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posted on May 19th, 2017

GOOD NEWS AT THE STANFORD AUTOMOTIVE INNOVATION FACILITY

Last Monday, the Revs Program at Stanford hosted a talk on the future of the motoring enthusiast with Stefano Domenicali, Chairman and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini. In conversation with Professor Chris Gerdes, Domenicali discussed the changing landscape of motoring and Lamborghini’s strategy for the next few decades. Stanford’s Automotive Innovation Facility was packed to the gills to hear Domenicali, who was introduced by Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio.

Professor Chris Gerdes with Stefano Domenicali at Stanford

Lamborghini in the supersport segment

Lamborghini is perhaps the company that fits most squarely in the super-sportscar maker box. They, almost more than anyone, stand to lose from a decline in enthusiasm for driving. They are well aware that they attract specific customers to their niche segment. The average Lamborghini owner, as Domenicali noted, is wealthy and relatively young (between 30 and 45 years old). They are concerned with appearance, exclusivity, and expressing their taste, as well as the emotion of the driving experience.

Professor Gerdes described the inclusive experience of driving the Huracàn Performante during the couple days preceding the event. Yes, the performance is for the driver to experience, but every pedestrian on the sidewalk stops to gawk at a Lamborghini as it rumbles past. It creates its own traffic as other drivers slow down to get a look at the supercar in the other lane. This is what Lamborghini stands for — the unique passion and excitement that appeals to the kid in all of us.

The Urus SUV

In 1986, Lamborghini introduced an SUV, the LM002, but since then no supercar manufacturer has made any serious attempt at an SUV. It’s no secret that right now the SUV segment is quickly growing in a plateauing auto industry. To meet this demand, Lamborghini plans to begin production of the Urus in 2019. In preparation for manufacturing the “super-SUV”, as Domenicali calls it, Lamborghini is finalizing investment to double the size of the company. The firm sold a record 3,500 cars in 2016 and they think the Urus will help them achieve twice that figure.

Stefano Domenicali stressed that this adjustment to the marketplace should not hurt the brand, that the Urus will not be a watered-down Lamborghini. Manufacturers across the world are moving in the same direction, but few risk their reputation by adding a crossover or SUV like Lamborghini does.

The future of enthusiasm and the supercar

As environmental regulations and safety technology come increasingly into the focus for automakers, Lamborghini faces the challenge of embracing these changes while maintaining their identity. Domenicali’s words were encouraging for the old-school gearheads in the crowd. Driving for enjoyment is not dying, and the super-sportscar segment is not going anywhere anytime soon.

The chairman of Lambo seemed to subscribe to a school of thought that has, for now, emerged as a general consensus. It is an idea that enthusiasts have become satisfied with, perhaps even cling to: Technological and structural changes in commodified mobility will not kill the beloved horseless carriage. Steering wheels and pedals will always be in supercars (“at least for the next 20 or so years”). If anything, the performance-focused niche will be strengthened as normal A to B cars get fat with batteries and start driving themselves. Domenicali took the time to remind us that people still ride horses today for enjoyment and not for transportation.

For Lamborghini, the adoption of new technologies must only augment the performance and spirit of their cars. Autonomy is not something they are currently considering. In the short term, neither are electric cars. They don’t jive with the heritage of combustion performance that Lamborghini has developed over the decades. Hybridification, however, is an important idea even for supercars, and is a technology that Lamborghini is actively considering.

Lamborghini occupies a very specific role in the automotive industry, but their challenges are emblematic of the perceived threat to the enthusiast. Going forward, Lamborghini’s job is to meet technological and consumer demands by straying as little as possible from their formula without getting left behind. Handmade craftsmanship and a characterful, frisky combustion engine still define Italian supercars, and they will for years to come.

More than one audience-submitted question at the talk concerned Lamborghini’s motorsports program. To the dismay of the apparent fans, Domenicali asserted that a Formula One factory team was not in the cards, because any marginal exposure or technological developments were not guaranteed to justify the cost. We think they’re doing just fine.

Steven is an avid car guy and content specialist at Turo. Between Golden State Warriors games he can be found getting lost somewhere in California.