Stephan Winkelmann addresses a fairly damp crowd on a rainy weekday in a fancy tent in a hidden courtyard of the W South Beach. The guest of honor: the Huracán LP 610-4 Spyder. A convertible rendition of its predecessor, which is prominently displayed in front of a photograph of a blue sky—one that would generally resemble the blue peeking through the clear panel of the aforementioned tent except that it’s unseasonably rainy on this given day—with the words: “Own The Sky” printed across it. Automatically, visions of breaking through the air, wind in your hair, and driving as one with the skies, come to mind.
That’s the idea.
This is the Lamborghini, Winkelmann explains, that is “most lifestyle oriented.” And the German-born ex-lieutenant paratrooper-cum-financier knows a thing or two about lifestyle. Working for both Mercedes-Benz and Fiat Auto from 1994 to 2004 in marketing and sales and as CEO of Fiat Auto Austria, Switzerland and Germany, he’s similarly damp with knowledge of the automotive industry. On 1st January 2005, Stephan Winkelmann was appointed President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. in Sant’Agata Bolognese where the brand is headquartered. Since that fateful day eleven years ago, Winkelmann has been credited with spearheading one of the most lauded approaches to growth in both the automotive and luxury sectors through the implementation of principles focused on quality of construction and perception of brand. Principles that were responsible for such leaps as a tripling of the number of Lamborghini employees from some 440 to over 1,300 and doubling the number of dealerships to reach 130 in 50 countries.
Just a few days later, TFB caught up with Winkelmann to chat all things Lamborghini, including his approach to brand building and how his reign has set the bar high.
“A car brand is like any other brand,” says Winkelmann “you work a lot on the image [of the brand] but you let the major driver—pun intended—be the drive…I think that there’s a very good marriage between the idea of what a Lamborghini should be and the real car.”
The idea he speaks of, of course, is that of the visionary and cutting edge product line that Lamborghini has become synonymous with. Today the offering is divided into two models: the Aventador and the Huracán; and includes plans to introduce at least one new product every year.
Visionary and cutting edge aren’t descriptors that come without a significant amount of research and development to attain such levels of greatness, though. “When we speak about a super sports car brand there are two things that make you want to buy the car; one is the design and the other is the performance,” he explains. “And when we speak about what performance is all about, handling is much more important than top speeds or acceleration.” He goes on to explain that the real fun in driving the car is in the handling and that that can only truly be achieved by a proper power-to-weight ratio.
Lamborghini has both essential elements down pat.
Very light, quite stiff and surely expensive, the weight bit is covered by their use of carbon fiber. Available in both RTM, which looks like fabric, and forged carbon fiber, where the pressed approach gives you higher possibilities in terms of more output—different technologies are used in different ways. In the Aventador offerings, for example, lives the Monocoque which was actually done entirely out of carbon fiber, something larger car manufacturers might be unable to do on that big of a scale because it’s more expensive than steal or aluminum. And then there’s the power, which comes by way of Lamborghini’s strong, naturally-aspirated engine, and it’s signature sound. “This,” says Winkelmann “is the essence.” That’s not to say that the brand isn’t putting a big effort in to innovations to stay in-step with the consumers’ desires. “If you look at the car industry in general, it’s about sustainability which is getting bigger and bigger, and connectivity—we almost have driving offices; digitalization is one of the new frontiers in the car business. As I also mentioned, some of the key elements in the super sports car business are performance and innovation; but not at all costs because you have to maintain the DNA of the brand.” The naturally-aspirated Lamborghini engines, while acting as a key part of their tradition, do in fact reduce CO2 emissions by 25%. Winkelmann, armed with his branding expertise, continues saying that: “In order to change [them] you have to have an alternative that is better; which we don’t see at the current time; but we do see this as a global approach…we are CO2 neutral in our headquarters and have created this neutrality over the last 5 years. This is something very close to us and we take it very seriously.” And in the spirit of sustainability, the brand just might be gearing up to release its first attempt at hybridization.
The impending 2018 release of what Winkelmann has dubbed the world’s fastest SUV, the Lamborghini Urus, is one being awaited with bated breath but also a launch that Winkelmann admits might be the first Lamborghini to have a second engine option besides it’s V-8 twin turbo. “It will be a real super sports car with a lot of off-road capabilities and on top of that, there may also be a second engine…if this becomes the case, it will most probably be a hybrid engine.” A series of information which he is sure will open them up to a whole new audience in terms of potential client base as well as new markets where perhaps today the amount of cars sold [by the brand] aren’t many due to “infrastructure and other things.” Some spots where he thinks the Urus will be popular: Russia, the Middle East, and the United States which he banks will maintain it’s place as their biggest market for the SUV as well as the super sports cars. As for the concept of a new client base, Winkelmann admits that while they aim to first serve their Lamborghini customers, “ there might be a lot of people who have the spending power to buy a super sports car and haven’t, but they love the brand and would purchase an SUV.”
Spending power becomes a separate but increasingly interesting part of our conversation as Winkelmann explains that one of his brand principles is in fact about brand extension through products that create additional business through brand initiatives: motor sport, historic car activations and all that is branded merchandise (which is internally called Collezione Automobili Lamborghini) are important to the image of the brand. We talk about how this attracts an aspirational client:
“Being that Lamborghini is a brand that makes people dream, it has a fan base and we want them to participate.”
Be it sweaters, t-shirts or key holders, they’re all approachable while allowing one to identify with the brand. They also have a classic collection, which is more elegant but very small in scope as well as a collection related to motor sport which includes a lot of what one might wear when on the race track; logo-oriented for sure. And it wouldn’t be Lamborghini if there wasn’t something unattainable in the apparel side of the business: “We also have a tailor making bespoke pieces as part of a co-branding with Tuscan brand, D’Avenza where we invite existing clients to customize a very restricted offering of selected colors and styles.”
As we wind down from a busy week and the clouds start to break in Miami where Winkelmann and his team were actually hosting the worldwide launch of the epitome of Lambo lifestyle, the Huracan LP 610-4 Spyder, I wonder how many cars will be sold. He informs me that one thousand are expected to be produced and should reach showrooms by the time this issue is printed. Other note worthy numbers: last year was record-breaking for his brand with a whopping 3,245 Lamborghinis sold under his brilliant direction.