Jean-Paul Rosette, new majority shareholder Duchatelet in search of the last carat
They complement one another perfectly. Jean-Paul Rosette, fifty three years old, astute businessman, computer scientist, software specialist and owner of the Clarilog company, established in France, is determined, ambitious and has a passion for cars. The Carat by Duchatelet’s new shareholder has every intention of restoring this Belgian jewel’s noble reputation. Opposite him and thirteen years his senior, we have Frédéric Duchatelet, the iconic creator of this highly specialised and hardly contested company.
As one single voice, Jean-Paul Rosette and his partners asked him to preside over the destiny of his life’s invention. They are in the “starting blocks”; it is now up to them to find the last carat…
By Christian Lahaye
Market leader in the conversion of luxury cars (Mercedes Class S, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Range Rover), Carat by Duchatelet master the technique of lengthening a chassis to perfection, and fully armouring a vehicle’s interior with a view to protecting all the occupants thanks to top level ballistic protection, such as fitting windows boasting a maximum thickness of 7,5 centimetres. A system of protection from toxic gases can also be foreseen.
Over and above these safety elements, the company’s expertise comes into its own in the fitting out of the interior calling on quality materials and all the avant-garde technologies when it comes to comfort and multimedia. A Porsche in the beginnings
All the crafts linked to the production of an exceptional car are carried out over a unique surface area of 15,000 m². When a car arrives at Carat by Duchatelet in Jupille, it is entirely stripped down and dismantled to allow a minimum of four operations, working in pairs to be carried out: lengthening the chassis and raising the roof, armouring the vehicle and fitting out of the interior.
The conjunction of thirteen top trades and the craftsmanship know-how allows them to reach levels of perfection reminiscent of a goldsmith’s finest work. Each department is headed-up by a specialised, experienced and passionate leader, whether he or she be an electronics engineer, cabinetmaker, leather trimmer, sheet metal worker …
Frédéric Duchatelet created his first company back in 1966 but had no intention of limiting himself to purely concentrating on coachwork for very long. And so at the beginning of the ‘70s he became a designer.
“For some time the craving to work on prestige vehicles had been nagging me”, Frédéric Duchatelet explained. “And so I acquired an old Porsche, with a view to restoring it, modifying it, beautifying it and giving it the opportunity to enjoy a second life. Highly proud of my work I inaugurated this initial creation by travelling on down to Cannes and Saint-Tropez together with a friend. Even though we felt like moguls, we were rather more the penniless rich, and to draw some attention I parked my car between a Rolls and a Ferrari. I soon noticed that my customised and unknown Porsche was having more success than the most expensive cars in the world, and on a whim I decided there and then to build twenty of them.”
The Porsche Duchatelet sold like hot cakes and their creator’s career was laid out in front of him. It was notably during a visit to the Middle East to analyse the luxury car market that Frédéric Duchatelet set his sights on converting Mercedes cars.
“ The wealthy individuals I met out there have a similar behaviour to ours. For their enjoyment they bring out their Rolls or Bentley at the weekend and during their business week they travel around in a Mercedes. In those days the Mercedes S Class was considered to be the world’s best touring car. Today our work has extended to other prestige makes boasting a similar level of quality such as Bentley, Rolls Royce and Range Rover.”
A British touch and refinement Merely lengthening or enhancing a Mercedes was obviously not the universal panacea. It was essential to add an original and be it less Germanic touch of refinement. Frédéric Duchatelet found his inspiration in British cars, where he would be able to enhance the details, to include some precious materials, and to take a delight in working with both colourful and rare types of wood.
Frédéric Duchatelet, having sold his twenty odd Porsche cars and created the basis of his future occupation and knowing that he was going to privilege the Mercedes make, got to the very heart of the matter. He bought his first Class S but he obviously required funds to convert it, which meant taking out a loan.
“ I called on all the banks to finally only receive one positive response, the others all having taken me to be a cranky individual. It’s rather comical to be bringing all this up again today, because recently my wife came across my sole saviour at that time, Mr Malchair, the Crédit Liégeois bank manager. I urgently needed to find a buyer to reassure the lender. It was during the last day of the 1978 Geneva Motor Show that I finally unearthed my client, the General Manager of the Saudi-Swiss Bank in Geneva, that’s something one will never forget. Based on this first project I designed a development programme summarising the requests received from my initial clients. On average they all had the same demands and I was able to design on plan several basic models, differentiating them through numerous options. In order to meet any specific requests I also created real ‘hand-made’ units. Each client received a vehicle designed to reflect his or her personality, right down to personalising it’s refinements down to the smallest detail.“
Russia and China Prior to meeting Frédéric Duchatelet, we had always assumed that his work was purely limited to wing extensions, tuning and some performance enhancements. But our assumption was entirely wrong. It is a real ‘re-fabrication’ that we had the opportunity to analyse stage by stage. In fact when a car is armoured (in 90% of the cases), it weighs between one tonne and 1,6 tonnes more than it’s original weight. The outcome is that one arrives at mastodons weighing four tonnes. This implies reinforcing and resizing the brakes and the suspension to carry the additional weight. “ As from the moment we exceed the weight authorised by the constructor”, Frédéric Duchatelet specified, “we need to not only strengthen the body, but also the suspension, the brakes and all the car’s vital components. This more specifically to reassure the extremely safety conscious Russians and Chinese, who slowly but surely are increasing their number of orders. I also learnt from Thierry Boutsen that for the sale of his aircraft he had experienced exactly the same type of phenomenon.” Duchatelet is the leader in this highly specialised market, and since the birth of Carat, 850 vehicles of prestige have been built in Liège.
“Worldwide we work for more than thirty five Heads of State, however our confidentiality policy prevents me from divulging anymore than that. I obviously cannot give you the names but on the other hand, I can reveal a few interesting facts: we have a few clients in Belgium, the most expensive car that left our workshops with all the modifications including the car’s basic price (150,000 €) is worth 1.055,000 €. It’s a lengthened Mercedes Class S 600 with a raised roof. It retains the highest level of ballistic protection possible (B7), and the finishing off in the rear compartment is fully gold plated. The most difficult vehicles to build are the lengthened and armoured cars with a 10 cm raised roof. In fact we need to rebuild all the doors, all the windows as also the upper part of the bodywork. For a prestige vehicle of this level each component must as a minimum meet the quality and tolerances as laid down by the constructor. And for a small company such as ours this is a real daily challenge. Let’s not forget the electronics that play a part, principally the steering assistance. You will readily appreciate all the problems we need to manage when we increase a vehicle’s weight and length and when we alter its centre of gravity.”
On average a conversion takes six months: you would then, for example, be able to take to the road in a 6,55 meters fully armoured Mercedes Duchatelet weighing 5,5 tonnes, or thereabouts.
A new start Similar to other companies Carat by Duchatelet experienced its share of highs and lows. However, for the greater good of the company Frédéric Duchatelet has come back into the business, namely with the view of assisting the new majority shareholder, Jean-Paul Rosette.
Christian Lahaye: Stemming from an information technology environment, Rosette details his standpoint:
Jean-Paul Rosette: “I’m a motivator. I never block people. I want them to work independently, and if all goes well why would I check up on them? I’ll be on hand to free up the energies and help our staff members to discover themselves.“
C L: What do you want to change?
J-P R:“The structure has already been lightened. At the same time costs have been reduced and a course of action implemented. It’s a type of working chart for all the members of the factory. In addition we will be creating a new commercial service backed up by a marketing, public relations and communication cell. This is now in the throes of being implemented.”
C L: Having a specific appreciation for the Bentley marque, will you be following this file more particularly? J-P R: “All contacts between Bentley and Duchatelet took place via an intermediary before I became the majority shareholder. But in my eyes this is the most beautiful car in the world and definitely the one that best suits our technology. Once we are fully up and running again we will consider developing new products, and why not somewhat avant-garde? I’m dreaming of an electric Tesla by Duchatelet.”
C L: Following the problems the company experienced and the costs involved in its restructuring, do you have the necessary liquidities to ensure you do not take on any risks? J-P R: “Neither too much, nor too little. When one has too much one has a tendency to spend more than necessary and when one has too little, I can’t see how a company can survive in the long run. The middle ground is ideal. That’s where we are situated.”
C L: How do you foresee the company in five years time? J-P R: “I have in fact allowed myself a five-year period for the company to be profitable, organised, for it to run on its own or almost, and for the engineering staff, employees and workmen to have a control over all the activities. Despite appearances I am highly critical, both with others as also with myself.”
C L: Today forty people work in the new Duchatelet organisation. There was a period when the company employed up to one hundred and fifty members of staff. What is your feeling on that matter? J-P R: “An increase in staff does not necessarily follow that the company will be successful. One needs to put the right people in the right place and that’s not an easy matter. A specialised small company such as ours should be at its peak with eighty persons.“