Marchionne: all-electric Ferrari 'an obscene concept'

Self-imposed limitations won't benefit Ferrari.

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At the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, Ferrari Chairman Sergio Marchionne told reporters that Ferrari is not interested in building an all-electric car. "With Ferrari, it's almost an obscene concept," were his exact words. He added, "You'd have to shoot me first."

This brings to mind another quote, this from Enzo Ferrari himself: "Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines."

Ferrari is, in its heart of hearts, an engine company. As Enzo Ferrari also said, "I build engines and attach wheels to them." Ferrari engines are beautiful things, as are the cars they power. There's a reason the Italian automaker displays its powerplants in its cars under glass like precious works of art. Of course, Ferrari did end up focusing on aerodynamics despite Enzo's remark. In racing as in business, you adapt or you get left behind.

If you visit Ferrari's website, you can find a section on innovation. It's clear that the automaker prides itself on its technological advances (including aerodynamics, of course). It also values being a leader. "Each new model brims with technological innovation," it says, "solutions that pave the way for the rest of the industry and which are often picked up by other manufacturers at a later date." Ferrari follows nobody.

The Italian marque may pride itself on being a holdout. As an automaker, it does things in the spirit of Ferrari, which is to say in the spirit of Enzo Ferrari. Former Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemelo said in 2011, "You will never see a Ferrari electric because I don't believe in electric cars, because I don't think they represent an important step forward for pollution or CO2 or the environment."

Sports car manufacturers — Ferrari included — turn to electrification not just for efficiency, however, but also for performance. An electric motor can do certain things that an internal combustion engine simply can't. Who doesn't like being able to summon up loads of torque the very instant they first put a little pressure on the gas pedal?

EVs can be spectacular to drive. Take the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive and the Tesla Model S as proof of that. Marchionne's argument comes down to sound. He was not thrilled by the aural experience of driving a Tesla. Anyone with ears loves the sound of a Ferrari engine.

Enzo said, "Race cars are neither beautiful nor ugly. They become beautiful when they win." While he was speaking about a car's visual aesthetic, it certainly applies to a car's sound profile as well. Even if you don't think the unique yet admittedly quiet sound of a powerful EV is sexy, if the car has great driving dynamics, you'll learn to love it.

Here's the thing: if Ferrari wanted to, it could build the fastest, most beautiful, most desirable EV the world has seen so far. And if it did, other manufacturers would follow. You can't be the best at something you don't do. Ruling out the possibility of an electric Ferrari is an unnecessary restriction to put on oneself. It appears that EVs are here to stay, and will continue to make up larger and larger portions of cars on the roads, including supercars.

Auto executives love to tell us what they won't do, and they often end up doing those things anyway. It's quite possible that the Prancing Horse will stick to its purist ways (though one could argue that it has already broken its own rules with the LaFerrari and the FF). Choosing one thing and doing that thing well works. Until it doesn't. Eventually, some enterprising automaker will surely make what will be dubbed "the Ferrari of electric cars." It just won't be Ferrari.

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