Lamborghini Weighs Sedan to Challenge Maserati, Aston Martin
Automobili Lamborghini SpA, maker of the $450,000 Murcielago SuperVeloce sports car, would consider adding a four-door sedan to its portfolio of two-seater models to attract customers amid declining sales.
“A third model would fit Lamborghini very well,” Chief Executive Officer Stephan Winkelmann, 45, said in an interview at the carmaker’s Sant’Agata Bolognese headquarters. “A four-door car would be a very feasible approach.”
Building a four-door sports car would allow Lamborghini to compete against Maserati SpA (F)’s Quattroporte and Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd.’s Rapide. The Volkswagen AG (VOW) division has been unable to capitalize this year on a recovering market for super-luxury autos, or vehicles costing more than $200,000, with first-half sales of 674 cars, down 18 percent from a year ago.
Any addition to the Gallardo and Murcielago model lines must yield “a real leap” in deliveries, Winkelmann said, adding there isn’t a plan or decision on a third model.
Sales in the U.S., the largest market for the most expensive cars, may jump 70 percent for the $200,000 to $400,000 category this year after falling 37 percent in 2009, according to researcher IHS Automotive. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the biggest luxury-car maker, this week posted record first-half sales of 970 autos at the Rolls-Royce unit because of demand for the four-door Ghost.
Luxury-car manufacturers may sell 19 percent more vehicles priced above $400,000 in the U.S. in 2010, IHS Automotive estimates showed.
“I’d definitely be excited to see a Lamborghini sedan, that would be something completely new,” said Dieter Niederfriniger, co-owner of Austrian metal-forming company Alpewa GmbH, who bought his first Gallardo in 2004 and last year spent 380,000 euros ($500,000) on a Murcielago SuperVeloce. “Every time I look at that beauty I fall in love with it. It’s truly irresistible.”
Lamborghini, while never producing a sedan, built a four-seat coupe 40 years ago called the Espada that it discontinued in 1978. Winkelmann showed a sedan called the Estoque in 2008, which he never built. Any Lamborghini four-door model could rival the Panamera built by Porsche AG, which is currently merging with Volkswagen.
“Lamborghini has the ability to be extended to a third model,” said Jim Hall, an analyst with consulting firm 2953 Analytics Inc. in Birmingham, Michigan. “The question is can they do it in such a way that it’s free and clear of anything else from the top part of VW group. I think it’s possible.”
Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech, who was then VW CEO, purchased Lamborghini in 1998 along with Bugatti and Bentley to create a stable of ultra-luxury carmakers. Adding another model line would keep with Lamborghini’s strategy of expanding the sports-car manufacturer with a new auto every year. Annual sales have increased tenfold since VW’s purchase.
VW added the Gallardo model line in 2003 to the Murcielago. The Italian division also complements its lineup by building limited-edition variants such as the 2006 Miura concept car and the 1.1 million-euro Reventon Roadster offered last year, its costliest model to date.
“Lamborghini’s role within the VW structure is much more symbolic than anything else,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany. “The message from Dr. Piech is VW is solidly presented in the super-car segment and its technology expertise isn’t strictly confined to volume brands.”
Winkelmann, who has run Volkswagen’s top-end unit since 2005, reported the carmaker’s biggest pretax profit in 2008 of 60 million euros. A year later, Lamborghini posted a pretax loss of 35 million euros as sales plunged 38 percent after the financial crisis.
Winkelmann, born to German parents in Berlin and raised in Rome, spent more than ten years working at Fiat SpA, which owns Maserati and Ferrari, before he was hired to run Lamborghini by Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, then head of the Audi unit.
Based in a small town of about 7,000 near Italy’s northern city of Bologna, Lamborghini’s only factory is hidden behind a dark all-glass building, reflecting the black color of the carmaker’s raging bull logo. Employing about 800 workers, the facilities include a showroom, executive offices and a two-story museum that was opened in 2001. Lamborghini factory workers assemble vehicles by hand from bodies crafted at Audi.
“Lamborghini is the undisputed icon brand within VW group,” said Sascha Heiden, a Frankfurt-based analyst at IHS Automotive. “It’s kind of indispensable to have for a global player like VW to round off its multi-brand range.”
Lamborghini aims to double deliveries in China, the carmaker’s second-largest market after the U.S., to more than 150 vehicles this year, Winkelmann said. The number of Chinese dealers will increase to 12 from eight, he said.
Lamborghini, founded in 1963, is also expanding research to produce lower weight cars as emission standards are tightened in Europe and the U.S. The VW unit last month set up a center at its headquarters to develop the light composites that complement metals in car frames and in 2009 began a partnership with aircraft maker Boeing Co. (BA) to crash-test carbon fiber.
“The consistent development of carbon-fiber technology is a key element of our strategy,” Winkelmann said in the July 28 interview in his office, wearing one of his trademark tailor-made Italian suits. “The weight-to-power ratio is the most important parameter for super-sports cars.”
Lamborghini, whose Gallardo Spyder emits about 400 grams (14.1 ounces) of CO2 per kilometer (0.62 mile), aims to cut emissions on average 35 percent by 2015. Audi’s A3 compact, its lowest polluting model, spurts out 99 grams per kilometer. Lamborghini has already lowered the Gallardo LP 570-4’s weight 70 kilograms using carbon fibers.
“What matters is to reduce CO2 without diluting the DNA of the Lamborghini brand,” said Maurizio Reggiani, the carmaker’s research and development chief. “It’s difficult to sell a Lamborghini if it doesn’t generate emotion.”
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