Lamborghini CEO on going all electric

Stephan Winkelmann weighs in on the topic of EVs.
Image: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Lamborghini will spend more than $1.8 billion to build hybrid versions of its rowdy Italian SUV and powerful supercars by 2024.

But the proposed hybrids are likely to be paltry compared to the volume of throaty V12 engines that the 59-year-old brand is famous for producing. Last year, Lamborghini recorded its best annual sales results, with 8,405 cars delivered globally. And company executives have yet to specify when—if ever—they will focus only on electric vehicles.

“We don’t need to decide now,” said Lamborghini Chairman and CEO Stephan Winkelmann during a reporter roundtable on July 27 when asked whether the company is planning to switch its fleet to only electric vehicles, as such brands as Audi and Bentley have pledged. “We have at least a few years to decide.” In the meantime, Lamborghini has announced that its first EV, a two-door, four-seat vehicle, will arrive in eight years—by 2030.

It was a frank admission from a company that seems comfortable in its own skin—even at the risk of sounding like a dinosaur when it comes to green-minded driving.

Most automakers have already committed to going electric and are making it a signature of marketing efforts, even if there is disagreement among executives behind closed doors about the best way to do it. Bentley boasts that every vehicle it builds will be battery-electric by 2030; Audi says it will end development of combustion engines by 2026. Even Ferrari already has a decade of knowledge building hybrids. Rolls-Royce will debut its first electric vehicle this fall.

Lamborghini, meanwhile, asserts that at this point, all electric, all the time may not be the answer.

“It is going to be very, very complicated to make the right choice,” Winkelmann said.

Record sales

Judging from its latest sales results, Lamborghini is doing something right. During the first six months of 2022, it delivered 5,090 vehicles globally, up nearly 5% over last year’s number and the most ever in company history. Operating profit was up 69.6%, from €251 million ($256 million) during the same period in 2021 to €425 million. The company has sold out all its vehicles for the next 18 months.

“We are seeing that we can continue to make more [money] out of every single car, and this is also the trend for the future,” Winkelmann said. “We are sure about that.”

It helps that it can afford to wait to make any big electric decisions, underpinned as it is by Volkswagen Group’s record spending on new technology. Lamborghini’s parent company has promised to spend more than $90 billion in developing electric technology over the coming decade.

And since its production numbers are multiple those of the Italian marque’s, other brands at VW can help Lamborghini avoid having to develop something electric immediately. Even if Lamborghini comes under some pressure to develop speedy hybrids, all of its cars need not go fully electric anytime soon.

“I consider myself a petrolhead, but it’s almost half a decade that we are pregnant with the idea of going hybrid and electric, so I know what is coming,” Winkelmann said. “I do think we have to tackle the challenge.”

Moving targets

Emissions and engine legislation will determine how soon and how far a brand like Lamborghini will have to move into the all-electric world. Such regulations remain a moving target for automakers. Timelines and requirements—and the threat of more—vary across Europe, Asia, and the US.

In London, for example, a new Ultra Low Emission Zone is expected to be expanded by this time next year; vehicle operators in almost all of the UK’s capital will face fees and fines for polluting vehicles. California is considering legislation mandating that EVs make up roughly 70% of new car sales by 2030 and 100% of new car sales by 2035.

Still, 2035 is a long way off. Politics and opinions can change. And the rules can differ for automakers that produce comparatively small numbers of vehicles.

“We don’t have to decide now, because we still have some years to see how the legislation is moving—if this is then something which they might slow down,” Winkelmann said. “There is still the chance that maybe the legislation is going to change, or is going to open up opportunities for small manufacturers … so we need to decide in the second half of this decade whether we go electric with the super sports cars.”

Synthetic fuels might be one way the automaker could avoid having to go fully electric. The non-polluting mixtures can still be run through combustion engines, which means they would be legal to drive in jurisdictions with strict standards. Bentley and Porsche, which are also owned by VW, are experimenting with such sustainable fuels.

No matter what, Winkelmann said, Lamborghini will still be selling its famous V12 engines in 2030. That’s the time frame in which the brand will present its first all-electric vehicle. And that’s an eternity in car years.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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