Ferrari’s Chairman is a river in spate. From his privileged position, he can analyze his world and that of others.
In Ferrari, where history and glory go hand-in-hand like nowhere else in the world, an imposing red-leather desk stands in the middle of the room. The solemn terror of the ‘old man’ is now gone, but the sanctity of the temple remains intact for those who worship cars. Luca di Montezemolo hasn’t even sat down, and it already seems that we are halfway through the interview. He doesn’t need to be asked questions, he is overflowing with things to say.
He starts strong: “See, when you talk about the taste for the beautiful, and by this we mean Ferrari, we’re talking about thousands of people working all over the world. So, when I see politicians rage against cars, particularly high-powered ones, it’s beyond me… I’ve had quite a few confrontations due to this because it’s demeaning considering the loss of revenue to the treasury and the resulting unemployment of mechanics, repairmen, dealers, even advertising agencies. Then there’s the drop in fuel revenue, and an overall poor image because it gives the impression that all cars, not just powerful Ferraris, are bad.
If this morning is anything to go by, it’s clear that the president is in a good mood – what with the sun shining through the windows, despite the brutal cold that freezes over the windows of the cars in the parking lot. They all look a bit alike, and it seems that designing cars that can excite those who can at least dream about owning a Ferrari is becoming impossible.
“There’s no doubt, that compared to many years ago, there’s more of a stylistic homogenization. In order to own high-powered cars that are at the same time fuel-efficient, the aerodynamics and the ground effect have to abide by certain guidelines. Then there’s further uniformity due to the cost considerations – and, yet, precisely because of this trend that sees more and more similar cars, particularly in certain segments, diversity stands out in the details. This leads to intense competition, creativity and talent. In the end, the best always emerges. Style, interiors and intuition – that’s where the difference will be made.”
Behind the president there are license plates, trophies, accumulated souvenirs, all co-existing happily – the logical result of a company that produces exceptional cars and makes extraordinary profits. Which of the two is more satisfying?
“If we didn’t make extraordinary cars we wouldn’t make extraordinary profits – even despite stupid fiscal policies which have forced us to sell 60% fewer cars than (we did) three years ago.”
There he goes again – it’s human nature to dwell on one’s misfortunes. About Maserati he says: “It was one of the biggest professional satisfactions of my life. I can’t forget when, in 1998, I went to see the Modena plant for the first time and there was nothing but weeds and a stray dog that wandered aimlessly. I think that, thanks to us first, and then to the far-sighted vision of (Sergio) Marchionne, we relaunched the brand successfully – both in terms of sales and profits. I also believe that the new Ghibli will finally give a long-awaited answer, because it occupies a segment in which, for many, many years, Italy has been totally absent.”
Right… Italy. But now we have to talk about the global market, which is going through a momentous transformation – primarily following the growth of demand in Asia. Will Asian clients then dictate tomorrow’s products?
“I think we need to make a big distinction when talking about tastes and trends – in the sense that the typology of cars is becoming increasingly uniform in every country. For example, who could have imagined ten years ago that small cars like the Fiat 500 could be sold in the US? Today, the difference is in the equipment (certain type of electronics, accessories, even in particular colours). One needs even to think of the cup holders in the passenger area – you just can’t ignore them. Regardless of where the car is being sold, you now have to respond to specific demands. But I think that the Asian markets, along with the US, are the ones to look to – also because of certain regulations that dictate precise characteristics. Moreover, we have to deal with the handicap of high taxes they hit us with in China, Indonesia, Singapore and Brazil, where a Ferrari costs three times what it’s supposed to cost. It follows an industrial strategy that encourages companies to produce and assemble cars in the country itself. In other words, these are decisions that are made with targeted products and market strategies firmly in mind. Therefore, China will be the next production destination if it’s worth it, but it certainly won’t be Lebanon since the numbers don’t warrant it. The first ones to understand China were the Germans, who have been established there for many years.”
The issue has a thousand different facets. Let’s take a second to go from the local to the general, and pause to consider the consequences of trying to cater to all the tastes, trends, fads, and expectations of each different client. There are the premium brands that wager everything on cars for the lowest segments; there’s Rolls-Royce, which is contemplating an SUV; and there’s Ferrari which is considering the production of a 4-door sedan…
“No, a 4-door car in the classical sense is impossible – for three reasons. One, because they’re not in our DNA. Two, because it’s a concept that belongs to competitors that operate on a far larger scale than us. And, lastly, because Maserati has already occupied that segment for years. I remember when we had conceived of a 4-door Maserati, we had two alternatives – the wonderful SUV called Kubang, or the Quattroporte sedan. We didn’t have enough money to make both, so we invested everything in the Quattroporte, which was more in line with its tradition.
Ferrari adopted a different strategy – to make different Ferraris for different Ferraristas. Today, our range includes seven complementary models, whereas when I first came to Maranello 20 years ago, there were only two, the Testarossa and the 348 – different from each other only in terms of engine (one an 8-cylinder, the other a 12-cylinder). For the rest, the architecture was the same, the body is always low and difficult to climb into, and there are never more than two seats.
Now, besides the LaFerrari (which is writing its own history), we have two and four-wheel drive cars, and three 8-cylinder cars, two of which are sports cars (one coupe and one convertible), and a 2+2 gran turismo, which has brought us 70% of our new clients.
Therefore, I don’t exclude a four-door car in the future… maybe we’ll increase our efforts on the concept of a shooting brake in order to offer greater versatility and space… Ultimately, with the FF today you already have something of a family car, in the sense that if one has a wife and two kids the customer can easily use it to get around…”
Well, speaking of engine power is too easy, but you also have to take into account the environment – so much so that Ferrari has introduced hybrid engines on its supercars, a path that might become more prevalent in the years to come.
“Here’s my premise: One reason for our success is the fact that every year, at least for the last twenty years, we have invested a lot on new products. It suffices to say that we have always produced at least one new model every year, in addition to evolved versions of existing models.
Simultaneously, our investments in technology follow two directions: safety and performance, but also a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions.
In terms of safety and performance, we were the first to introduce the F1 automatic transmission on all road cars in spite of a strong internal scepticism that evoked statements such as “Ferrari would have turned in his grave.” But the truth is that Ferrari was a man who always looked ahead, not to mention that his car (a 2+2 Ferrari) had an automatic transmission. We were also the first to introduce drive-by-wire, the flat bottom steering wheel, composite materials, and, on the 458 Speciale, the electronic curve control system – a kind of tutor that warns you when you breach the grip limit, an assistance program which we will soon be transferring into other cars. Then we introduced all-wheel drive, which will pass from the FF to other models, before arriving at the hybrid version, which is the future – because I believe in hybrid vehicles, but not electric ones. Remember that in five years we’ve reduced consumption (and, consequently, emissions) by 40% – despite a steady increase in power.”
Technology, development, experience, investments. And with a technical link to the Fiat Group that is far more marginal than, for example, the link between Porsche and the VW Group. To what extent will automakers be able to do without shared technological solutions?
“I noticed that Porsche has released a very small SUV, which says a lot about its positioning and how it’s starting to change towards a clientele very different from ours. And, if we want to be a bit critical, I can say that the Macan is far closer to a Volkswagen SUV than to the traditional machines that Stuttgart has made in the past. But I want to be clear: mine is not a criticism – I judge it simply as a specific choice that was made. We, on the other hand, are on a radically different road. Six months ago, we publicly announced that we intend to produce fewer cars so as to maintain an elite position. This was after years of steady increase in our production volume. This means that we have injected into the global market a great number of Ferraris in accordance with the increasing number of new markets. But our great strength is to make exclusive cars – to sell dreams, rather than just cars. This entails the continuance of product exclusivity in order to assert that we don’t, in fact, have any real competitors.”
Okay, but in the future will the Fiat / Chrysler merger impose restrictions?
“Provided that our strategy is entirely shared with our shareholders, including that of limiting production – and I believe that there are very few companies that can intentionally target a lower volume of production – I think that, excluding the major collaboration with Maserati for engines, there’s always been the desire to leave Ferrari out of any other partnership.”
Chairman of Fiat, President of the Confederation of Italian Industries, Chairman of Maserati, Italy World Cup ’90 overseer, but, above all, Ferrari Chairman since 1991. What’s different about being the number one man in Ferrari?
“With all due respect to my other endeavours, at Ferrari there’s a close rapport between the product and the people. My office is inside the plant. In just a few steps, I can find everything I need – the foundry, the assembly plant, the paint shop, and the style centre. Also, there’s a decision speed here that you don’t find elsewhere – a decision is made at mid-day and by 3 in the afternoon we’ve already moved to realization. Lastly, the organization is all here, and that gives important advantages. Ferrari is a small company, but is present in 62 international markets. Without forgetting that this (a Ferrari) is where all the characteristics of the luxury world are concentrated – extreme solutions are studied to create the real design, because our cars need to always be beautiful, with a beauty that needs to endure and grow with the passage of time. Moreover, it ranges over a thousand different fields, from the Abu Dhabi amusement park to 52 exclusive shops…
So, while I usually can’t wait for certain jobs to end, here I walk in every morning and I breathe in with all my lungs – I savour it all, including the predominance we enjoy in sport. Because I was born within the racing world, and I had the fortune of winning – first as sport director and then as president – like no one else in the world. If, on the one hand, sport gives great joy, injects adrenaline, and strengthens you temperamentally, on the other hand it leads to a lot of stress because every two weeks you’re subject to the judgment of the whole world – to the extent that if you lose for two years in a row everyone forgets, for example, that you’d won the previous five in a row. Let’s not forget that we’ve been the most dominant team in the last 13 years, in spite of last year’s bitter season. But even then we came in second, not twentieth. The objective is naturally to start winning again, but we shouldn’t forget where we are: it’s no fluke that Ferrari is the only team in the world to get criticised for coming in second…”
Yes, to get back to winning ways – but with Alonso or Raikkonen?
“I want to win with Ferrari. Ultimately, we lost because of the points we missed out on from Massa. Therefore, I hope to have a more balanced duo – even if the driver’s title can only be won by one of them. I now believe that I have two mature drivers. I consider Alonso to be better in the races – and it’s true that he finished second this season, but not with the second-best car. Raikkonen allowed us to show that champions come and go, but Ferrari remains as he was immediately able to reach the top. The choice of what duo to go with is founded in our conviction that in 2014 we’ll need expert drivers because it will be new cars, new engines, new regulations and limited fuel. I have no love for these invasive regulations, and last season still burns in me because the tyres behaved so erratically – well on some cars, and terribly on others. We had to change them as we went, to our detriment, because those on which we’d initially developed the car were perfectly suited. So, Alonso, after four years with us, deserves to win the World Championship and we will do everything to give him the best possible car. Raikkonen is able to win races and steal points from others. As they’re both grown adults and perfectly aware of what Ferrari expects from them, I’m convinced that they’ll guarantee us the best possible performance.”
Where stars are born
Today Ferrari is careful not to make too many cars and flood the market. The Maranello plant is grandiosely huge – it’s exceptionally modern, and guarantees its employees unmatchable working conditions
Queen of the forest
In the natural reserve of Bobbejaansber, near Johannesburg, a 458 Speciale, the latest supercar born in Maranello, roars in the company of a pair of quizzical lions
From one record to the next. A Ferrari 250 GTO, first seen at the Tour de France ’63, was recently sold for 52 million dollars
The Disneyland of engines
The Abu Dhabi park is a huge commercial establishment, in addition to being a magnificent architectural achievement. Inside, there are rides, tracks, projection show rooms and exhibition cars drawing in thousands of visitors every year
Admiration for Alonso
Massa leaves, Alonso stays. Montezemolo reminds us that in 2013 Alonso finished second without the benefit of the second-best car. Words of admiration: “In my opinion, he’s the best race driver in the world.”
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