Maurizio Reggiani, the director of research and development for storied Italian supercar builder Lamborghini, takes in the knife-edge lines of his latest creation, the $275,000 Huracan Performante. He is pleased.
"This car represents so much of what we are," says Reggiani, who joined CEO Stefano Domenicali for a breakfast interview with USA TODAY Tuesday. "We are looking to the future."
The future, these days, seems to be all about self-driving cars designed to completely detach the driver from the transportation experience. Companies ranging from Waymo, Google parent Alphabet's self-driving car arm, to Ford are touting 2021 as the beginning of a mobility revolution that will impact everything from car sales to the oil industry.
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That robotic vision wouldn't appear to bode well for manufacturers of six-figure pleasure machines whose technology is aimed squarely at maximizing driver involvement.
Yet in a wide-ranging conversation, two visiting executives explained why they believe roads filled with self-driving cars will benefit performance car companies such as Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche; why their company has yet to hop on the hybrid powertrain bandwagon and why Volkswagen-owned Lamborghini is betting big on a forthcoming SUV called the Urus.
"The more autonomous vehicles take hold, and I still believe it will take a while for that to happen, the more our brand and products will have value," says Domenicali, who joined Lamborghini in 2016 after leading Ferrari's Formula One racing team for six years. "The gap will increase between cars that take you places, and cars you really drive."
Domenicali expounded on that theme during a Stanford University-sponsored talk Monday called "The Future of the Motoring Enthusiast."
His thesis is simple. As the more onerous aspects of transportation — cue video of any traffic-snarled commute — are handed over to self-driving machines, consumers will have more resources to deploy on special cars that they'll drive occasionally on roads that will be less clogged thanks to smart AVs.
Even he admits, however, that such a scenario is not only years down the road, but likely much farther away than AV pioneers would have us believe.
"If we build a new city tomorrow, the technology is here today to fill it only with autonomous cars," he says, shrugging. "But we live in the real world. One with bad roads, bad (lane) markings. The world is so big. There won't be one (automotive) answer for everywhere."
In the meantime, Lamborghini is taking stock of its audience and the available technology and decided how to deploy the latter to satisfy the former. Domenicali says his customers are far younger than rival Ferrari's, between 30 and 45 years old on average.
"Ferrari is a great company, and they're a reference for us," says the former Prancing Horse employee. "But our consumers are perceived as a bit younger and generally are people who really like the Italian lifestyle that goes with Lamborghini ownership."
Ferrari and Porsche have started to use hybrid powertrains that combine traditional gas-powered engines with torque-boosted electric motors — in Ferrari's case the result is the 1,000-hp La Ferrari ($1.4 million) and in Porsche's the 890-hp 918 Spyder ($850,000).
But Lamborghini is deliberately sticking with traditional power plants for its cars, which top out with the 740-hp Aventador ($400,000), says Domenicali.
"We want to understand what the trends are, sure, but we need to also understand what the trade-offs might be in terms of the maturity of the technology as well as the cost investments required to implement them in our cars," he says. "We need to stay flexible."