes with air conditioning, a fridge and an espresso machine that can be activated remotely, plus integrated navigation and entertainment systems, with advanced multimedia functions and voice control, all wrapped up in a dash-mounted, 15-inch touchscreen interface. There are apparently two models available - the ‘basic’ AM37, a fast, luxurious GT cruiser capable of between 44 and 50 knots; and the AM37 S, which ramps up the performance with a top end of between 52 and 60 knots. Either way, this is apparently just the opening gambit in the partnership between Quintessence Yachts and Aston Martin.

Aston Martin AM37 boat

To our enormous surprise, the AM37 has actually been built.

Bugatti Niniette 66

Bugatti, builder of the formidable Veyron, has teamed up with boat builder, Palmer Johnson, to create an exclusive line of carbon fibre day boats. The latest addition to the line, the Niniette 66 (pictured) is designed to echo the Chiron, the most recent flagship of the company’s hallowed supercar fleet. Despite the novelty value of the project, this 44-knot boat employs Palmer Johnson’s traditional sponsons, increasing the beam, expanding the internal space and uprating the boat’s stability off the plane. The 66 also apparently features a spa pool and a double cabin down below, plus a very modern mix of materials, including soft leather, polished metal, suede and carbon fibre. Just 66 of these things will be built, but as you might imagine, the colours, materials and finish of each will be meticulously tailored to the requirements of the buyer.

cars and boats

There's always been a coss-code fascination between cars and boats.

Mercedes: Arrow460 - Granturismo

The Arrow460 - Granturismo is a 46-foot luxury motor yacht designed by Mercedes-Benz and conceived as “a completely new boat concept”, combining “the performance of Mercedes-Benz sports cars with unique innovations from the boat industry.” Developed alongside Silver Arrows Marine and making its debut at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2016, this ten-man express cruiser uses “classic automobile proportions” to bring together the openness of a traditional sports boat with the overnighting facilities of a compact cruiser. The large retractable side windows and adjustable windscreen create unusual flexibility in the driving experience, with plenty of shelter but no unnecessary obstructions; the eucalyptus-lined cockpit helps improve the interior flow; and the glazing can be controlled electronically to match the conditions and the application. It might look like a concept but the Mercedes dayboat series is now in production at Finnish yard, Baltic Yachts.

Mercedes boat

The Mercedes is every bit as slippery and uncluttered as you would expect.

Toyota Lexus Sport Yacht

Toyota, the world’s largest car manufacturer, is well acquainted with the marine market. In fact, it offers a line of sports cruisers in Japan that was only recently supplemented with a new 28-footer at the 2016 Japan International Boat Show. But its Lexus Sport Yacht is something much more dynamic. This 42-foot concept, designed by Lexus and engineered by Toyota’s Marine Department for the Head of the company as a means of promoting the ‘Lexus lifestyle’, uses twin 475hp V8 petrol engines for a top end of around 45 knots. Built by American company, Marquis Yachts, it uses engines based on the LC500 Coupe alongside a lightweight hull made from carbon-fibre-reinforced GRP. The wave-inspired seats in the cockpit will accommodate up to eight people, the interior is lavishly Italian and everything is controllable from your iPad.


The Toyota Lexus is apparently based on the LFA supercar.

Time for a different approach?

Despite the evident appetite among car builders for the ‘unique’ and the ‘revolutionary’, the marine designs that do emerge are often quite formulaic. While there are obviously some notable exceptions, what we’re generally talking about are 40-foot express cruisers with long, closed bows, fine entries, deepset cockpits, leather upholstery, touchscreen interfaces and generous power from twin inboard engines. They inevitably feature some sculpted vents built into the aft mouldings; and access to the lovely (if exposed and slippery) foredeck is either limited or ignored altogether in the all-consuming pursuit of a purist aesthetic.

But while these things are great to look at, the fact of the matter is that eradicating guardrails, cleats, screens, walkways, boarding points, hull windows and anchor lockers (as well as any other practical seamanship tool that disrupts cleanliness of form) is the work of an idiot. It might help create an attractive sculpture to pop in your chamber of curios, next to your cocktail bar and your viewing chair, but it does not generate a useful boat. And that’s a great shame because in other ways, the crossover concept could actually do a great deal to make real improvements to the marine industry...

For instance, imagine if automotive designers put their blinkered pursuit of sculptural finesse on the backburner and instead brought us the practical user aids we all take fore-granted in our cars. Imagine a proper steering wheel with electronic stalks that operated your windscreen wipers so you didn’t have to hunt for a rudimentary rocker switch at arm’s length on a bouncing dash. Imagine wheel-mounted controls for your stereo equipment and your horn. Imagine a properly heated screen in place of directional air vents – alongside built-in sensors so that your wipers operated when the screen was wet; and your nav lights came on when the daylight began to fade. Of course, car-inspired boats can certainly be fun. But until we see practical driver aids making their way from cars to boats, most of them will remain pretty pictures and vanity projects for people who value cachet over calibre.

Written by: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.