BASS RIVER TOWNSHIP — Looking to save where it can after the recession, Viking Yacht Co. hopes to cut energy costs with a natural gas system that provides heating, cooling and electricity.
The luxury-yacht maker said orders are starting to pick up at its 100-acre manufacturing campus off Route 9 in the New Gretna section of Bass River Township, spokesman Peter Frederiksen, of Wall Township, said.
The company’s cruising and fishing yachts sell for $1 million to $7 million.
Viking on Thursday unveiled a new natural gas cogeneration plant for its sprawling 800,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The system is expected to save the company as much as 25 percent on its utility bills, he said.
The company had wanted to pursue this type of energy-efficient system for years, but its sliver of Burlington County on the border of Atlantic County was not served by any natural-gas companies, Plant Engineering Manager Chris Babek said.
“I said, ‘That sounds great. Too bad we don’t have natural gas here,’” Babek said. “But two years ago, we got New Jersey Natural Gas to extend its line three miles down Route 9.”
Viking manufactures yachts in a range of sizes from 42 to 82 feet. The company’s in-house magazine, Valhalla, calls its 70-foot Viking a “penthouse with a water view.”
The cabins have features that buyers have come to expect in their own homes: granite countertops, subzero freezers, flat-screen televisions and custom wood trim.
President Bill Healey, of Hamilton Township, said the company recently sold one of its boats to discerning clients from New Zealand.
“These guys really knew their boats, so it was a testimony to all the wonderful people we have building our boats,” Healey said. “That’s what it’s all about — our people.”
Before the recession, the company employed more than 1,400 workers to produce as many as 106 luxury boats per year.
But boat-builders were among the recession’s first victims. Viking built just 26 vessels in 2009.
Other boat-builders in South Jersey have been even less fortunate. Silverton Marine Corp. in Millville filed for bankruptcy and suspended its operations in February. Post Marine Co. based in Hamilton Township filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidated in 2011.
In the last three years, Viking has employed about 740 people and produced about 50 boats. But demand is starting to pick back up, Frederiksen said.
“We have people we’re calling back at the first of the year,” he said.
Viking plans to build a new 92-foot boat in time to unveil in early 2014. It is putting the finishing touches on boats it plans to show off at the Miami Boat Show in February.
Viking has weathered the economic downturn in large part because of its vertical integration, Frederiksen said.
The company manufactures virtually every part of its boats from bow to stern. Not counting the engines or pumps, everything is fabricated and assembled on site, Frederiksen said.
The company even makes its own propellers, using computers to ensure perfection in every blade’s angle, balance, thickness and strength.
The process starts with molding the yacht’s fiberglass shell and hood. Workers assemble the boat piece-by-piece on a line that would look in place at a Detroit automaker.
Viking has its own on-site machine and wood shops. It makes the custom aluminum rails that line the boat’s exterior, too.
About 15 percent of its boats have international buyers, he said. But the target markets are Florida and the Great Lakes.
“Right now, the softest area is in the Northeast. Florida is a hotbed of activity. Our dealer in Puerto Rico is very busy. Our Panama dealer just sold a boat,” Frederikson said. “It’s a moving target.”
And unlike larger manufacturers that might be beholden to stockholders, the family-owned company reinvests its profits in the company, he said.
“Boating in general is a cyclical industry. There are ups and downs. What doesn’t change in boating is the passion people have for it,” Frederiksen said.
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