Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali talks doubling production and saving the V12

Our interview with the new boss in Sant'Agata.

Stefano Domenicali took over the reins of Automobili Lamborghini from Stephan Winkelmann back in February. A few of the most important decisions in Lamborghini history were made shortly before Domenicali's tenure started, like the green-lighting of the Urus SUV, so we jumped at the chance to speak to him about the company's future at Pebble Beach this past weekend.

If you don't know the name, a little background: Domenicali's previous job was running the Ferrari Formula 1 team. So not only has he switched from Ferrari to arch-rival Lamborghini, he moved from a racing program to a supercar company that has historically been much less involved in motorsport. That being said, Domenicali has indicated he will stay his predecessor's course. Our interview is below.

Alex Kierstein: We're here at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. You were judging this morning – what were you judging?

SD: I was an honorary judge of category on elegance, on open cars. I had six cars, actually, 1911 to 1930 supercars, I would say. It's my first time here in Pebble Beach. My previous business [as director of Ferrari's Formula 1 team] I was always busy in that moment of the year. I say that I was impressed by the quality, the presentation, and the level of cars – and the people that are here.

AK: And it's a great way to involve the owners.

SD: Yeah. It is really super. I have to say that on top of this, I go home with a very, very positive [feeling], and on the other side, a big responsibility. Really, the comments, the things that came out during this weekend are extraordinary. That means that we have taken the right path that's the future.

Now is the time where we need to grow in the right dimension, with the right step, both from the technological point of view and the branding positioning point of view.

Don't forget that in two years' time, when the new SUV will come, this will represent for us a new challenge ... Even if you can say that we had the LM002. We need to prepare ourselves, the network, the company, and this is what we are doing. For example, so far, in the Sant'Agata plant, we are building the premises for the new SUV.

I can assure you that for sure on our side, the super sports car remains the key market. We will never take Lamborghini out of this segment. It's a niche of which we will never push on the volume approach more than the numbers [we expect to see at the end of the year]. It should be, touching wood, another record year. We want to keep the exclusivity because we reckon that is a value for our brand.

As I try to explain this in two minutes, a lot of things to do. A lot of things to do also in the historical and heritage side. We have the 50th anniversary of the Miura this year. We had 25 Miuras [on the lawn at The Quail] last Friday. The historical branch in Sant'Agata makes sure that we can certify the cars that are part of our history. First of all, if we want to look ahead, we need to make sure that the solid days of the past are kept valid and stronger, so we invest in heritage to look for the future.

AK: The investment in heritage – I'm thinking it plays a sort of brand ambassador role for you.

SD: Absolutely. It's a consolidation of our brand. That makes us stronger, considering how Lamborghini was able to do great products in a situation where shareholders were changing so many times in the past. For me, this is really important. That's why we are investing in this area. We had a lot of requests for certification of old cars. We actually, in September, we're going to open a real new shop inside the premises in Lamborghini. For us, this is of value.

Also of value is motorsports, on which we just started, and we are getting stronger and stronger, because motorsport is a sign of passion. You cannot think of a brand that is passion-oriented without motorsport. Of course, so far we are investing in a customer approach and we have also our Super Trofeo [series], that is a great success. I have to say that in racing we have 50 cars on a grid. That is a record. We are racing in the GT3 championship all over the world. This is the platform on which we want to develop in the short term our future.

Later, we will see, but for sure as we said, historical cars, motorsport, are two pillars of the Lamborghini that are a look at the future. As we said, we have the new SUV. [We have] a lot of things to decide in a small company, but that's good.

AK: Sounds exciting. You mentioned motorsport. I know at your previous employer, the road cars developed out of the competition ones. I believe it was secondary to the racing business.

SD: As you know, Ferrari started as a racing thing, while Ferruccio Lamborghini started not with racing, but with very authentic cars in the luxury [segment]. It's a different start of a story that is very exciting because [Lamborghini and Ferrari come from the] same region, with different characteristics.

AK: Would you like to see road cars developed more out of the motorsport activities, rather than vice versa? Would you like to see that being the genesis of more of the Lamborghini DNA?

SD: I would say that, not on the technical side. I see motorsport for us as a platform to consolidate the passion or the value that a fan of this car has to have. In terms of development, we are different in that respect. We do it the other way around because we develop a car, for example, the Super Trofeo and the GT3 car are assembled in exactly the same line where we assemble the normal cars. We do the opposite in that respect. We personalize the development on the aerodynamics to personalize the development on the engine, the powertrain, and so on.

Of course, the magnitude of the platform on which Ferrari has developed the growth is much different. Formula 1 above all, all around the world. Maybe [ F1] is not as important in the United States, but it is really, really relevant [for Ferrari]. That gave to them a different dimension. We need to achieve [this] in a different way. Otherwise, it seems that there is only one way to achieve that. We are doing it the other way around.

AK: You were speaking about growth. You have to try to balance between volume and exclusivity. Clearly if you're doing an SUV you would like to sell them. Is there a ceiling on growth?

SD: Never say never in [terms of] ceiling because I think, it will be wrong to say that, but for sure let's divide the thing in two. From one side, the actual portfolio, so super sports cars. On that we don't have to follow the volume approach. I would reckon that with our structure and dimension, we need to target, I would say, 3,400 to 3,600, no more. That's the dimension more or less.

If we talk about Urus, of course we are talking about double [the volume]. We need to think of Lamborghini as a company that is moving from 3,400 towards 7,000 [cars in total]. For us, it's a big game-changer. It's also a big challenge. On [Urus], I don't see a limit. That is dependent really on that side of the portfolio.

For the SUV, the limit is on our side to see if the car is good, the perception for the money is right. On that, I don't want to put any kind of limitation except to make sure that the product is valid and is current with the brand. To be current with the brand, we need to have a specific design. You need to have a great personality. You need to have a DNA that's recognizable as Lamborghini, but apart from that, we need to keep the exclusivity [for the sports cars].

We need to do things right, so I don't want to push too much. We need to of course, making sure the business is profitable.

AK: I'd love to talk to you about design in a second. You have Dodge building 707-horsepower sedans. Power isn't the measure of exclusivity anymore.

SD: I agree.

AK: What's next? Where can you push your cars, specifically the super sports cars, where can they go from where they are?

  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
    • Image Credit: Drew Phillips

SD: I think that very soon, the traditional value of speed and horsepower will not be relevant anymore. Our cars have to be used on normal roads, and to have four-wheel drive is great because it also gives certain customers [the ability] to explore performance driving. The reason why we also [offer] two-wheel drive is also because we have to have fun, as a two-wheel-drive car can give you the feeling of having a different driving style. In our segment, what will be important is to maximize the performance in a track condition when really you can explore the maximum out of the performance. In normal street driving, you drive a Lamborghini, it's a sign of being part of a club – you are exclusive, you have a great personality, but you cannot really push the car to the limit.

Therefore, if you ask me what is the first thing that you have to make it right, it is the design. The design is like how you dress. You know that how you dress is part of being part of an exclusive group, it gives you the status. On that, we cannot miss.

On the other side, the technical side, we need to be top on performance, and we need to consider what our actual customer are [telling] us [they need], and to try to see what trends in technological development can be applied at the right moment to a similar dimension in our products. We need to be very flexible in the future.

For example, I can guarantee to you that in the short term, the V12 is part of our DNA. When I meet [customers], or dealers when I [joined Lamborghini], the first thing that they said to me, "Do not think about touching the V12 in the short term!" Okay, [point] taken.

We are talking about a niche. We are not talking about a mobility car approach. We are talking about a car that you have to drive. If you are part of Lamborghini, you want to drive the car, you want to have the emotion, you want to have a status. In that respect, the value for this car is a little bit different from the others.

AK: It sounds like you're not very concerned about an autonomous, fully electric future.

SD: No. Autonomy, no. What this technology can give to our customer is to improve the quality and the skill of driving. This technology can give the reference to the driver to say, "What is the best performance I can reach?" When I'm driving in circuit for example, it can give you the reference on telemetry. What is the right line on the circuit? That is [how we might use this technology].

On the electrification side, we need to consider for sure, because this will come, but we need to understand when from the cost point, performance, and the usage of our car point of views is the right moment to integrate into the system. This technology is very important.

There are certain technologies that are more considered like a commodity that in certain car, or in certain products are not so fundamental. Our customers do not have only our car. If they want to drive, I hope in the future, no, I'm sure in the future they will have an SUV that is ours, but they have other cars. If they want to go in that direction, there are plenty of opportunities in [Lamborghini's parent company, the Volkswagen Group] that they can have.

AK: I want to ask you about design because I know you've shown a car here this weekend, which is stunning. Do you see hyper-customization perhaps a one-off coach building becoming less of just a design ideal and more of a business proposition?

SD: I think that the answer is yes, this is part of the portfolio on top. Therefore, we need to use this kind of approach with a few cars in order to show the trends of the future, in terms of both design and technology applied to the car. That is what we put, for example, in the Centenario. There is a technical solution that would be in the, say, normal is a strange word, but in our normal products in the future.

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