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BW Businessworld

‘It’s Well Worth The Wait’

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Lamborghini started off this decade with a mission — to be the only super sports car maker that matters. In 2011, it unveiled the Aventador after four years of research. The car goes from 0 to 100 kmph in under 3 seconds, and its V12 engine can take on every other car on the planet, except the Bugatti Veyron, another Volkswagen marque in the super car league. But, for Lamborghini’s CEO, Stephan Winkelmann, it is all about raising the bar. For him, owning a car from the Lamborghini stable is an emotion — a whole different level of ownership. In an interview with BW | Businessworld, he talks about how the brand needs to win over a new class of customer — young, tech-savvy, sophisticated and environmentally conscious. Edited excerpts.

Lamborghini just opened its second dealership in India. What are your expectations from a country where there is a disconnect with sophistication and luxury, and a car is more about utility?
After the opening in New Delhi, I sat down for lunch with our potential customers. I came to know so much about the way people think and also learnt about what people want in this city. It is the dealer’s job to study the profiles of customers; he will have to know their hobbies and their businesses and professions. It is very important to speak the customer’s language in each country. Globally, people who drive our cars are in their 30s and 40s, predominantly male, and self-made. The owner of the car knows the history of the brand and connects with the reason why the car has been built.

So, while training dealers, we adopt the same standards across the world. We train salesmen, technicians and workshop managers with the Lamborgini’s super sports car image in mind. However, local training is important to keep up with the demands of the customer. That said, our customer is generally a sophisticated man who is ready to wait for his car because he understands technology and the time it takes to make such cars. Luxury is sophistication; there is a certain waiting period…and you accept that.

You were an officer in the German army. What did you learn from the experience and do you use your training while managing the Lamborghini brand?
I joined the paratroopers many years ago and became an officer. You learn a lot about yourself, and I did a lot of interesting stuff. You learn to make decisions when you know about yourself; you will know what can work and what cannot. And that’s what you use.

With Lamborghini, the aim is to create an iconic status and, for me, it is important to work on the things we communicate to our customers. There is the brand, the power and technology of the car and, finally, the dream of owning it. You need to constantly build on this message and we continue to invest in this. So, we invest a lot in maintaining the iconic brand’s edge over other manufacturers.

Profitability is key to growth. Strategies have to be revised every now and then, as we move forward. By 2017, we hope to have many new product lines. We also invest 20 per cent on R&D — four times more than a mass car manufacturer. You have to understand that ours is a high-investment and low-turnover business, so it is absolutely key that we get things right. 

Now, many see the car as a screen or a device. What do you think about connected cars and what is the inspiration for the latest in car technology? 
Remember that our cars are not used on a daily basis. Owning a Lamborghini is an emotion; a different level of car ownership. Our technology will assist fast driving and allow great handling. Even though a car’s technology must be accessible, we cannot have, for example, Facebook, in a Lamborghini car.

Future demands for change in car technology are coming from legislators. Issues like emissions and environment protection are becoming important factors, requiring social responsibility. There will, therefore, be improvements in propulsion systems to help us meet these demands. Working with smaller engines and superchargers is already possible, but we have to think about doing the right thing for our brand. We need to work on power-to-weight ratios to make the car faster and think about what suits the car in terms of the future. Whether it will be naturally aspirated, turbo-charged or hybrid engines, this is a decision that has to be made in line with what we want to do in the future. We should never say never. So, hybrid engines could be a possibility too. This will be something that we need to work on because across the world, legislation is making it difficult to take cars into the centres of cities, where there are caps on driving. In such a scenario, fuel consumption becomes another key issue. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and while we do all this, a Lamborghini is the car you want to drive in your lifetime; you aspire to the sophistication that goes with it.

What concepts are you working on? I hear there is an SUV, a tailor-made offering and a new Gallardo?
We had a concept of the SUV Urus, which was unveiled at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show. Remember that our company wasn’t always a super sports car manufacturer. We had a two-plus-two passenger car and a GT, too. We had an SUV in the 1980s. We can do new things with this concept, a luxury SUV that is more of a great ride than anything else; one that can drive at high speeds with great comfort.

Among tailor-made cars, we have manufactured and sold only three Venenos. Then, there was the Egoista. These one-offs give our engineers the opportunity to show what they are capable of. There are customers who want to buy into ‘persona programmes’. We’re also working on our next Gallardo, which will be out soon.

While entering new markets, taxation, carbon dioxide emissions and import duties are the barriers and, obviously, there are brands that will compete with us. In a slowdown, markets tend to close and put up barriers. The global market is unpredictable. I have seen the rise of China over the last decade. I don’t know where the next big market is; the US, Japan, Middle East and Europe have traditionally been our strong markets.

Does Lamborghini have any auto component suppliers in India? How do you manage to enforce quality control?
Our suppliers have to deliver perfect quality and we have stringent quality processes in place. We test for months before we accept a supplier. Suppliers give us different ideas, but we certify the product ourselves. We have hundreds of suppliers, but to be honest, we don’t know if we have a supplier here in India. Being part of the VW group, which sources locally from many regions, gives us economies of scale. There are a lot of levels to go through to become a supplier for Lamborghini, and it is a process that selects the best.

Will Lamborghini clubs across the world play a role in India?
True, we have Lamborghini clubs around the world, and members communicate closely with our dealers. Their knowledge creates the synergies for our future products. All of Lamborghini’s new products have been well received because the company is internally exuberant; and its people have to be commended for their patience. It takes great skill to build such a product line and since we have a flat reporting structure, we get a lot of ideas on the way forward.

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 24-02-2014)