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It’s 46 years since Italian tractor maker Ferruccio Lamborghini hatched his harebrained scheme to build a luxury supercar. But with the wheels falling off the car industry amid the deepening recession, can this luxury brand navigate the tricky conditions ahead? Julian Rogers investigates and hears from Director of Brand and Design Manfred Fitzgerald.
quick trawl through Lamborghini’s ﬂashy looking website brings you to a grainy black and white clip of the late Ferruccio Lamborghini in a suit and dark sunglasses being interviewed whilst steering a tractor. A lit cigarette sits between his index and middle ﬁnger. The journalist perched on the front of the moving machine ﬂicks a microphone back and forth between himself and Lamborghini’s chin. “What type of man are you?” the young hack asks inquisitively. “A normal chap who likes creating things,” Lamborghini responds nonchalantly. “A good worker in the morning, and a man who likes enjoying himself in the afternoon.” The interviewer suggests his subject is “very wise” in choosing to adopt this outlook. Lamborghini then offers a snapshot into his uncomplicated working philosophy: “I’m not interested in ending up like my colleagues, with heart problems.” A sagacious grin creeps across the tractor-maker’s face. The company’s serendipitous foray into luxury sports car production came after Lamborghini complained to his friend Enzo Ferrari about the gearbox on his recently purchased Ferrari. The Ferrari founder’s dismissive response was to tell him to stick to making tractors because the problem was down to the driver, not the car. Cue a deﬁant Lamborghini, vowing to build a sports car to rival a thoroughbred motoring icon like Ferrari, contrary to the vehement advice of those closest to him who said he would squander his wealth. He was accused of being pazzo, or crazy, but Lamborghini would not be deterred in his Herculean quest, and in 1963, aged 47, he created the eponymous ‘Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini’.
in-house designers and engineers. Lamborghini has always had a cult following among petrol heads. Ferrari is a bit, dare I say it, ubiquitous. Lamborghini, on the other hand, is a more elusive breed that manages to conjure up an intoxicating mix of elegance with muscle. I have crazy visions of the designers using laboratory test tubes to mix the chromosomes of a testosterone-pumped heavyweight boxer with a svelte and graceful matador. Exotic names (albeit slightly unpronounceable) for the models, like Murciélago, all add to the alluring nature of the Lamborghini brand. Perhaps as a clue to the brute force contained within, a snarling bull features in the badge stamped on the bonnet. Ferruccio Lamborghini’s zodiac sign was Taurus, in case you were wondering. It’s at the Sant’Agata Bolognese factory showroom that I ﬁnd Manfred Fitzgerald, Director of Brand and Design. All around us sit the fruits of his labour in shiny yellows, oranges and blues. Fitzgerald ﬁrst arrived at Lamborghini in 1999 as the Marketing Manager and recalls how the business had lost its sense of direction. “Back then you didn’t have a clear idea of what Lamborghini stood for,” he explains. “If you went to a dealership you would ﬁnd that everyone interpreted the brand in a different way, so I went out to create a corporate identity and corporate design.” A focused vision is vital, he says. “It is so important for a luxury brand like ours to have a clear idea and vision of where you want the brand to go. You have to be very consistent in your approach.” Getting customers to believe in the brand is what it is all about in the world of high-end motoring. When you slap down a deposit you are buying into a select club, not just blowing your hardearned cash on a lightning-quick car that costs about the same to run as a small African country.
Like much of the car market where one carmaker seems to be owned by another, Lamborghini is a division of Volkswagen’s Audi brand. Despite this, Fitzgerald is keen to stress that Lamborghini is a stand alone and autonomous company. “The whole of the R&D, as well as the design, is done here in-house. If we want to, we can tap
The Lamborghini factory resides in Sant’Agata Bolognese, about 25 kilometres from Bologna. It is here that some of the words’ quickest, most expensive and most desirable supercars are handcrafted by the
THE NUMBERS THAT COUNT
into their research development facilities because it would be stupid if we didn’t do that. But my team live at Lamborghini because we are integrated into the company.” When the bean counters at Volkswagen took charge they introduced economies of scale. Proﬁts soared and the factory was operating at full capacity. However, in 2008 the car industry was hit head-on by the credit crunch and subsequent meltdown. Global car sales have fallen through the ﬂoor and factories have shed signiﬁcant staff numbers. Lamborghini, though, bucked the trend in 2008 with a pre-tax proﬁt of US$83 million – a 27.4 percent increase. But it wasn’t all smooth running; sales were ﬂat and much of the announced proﬁt came from cost-cutting measures. Unit sales rose by just one percent to 2430, which was short of the ﬁve percent target. On top of this, the company’s largest dealer in the world – Lamborghini Orange County in the US – closed last year amid an accounting discrepancy whilst a third of the Sant’Agata Bolognese workforce was sent home during temporary shutdowns recently. CEO Stephan Winkelmann says he expects sales to decline and no growth in 2009 and 2010 but there are no plans to lay off staff permanently. Fitzgerald echoes his boss’ pragmatic approach to dealing with the economic climate. “We have a clear strategy for the future and if we stick to that we will weather the storm out there,” he reveals. “It’s about not being tempted to do something erratic – there are some quick wins but that is not us. Wealth is still out there and luckily people have enough money to buy our products.” Much of the wealth Fitzgerald identiﬁes is being unearthed in the emerging countries and their inhabitants’ newfound fortunes. Russia’s nouveau riche and well-heeled oligarchs think nothing of splashing out a few million roubles on a supercar. Likewise, the ultrarich Arabs see a car like Lamborghini as a badge of wealth and status.
Lamborghini’s 2008 pre-tax proﬁt
“We still have quite a lot of white spots on the world map so we still see potential to bring our products to the market without diluting our brand image and exclusivity” he says. Lamborghini is hard at work penetrating the Chinese market – the most populous nation with a burgeoning, cash-rich elite. “A couple of years ago, the Chinese did not know what Lamborghini was,” says Fitzgerald. ‘Is it a coffee brand or perhaps something to wear? Is it a car manufacturer?’ No, it’s a super sports car manufacturer and luxury brand. We have to be something that the Chinese would like to possess.” The tiger economies are far from impervious to the global economic crisis but Fitzgerald still sees China as an uncut gem. “China is still predicting growth this year of eight percent or more, which would be a dream in Europe. Luckily, we still ﬁnd markets out there that have enough money at their disposal.” It’s also especially important that the Lamborghini brand and message translates across different countries and continents, says Fitzgerald. “We don’t have products for a particular market – we have a global product that has to work everywhere. We have to understand the market and penetrate our brand values, and we have to be understood as a luxury brand.” One of Lamborghini’s unique selling points is its option for customers to personalise their new car in order to stand out from the crowd (as if pulling up at the trafﬁc lights in a US$300,000 supercar isn’t conspicuous enough already). The options are bewildering, right down to the colour of the brake callipers. Fitzgerald says this customisation and whole customer experience is vital. He wants to the company to have a greater focus on the customer, although this would never extend to would-be owners inﬂuencing the design of the cars. And with Fitzgerald and his team already producing stunning looking cars coveted by the motoring press they probably don’t need any input from an over-zealous enthusiast.
The iconic Countach was created in 1974 and production ran for 15 years
With a top speed of 340 km/h, the Murciélago LP640 is the fastest street-legal model
Lamborghini went bankrupt in 1978 and was sold to Chrysler
US$1.3 million is how much the Lamborghini Reventón model cost the lucky few that got their hands on one
The ﬁrst ever Lamborghini car was the 350GTV from
Founder Ferruccio Lamborghini died in 1993 at the age of 76
“Our obligation is to surprise people with the designs and let them see how we realise the dreams they haven’t dreamt so far,” he remarks whilst trying not to sound too much like a quote lifted from a glossy Lamborghini brochure. Fitzgerald explains how his team are able to design a car in 3D from the ﬁrst sketch onwards, which speeds up the whole production process. For instance, the Murciélago Revingtón was designed in just four months. The team work hand-in-hand with R&D, too. “We don’t work in sequences where one person gets something and it then gets handed back for their approval. No, it’s an integrated process.” So where does he look for inspiration when designing a new supercar beﬁtting the Lamborghini range? “Everywhere.” He expands: “We are so fortunate living in a country like Italy where you can get so many inspirations. As a global company, we have our ears and eyes open everywhere. We are heavily inﬂuenced by other industries – just looking at the automotive industry won’t get you anywhere. Our lives are moving and changing very fast; the way we commute and the way we communicate is changing so this inspires us for future products.”
what you could call the ‘brand building’ phase and any step we take out there has to be considered more than once. I discard around 95 percent of what lands on my desk in terms of product placement for big Hollywood ﬁlms because they are just not a brand ‘ﬁt’.” On the subject of movie placement, Lamborghini was featured in the 2008 blockbuster movie The Dark Knight where Bruce Wayne (Batman) is seen putting an equally masculine Murciélago through its paces in the streets of Gotham City. A car’s appearance in a high-proﬁle ﬁlm can outstrip any advertising campaign and show the product off to a global audience. Fitzgerald says Lamborghini went through the script and felt that the ﬁlm would suit their brand. It was a similar decision with Mission Impossible 3 when the producers pitched the idea of a Lamborghini Gallardo making an on-screen appearance. So how does Fitzgerald select that ﬁve percent of offers that land a Lamborghini on the silver screen? One major factor is who will drive the car. “I do not like to see our products being driven by villains because that would not be the appropriate move for us. Mission Impossible 3 was a luxury setting but it’s important that our products are perceived in a normal context. I’m trying to take us out of being a ‘niche of a niche’.” Lamborghini’s presence in the US box ofﬁce has led to “huge steps” being made in the US market – the ﬁrm’s largest.
Image is everything
Like many of the luxury sports car producers, Lamborghini has done more than churn out cars – its merchandise is also a lucrative revenue stream. Indeed, you can ﬁnd the Lamborghini name associated with everything from playing cards to coffee mugs. Fitzgerald suggests diversiﬁcation is a necessity for a luxury supercar manufacturer. “A luxury brand is allowed to play in other ﬁelds. Obviously this [car making] is our core business, but the merchandising has taken enormous steps in the last couple of years. As long as you stay authentic and credible in what you are doing, any path out there is allowed.” Ferrari is thought to rake in around US$150 million a year through ‘brand extension’ and Fitzgerald says they are ahead of his company. “They [Ferrari] are in a different position to us,” he notes. “We are in
“I discard around 95 percent of what lands on my desk in terms of product placement for big Hollywood ﬁlms because they are just not a brand ‘ﬁt’”
Manfred Fitzgerald With the interview wrapping up, Fitzgerald offers an insight into what it takes to be head of brand and design: “You have to be consistent in your approach and also a bit stubborn, but don’t get irritated by what the people left and right of you are thinking. If you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, you have to go for it.” It seems that having this maverick-like design attitude is translated in Lamborghini’s corporate vision, too. “We like to be in the driver’s seat, rather than the passenger seat,” he beams. Fitzgerald heads back the drawing board, so to speak. Outside the factory a white Gallardo (a colour that appears to be de rigueur at the moment) is ﬁred up. A beastly cacophony emanates from the four chrome exhaust pipes protruding from the car’s rear. Seeing these cars in the ﬂesh (or should that be carbon ﬁbre?) it is difﬁcult to imagine that the name Lamborghini was ever associated with a piece of farm machinery, but we have to thank Enzo Ferrari and the disputed dodgy gearbox for that. Oh, and a laidback Italian’s headstrong attitude and dogged determination. Bravo Ferruccio.
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