CAR sat recently sat down for a one-to-one interview with Automobili Lamborghini president and chief executive Stephan Winkelmann and R&D director Maurizio Reggiani. The two bosses discuss future plans, what having Porsche as a partner means, the prospect of hybrid Lambos and how they’ve coped with a global recession that’s wiped 40% off their sales.
CAR: Supercar makers had a torrid time in the recession. Will you ever recover to the record 2008 levels?
Stephan Winkelmann: ‘It’s difficult to imagine that this will be any time soon. I think the year 2010 will be very tough.’
How difficult has it been?
‘We sold 1515 cars in 2009. That’s 37% down on 2008, when we sold 2430. The US market was hard, it’s our biggest market and had the biggest drop. We lost people in the real estate business in the US, and young bankers who made quick and easy money. We don’t know if and when they might come back.’
When modelling your business plan, do you see a gentle return in 2011?
‘Some markets such as China are returning fast. Others are stable, others risky. There is no nice forecast for us, unfortunately. I ask my people the same question every day!’
Which Lambos do they buy in China?
‘They started off buying Murcielgaos, but new markets tend to start with the bigger cars. It’s now a more balanced mix. I think we will sell more than 100 cars in China this year.’
With the backdrop of CO2 pressures, why not build a smaller Lamborghini? We notice partner Audi is doing an R4…
‘We showed the Estoque a couple of years ago. It was a very fitting car for a brand like Lamborghini. But for the time being, we are not thinking about a third model. We’ll stick with the Gallargo and Murceilago.’
Talking of future product, what can we expect from next year’s new Murcielago?
‘We never talk about the future. The point is, we sell emotions. If we talk about what might happen, customers might wait. And that’s not good…’
Lamborghini’s position in the VW group is pretty clear. But will you be pushed in different directions with Porsche coming on board?
‘Not at all. We are the most extreme manufacturer in the group, in sportiness and distinctiveness. There is no discussion about it. We do not overlap with Porsche – they have completely different customers. The shape, the brand, the pricing – we’re so different.’
What can you do to top the cars you sell today?
‘We will always surprise our customers. I am certain of that!’
CAR How can you make Lamborghinis relevant in a carbon-crunched world?
Maurizio Reggiani: ‘CO2 is one of the most important issues we face in developing supercars in the future. We have a strategy to cut CO2 by 35% from 2008 levels before 2015.’
Within the group, you have VW’s electric car knowledge, Bentley’s biofuels know-how, hybrid Audis… Are you tapping into that?
‘We use all the expertise of the VW Group, the competence in new technologies. The tools we use are not different from one company to another, but our application will be: stop-start solutions, mild hybrid systems, biofuel solutions are already in our development pipeline for potential production cars to achieve our 35% CO2 reduction.’
So whisper-quiet hybrid Lambos are coming!
‘We have to retain what a customer wants from a Lamborghini. For example, if you have a mild hybrid or a full hybrid, in a city it must use the electric motor but when you use the car on a handling course or in the mountains, it must feel like a performance boost. It must give more emotion not less. People must feel be able to say “I have something extra”.’
You’re developing some serious lightweight technology too?
‘One of the most important parts of our CO2 road map is weight reduction. We have opened a laboratory for composite materials at the University of Washington in Seattle and have a partnership with Boeing, who have best-in-class technology on the 787 Dreamliner. We’ve worked with them for a couple of years.’
What else is coming on the tech front?
‘We are working on lightweight, intelligent materials. I’ve seen a small deflector made from carbonfibre and other materials, which moves when you apply a voltage – you can open and close it with no need for a motor. It means you can change the shape of a car with different aero for handling mode, and another shape when you want maximum speed. Having something that moves by 90deg without the need a heavy, expensive electric motor is good news for us.’
You’ve built a rear-drive car again with the Balboni. How committed are you to four-wheel drive?
‘Four-wheel drive is one of our USPs. If you don’t have 4wd with the power we now have – more than 570bhp in the Gallardo, more than 650bhp in the Muricelago – you will just get wheelspin. Wheelspin is inefficient and loses control. It’s not the right engineering solution for us.’