If returning Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann can electrify the Italian supercar firm’s model line-up and financial performance to be as sharp as the exquisitely tailored designer suits for which he is renowned, he’s onto a winner.
The stylish German-Italian dedicated follower and leader of fashion – both automotively and sartorially – today presided over publication of the firm’s annual results which ‘against all the odds’ held up in the face of the Covid pandemic: ‘The most notable financial result is the achievement of the highest ever profitability,’ he said.
That’s alongside the second highest year for both sales and turnover.
Lambo's electric future: We sat down with returning boss, Stephan Winkelmann, 56, to discuss how the Italian supercar brand will shift to greener models in the next decade
Although Winkelmann, 56, wasn’t yet back in post when decisions that led to these results were made, the encouraging figures nevertheless mask the scale of impending challenges that now face the Italian supercar company if it is to continue to thrive in a fast-changing world.
So with Britain the supercar marque’s fifth-largest global market and ahead even of Italy, I had the opportunity to speak to him exclusively – face to face over the internet – about how he intends to tackle those challenges.
They include: accelerating plans to launch Lamborghini’s first pure electric car; adding a delayed fourth model into the line-up; the widely expected flotation of Lamborghini; growing the firm’s highly lucrative special editions; and a much-signalled sale or transfer of Bugatti to become an electric supercar brand.
Having led and been the face of Lamborghini for more than a decade from 2005, dapper Winkelmann left his beloved company in 2016 to head up what is now parent-group Volkswagen’s Audi Sport division, adding Bugatti president to his portfolio in January 2018.
To his great delight, he arrived back at Lamborghini last December with a challenging in-box of key decisions and priority actions to take. It followed the departure of Stefano Domenicali who left to head up F1 racing and whose stamp is on today’s results.
However, Winkelmann’s eye is fixed firmly on the future, not just the present nor the past, and he knows he has to accelerate as fast as his supercars if Lamborghini - founded in 1963 by industrialist and tractor-manufacturer Ferrucio Lamborghini as a rival to Ferrari - is to keep pace in a fast changing automotive world.
As well as being president and CEO of Lamborghini, Winkelmann also retains the Bugatti presidential brief, for now, amid clear signals from Volkswagen bosses this week that responsibility is soon to be transferred to Porsche as part of a partnership deal with Croatian electric vehicle specialists Rimac, in which Porsche has recently increased its own shareholding to 24 per cent.
Born in West Berlin in October 1964 at the height of the Cold War – and just a year after Lamborghini was founded – Winkelmann was raised from the age of one in Rome where his father was a diplomat for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture organisation. His German parents had earlier fled from Russian-controlled East Berlin into the West just before the Wall was built in 1961: ’If they’d not escaped I’d have been born in East Berlin,’ he said. ‘Luckily they did.’
After graduating from the German School in the Italian capital, he studied political science in Rome and in Munich. He did two years’ national service achieving the rank of lieutenant in the West German Parachute Regiment at a time when fears of a Soviet invasion across the North German plain were all too real. His motor industry career prior to Lamborghini included mainly rising through the ranks at Fiat.
Although Germany is his place of birth, Italy remains his spiritual and actual home, while a good part of his soul rests clearly with Lamborghini.
Winkelmann can hardly be described as a returning Prodigal Son as his financial record with Lamborghini and elsewhere has always been sound. But he’s glad to be back and relishing the challenges ahead, he told me.
Despite the impact of the pandemic, Lamborghini sold more cars than all but one year on record in 2020, it confirmed this afternoon
Via a computer screen, our view of him was at the end of a very long table sitting beneath, in giant letters, the name of the company he heads in the small town of Sant’Agata Bolognese near Bologna and Modena in Northern Italy.
He rattled through the financials. Despite the Covid epidemic, which hit Italy particularly hard and led to a 70-day shut-down of production in the Spring, 2020 was still Lamborghini’s best year for profitability and second best year ever for turnover and sales, he said.
However, as Lamborghini is a wholly owned subsidiary of Audi AG (which in turn is owned by Volkswagen), the actual profit figures are not published.
Turnover of €1.6billion (£1.4million) was down 11 per cent compared to pre-Covid 2019 but still the second highest in history.
Sales of 7,430 cars delivered last year were the second-best ever following a record 8,205 the previous year – a drop of 9.44 per cent on 2019 – though an all-time sales record was set in the second half of 2020.
The United States was the biggest market with delivery of 2,224 cars followed by Germany (607), China (604), Japan (600), United Kingdom (517) ahead of home market Italy (347).
China is expected to leap-frog Germany to take second place this year against a background of further global sales growth, he said.
This year began with a ‘very positive outlook’ he said, noting: ‘The first two months of this year have already surpassed those of the previous pre-pandemic period, and orders placed so far already cover nine months of production.’
The Urus SUV is by far the brand's best-selling model. In fact, three in five of all Lamborghinis purchased last year were the Urus
The powerful £159,925 Urus SUV, which last year set a total production record of 10,000 sales, was the most successful model with 4,391 cars sold.
Both super sports car lines also made a significant contribution to global volumes, with the V10 Huracán recording 2,193 cars sold (up 3%), alongside 846 V12 Aventadors delivered worldwide.
Six new model variants were launched , including expensive and profit-fattening limited editions, which they call ‘few-offs.’ The six were the Lamborghini Huracán EVO RWD coupé and Spyder, Sián Roadster, Essenza SCV12, Huracán STO and SC20.
But it is to the future that Winkelmann is looking, starting in the short term with three new cars – a new V10 based on the Huracan in around May or June, plus two new V12 models.
Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann is renowned for his position in the auto sector but also his sharp dress sense
An overdue plug-in hybrid Urus PHEV needs to be sorted, as does a much mooted fourth model range – expected in the form of a sporty low-slung grand tourer GT or possibly a small SUV: ‘It’s a bit too early to discuss’, he said.
Lamborghini has already launched its first hybrid with the Sian - a limited edition of 63 cars, all sold – costing £2.5million each and powered by a mighty 6.5-litre V12 engine linked to a hybrid ‘super-capacitor’ that together develop 819 horsepower and propel it from 0-to-62mph in 2.8 seconds up to a top speed of 217mph.
Longer term Lamborghini is set to piggy-back onto ‘mother company’ Audi’s growing electric technology to exploit ‘synergies’, just as the UK’s VW-owned Bentley will do as it falls increasingly under the control of the Ingolstadt-based premium car-maker: ‘We are discussing the degree of electrification, the timing, and also the numbers behind that,’ he said.
Once considered unthinkable, a fully electric Lamborghini is now firmly in the pipeline, with more details to be unveiled ‘within weeks’, Winkelmann said: ‘It’s something which is now thinkable, I have to admit. It’s part of our strategy.’
But it needs to be a ‘solid’ strategy, he insisted: ’We need to walk the talk. This has to be not only a dream, it has to be realistic in terms of a business case.’
He noted: ‘For sure this was a big discussion in the last year. It’s affecting every brand.’
Born in West Berlin in October 1964 at the height of the Cold War – and just a year after Lamborghini was founded – Winkelmann was raised from the age of one in Rome
While Winkelmann has a keen eye on Lamborghini's green transition, he says there is still a future for the howling V10 and V12 engines for which the brand is recognised
But despite the UK’s 2030 ban on fossil fuel engines, there was still a future for V10 and V12 engines, he insisted: ’It’s all a matter of timing. I don’t think they are dinosaurs. I think there is still a future for these cars. The big challenge for us is to stay within the rules by developing cars that are better than today and fulfilling the dreams of our customers.’
On returning to Lamborghini after a gap of five years he said: ‘I’m pleased to have a second stint here at Lamborghini. The reception of the people was very enthusiastic.
Lamborghini: Key performance figures 2020
Sales: 7,430 (down 9.44% on 2019: 8,205)
Turnover: Euro 1.6billion (down 11% but second best ever)
Profitability: ‘Record profit’, but figure undisclosed
Top Lamborghini sales by nation 2020
1. United States: 2,224
2. Germany: 607
3. China: 604
4. Japan: 600
5. UK: 517
6. Italy: 347
Lamborghini sales since foundation: 1963 to 2020
1963 to 2000: 250 per year average
2001 to 2011: 1,800 per year average
2020: 7.430 (year of pandemic)
‘But it’s a big responsibility. People working here expect a lot.
‘To fulfill the dreams of people able to buy whatever they want is very challenging. But I’m happy to be part of this.’
Regarding the turnaround he said: ‘In the next few months will have to work on the definition of our strategy. Usually you need five years to renew all the models.’
But this will include another additional line – a 4th model – to add to the existing Aventador, Huracan and Urus.
Post-pandemic, he needed a year of ‘stability’ to plan for life after 2030, he said: ‘We have a very tight schedule in terms of planning.
‘A small company is not running for sales numbers. It has to be profitable – a dream maker – and able to sustain the challenges of the future. Investments have to come out of your own pockets.’
He explained: ‘This year is a year of stabilisation, strategy and clear commitment to what we have to do for the future. It’s a tough year for everybody.
‘We have to continue to have a cool approach. We have to be clear when we are going to do what.’
And the firm had to deal with the present while planning for the future: ’To talk too much about electrification can be misunderstood by our customer base and fans. You have to do things at the right time, and then you have to be the best at doing that.’
:: A flotation of Lamborghini – currently owned by Audi which in turn is owned by Volkswagen - has been much speculated. It can be a high risk strategy for a supercar firm. Ferrari managed it, but Aston Martin’s attempt tanked. Winkelmann did not dispel the rumours but said it was still under consideration: ‘It’s something which has to be discussed with the shareholders.
‘We are in a good situation with the (Volkswagen) Group. For sure the value of Lamborghini is very high. This is clear.’
Although Winkelmann was also diplomatically tight-lipped on Bugatti’s future, VW boss Herbert Diess said this week that ‘Porsche is preparing a partnership with Rimac’ noting they ‘want to transfer responsibility of Bugatti to Porsche’ and that in all probability ‘Porsche will establish a joint venture with Rimac with a minority shareholding.’
Lamborghini is working on introducing a plug-in hybrid variant of the popular Urus SUV
Six new model variants were launched in 2020, including expensive and profit-fattening limited editions, which they call ‘few-offs'. This includes the Sián Roadster (pictured)
The rebirth of Bugatti based at its boutique factory in Molsheim, on the French side of the Rhine, was very much a pet project of former Volkswagen boss and autocratic Porsche-dynasty scion Dr Ferdinand Piech. His recent passing means those emotional ties can be loosened. Significantly, VW’s most profitable publicly-traded arm Porsche has increased its stake in Rimac to 24 per cent.
A social animal, Winkelmann admits he misses traditional motor shows, particularly Geneva which, pre-pandemic, would have been happening this very month: ‘Geneva is something which was very close to my heart. It was where we have customers from all over the world. You got immediate feedback from fans. I hope that this type of show is not dying.’
What would he like his legacy to be? ‘It’s not up to me. That judgement is for others,' he said.
‘But it is important there is a future for the company. Everything we do is to keep the dream alive and give our employees a solid future for them and their families.’
And if he had to choose between his passion for fashionably smart suits and his love of Lamborghini and its cars ? ‘Why should I choose?’, he laughed. ‘I cannot run around naked. But at the end of the day, it’s always the cars.’