Lamborghini Must Be Humble, Says CEO Stefano Domenicali

Really. He said that.

Stefano Domenicali

Stefano Domenicali spent decades at Ferrari, working with and directing the company’s racing teams. But in his new role as CEO of Lamborghini, he has made a conscious decision not to go too fast. This is an interesting positionality for a brand that has staked its reputation on the obstreperous and outrageous demonstrations of speed, but it makes perfect sense. For the first time in maybe forever, Lamborghini feels stable, and with the marque about to expand its volume significantly with the incipient addition of the Urus SUV, it seems now is not the time to dream up a fleet of chimerical sedans and hyper-cars, but to batten down and prepare the factories, the dealers, and the customers for the biggest change in the brand’s history. Careful and thoughtful in his conversation as he is in his actions Domenicali sees Lamborghini continuing its place as a “protagonist” in the world of exotic cars, but also cautions that the brand must be “humble.”

I sat down with Stefano just after the unveiling of the Centanario Roadster at The Quail concours, during Car Week in Monterey, and we had one of the most candid and heartfelt conversations I’ve ever had with a CEO. Highlights of our talk below.

The Drive: Lamborghini has a somewhat aggressive character in recent years But if you think of the 350 GT, the Miura, those cars were a little more sensual, almost reserved. Some markets, even in your segment, are changing away from the conspicuous and ostentatious. Does Lamborghini need to adapt in some way?

Stefano Domenicali: “We are in a moment when, thank god, the product is really very appreciated by the market. The brand awareness is growing. The young generation are really in love with our brand. And that makes me thinking one important element is looking at the future. How we can keep our customer happy? What are the things that are fundamental for Lamborghini to make sure that they are kept in the future product?

First of all, design. Design has to be kept with this kind of cutting edge approach. The line of a Lamborghini has to be recognized. In an era where everybody wants to be the protagonist, Lamborghini is a perfect example. If you want to have that car, you want to be protagonist and you want to be seen. It’s a positive thing, not a negative.

Second point is, we need to make sure that the value of the DNA are confirmed. We did a meeting with a lot of customers, and they all said, please, with the Aventador, do not touch the V-12. Super thing, super car. Please don’t do it. Don’t touch it. Don’t change it. And it’s a comment that we need to consider, because these are our customers.

On the other hand, our customers are young. The technology is changing very quickly. There are a lot of constraints in legislation, in regulation, that, country to country, is different. So our main task on that will be to make sure that we can align the technology best with the product considering the evolution of the car and the automotive industry.

This is also the right moment to make sure that we keep, from one side, the exclusivity of our brand, but not as a sort of a barrier, because that would be very wrong. We have to be very open to all of our customers, to the young generation. We want for them to come in. But you need to understand that to be part of Lamborghini, there is something that’s to be exclusive. You have to be a part of a philosophy, with a passion of life, with a passion of cars. Otherwise you don’t do it.

Finally, we are an Italian company. So all the positive value of the “made in Italy” has to be shown. Thanks god we have the basis that is strong, because you know, with a solid foundation of the Audi group, we can do that. But the made in Italy, the Italian-ness of the brand, is fundamental to keep currency with where we were born.”

Your next vehicle in 2018 will be the Urus SUV. Can or should the brand go beyond that in terms of the lineup? An electric vehicle, a sedan, a grand tourer?

We are a small company. We are growing. But we need to be humble, and we need to do the right steps with the right legs. Therefore, in the short term, it’s a really big challenge for us to prepare for the SUV. We need to prepare the dealership network, we need to prepare the service. So we need to do all that in the right way. As soon as we have ticked out this point, then why not? I think that there is a possibility to see Lamborghini with a full model portfolio. Not in the short term, but in the area of the GT, 2+2. We have heritage here. So if something should happen, that’s a reference in my view that we should take. But not in the short term. Step by step.

Lamborghini is one of the only automakers that aren’t currently doing forced-induction, that aren’t doing electrification. I would imagine these things would find a decent application in the SUV, and perhaps elsewhere. Does that seem like a good assumption?

I think that assumption is correct because, as I said before, we need to be authentic with our products. But we also need to look around the market how it’s evolving. It’s one thing is to speak about the Aventador and Huracan, and one thing is to speak about the SUV. It’s already in our pipeline to discuss about a PHEV [plug-in hybrid] engine for the SUV—though not immediately—because it’s current with that kind of product. So, the right answer is, we need to make sure that we don’t miss the technology that will be applied. But we have also to respect the will of our customer of today. They have sent to us very clear messages.

So, the naturally aspirated V-12 stays around?

Yes.

Does it change?

In the short term, no. It will improve. But in the short term, it will stay.

You just unveiled a new $2.2 million special edition car, Centenario Roadster. Some other manufacturers have gone further out—with design, with technology—in these kind of cars. But this is a very Aventador-based looking car. Can Lamborghini go beyond that?

Yeah, it’s true. But we need to be current. It’s easy to show off something, but if you check on how many projects that some others show, where is the availability on the products? What we want to do, one of our strategies, is to use these specialty cars to create a technological base on which we can apply new devices. Here in Centenario we have a lot of aerodynamic innovation. We have a lot of design innovation. We have a new infotainment. So, we want to make sure that we can put some technology that can be applied immediately in our future product. We can already prepare, if we want, a super hyper-car. But it will be not current with our philosophy of doing things the right way. And I think our customers will appreciate that.

Where do you think Lamborghini should never go?

My experience is, never say never. But for sure, in this kind of approach, it’s important to connect on what I said before. Be current. The current will give you the right path: this is the future. But it will be wrong for me to say, you know what, you will never see this, because history shows this is not the right philosophy. I would say Lamborghini not going to give up passion to the customer. So when you drive Lamborghini, you need to have passion. If you think in the future of a Lamborghini of a mobility tool, this will not be Lamborghini, that’s for sure.

You’ve just come in as CEO. If you could snap your fingers and change something right away, what would it be?

I wouldn’t because it would be not correct. Because, first of all, I’m very proud to be here. I’m very proud of my team. And it’s teamwork. It’s not a one-man show. We need to adjust several things. Above all, we need to make sure that we are ready for the future. But my philosophy is that we need to maximize the potential that we have. I want to make sure that people inside can grow, can show who they are, and they have to be proud of being part of this family. And we have the privilege of being in a group that is strong. We have the privilege of being in a company that gives us the potential to work in a beautiful place with beautiful products, and this is something that not a lot of people have the chance to do it.

One last question. We’ve seen at the very high end of the market these sort of one-off vehicles. Do you see growth in that area for Lamborghini?

I think that there is a potential there, for sure. But, I think that this has to be linked with the technology that we want to put in the cars in the future, and we do not go into what I will call an over-boost position. We need to be humble—not in a negative way, in a positive way. Keep the foundations strong, give the higher value. And this is our philosophy.