Interview: Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann on the carmaker's electrification plans
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Interview: Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann on the carmaker’s electrification plans

Interview: Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann on the carmaker’s electrification plans

Lamborghini has an ambitious roadmap for all its cars to be hybrid models by 2024, followed by an all-new full-electric Lambo before the end of the decade. And before you ask, the V12 combustion engine will continue to breathe

Stephan Winkelmann Lamborghini

It’s difficult to explain away the dream run that Lamborghini finds itself on at the moment as something of a fluke or an event hinged on a whimsical phenomenon such as “pent-up demand”. From January-March 2021, the Italian carmaker recorded its best-ever quarter in terms of sales with 2,422 units delivered worldwide.

That figure was up 25 per cent compared to Q1 2020, when the world hadn’t yet fully grappled with the economic disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was also 22 per cent higher over Q1 2019, when Covid-19 was nowhere on the horizon.

Lamborghini ended 2020 as its most profitable year ever, and the second-best year on record in terms of both turnover and number of cars delivered. It ended the fiscal year 2020 with a turnover of EUR1.61bn, only 11 per cent down over the previous year, and delivered 7,430 cars (second only to the 8,205 units it delivered in 2019) – all of this despite a three-month shutdown of its production lines as a result of the pandemic last year. Lamborghini is keeping up the momentum. “We have an order bank of more than nine months of production, which is very healthy for a company like ours,” Stephan Winkelmann, president and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, told Gulf Business during a pitstop in Dubai last month.

“The Middle East, including Oman, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and Bahrain, is our sixth largest market in terms of size. Of these, the biggest market today is the UAE, but the market with the biggest potential is Saudi Arabia.”

It takes nerves of steel then for a carmaker to signal that, right within the middle of a dream run, it is altering course and choosing to go down a risky, somewhat uncertain, path that may or may not lead to the same giddy heights of success it finds itself at the moment.

Winkelmann visited Dubai the day after the company dropped a bombshell when it announced a long-term strategy of choosing to go down the path of hybridisation and electrification. But, wisely enough, the brand hasn’t hastily consigned its rip-roaring combustion engines to death row. In fact, as the CEO clearly indicates, V12s are very much part of its future roadmap. However, every one of those ferocious V12s will be accompanied by a hybrid motor.

Stephan Winkelmann and the Lamborghini Urus
Lamborghini aims to reduce its product CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by the start of 2025

“We have divided the next few years into two chapters. The first one, over 2021 and 2022, is where we are celebrating our internal combustion engines,” explains Winkelmann. As part of that plan, two new variants within the V12 line-up will be rolled out this year.

“By the year 2023 and 2024, we will have the complete lineup – Aventador, Huracán and Urus – hybridised. By the end of 2024, we will have therefore at least halved [our] CO2 emissions.” The goal here for Lamborghini isn’t ensuring that it gets onto the electrification bandwagon for the sake of it – the big prize is to reduce its product CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by the start of 2025.

Arch-rival Ferrari has said that it would have its first full-electric car by 2025, Aston Martin is reportedly planning on manufacturing an electric sports car and SUV starting 2025, and Bentley has said that by 2030 it will no longer manufacture combustion engines and will only produce full-electric cars. That won’t be the case at Lamborghini though.

Maintaining a stated goal of CO2 emission reduction allows the brand’s combustion engines to be part of its future strategy, especially by way of advancements in synthetic fuels. “I hope that in the next decade, there will be enough development, distribution, and a clear reduction of CO2 emissions by synthetic fuels, so that we can [still] have internal combustion engines in our supersports cars of the 2030s,” he says while confirming that there are no plans for a six-cylinder variant at the moment.

Apart from offering its entire existing fleet as hybrid versions by 2024, Winkelmann said that the brand will also introduce a fourth new model which will be fully electric in the second half of this decade. “The idea is to have a 2+2, four-seater full-electric car. For now, I’m not able to talk about range or horsepower [of the electric model],” he says while adding that teams have just started convening at the Sant’Agata Bolognese HQ to discuss the specificities of that model.

When asked whether he is concerned that Lamborghini might be late to the market with its electric and hybrid fleet, Winkelmann says that Lamborghini isn’t seeking a first-mover advantage in this area, and would rather take a measured and cautious approach to get its battery technology right.

To execute this electric vision, over EUR1.5bn has been pledged towards the project. “This is the biggest investment that the Lamborghini brand has ever seen,” says Winkelmann. The largest chunk of that investment will go into R&D and the development of the electric car. The next largest amount will be geared towards purchasing and spent on suppliers, and a portion will also be spent locally to adapt the production plant. He adds that there is enough place to expand the plant at the existing Sant’Agata Bolognese facility itself.

Winkelmann says that the engine, battery and chassis developed for the hybrid models of the Huracán and Aventador will be exclusive to Lamborghini. The Urus has a shared platform with the other brands from the Volkswagen Group.

Winkelmann, we imagine, was top of mind for Lamborghini’s parent, the all-powerful VW group, when it came to executing this new path of electrification. When he first joined as CEO of Lamborghini in 2005, there were only two models – the Murciélago and the Gallardo. Under his reign, the brand retired those two models and introduced two new ones – the Aventador and Huracán, which continue to remain in production today. But his biggest success, and one that wasn’t easy to convince his employers – or fans of Lamborghini, for that matter – was the Urus SUV which went into production in 2018. “We had a lot of people telling me at the time: ‘Do you think this is the right thing for the brand?’ I always said that the brand is not only a supersports car company.”

His stand back then to press on with the Urus is now vindicated when you consider that in Q1 2021, 1,382 units of the Urus were delivered worldwide – more than the Huracán and Aventador combined.

He increased sales by 300 per cent between 2005 and 2016 (when he left Lamborghini for another role in the VW group). He was the president of VW-owned hypercar manufacturer, Bugatti, when in December 2020 he was tapped to lead Lamborghini once again, while still retaining his position at Bugatti. Winkelmann says that Lamborghini and Bugatti, both of which he now presides over, will develop largely independently of each other. “The brands are very different. The brands have similarities in terms of the use of carbon fibre monocoque, but apart from that I don’t see big synergies in terms of future plans.”

VW’s decision to bring back Winkelmann to the Lamborghini fold, and giving him a Eur1.5bn spending allowance, is a big bet for Lamborghini that is currently believed to be worth around Eur10bn. But betting on Winkelmann is hardly a gamble.

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