Car enthusiasts have a history of electric-car hesitancy. While some are fully on board with electrification and hybridization, there are still some petrol holdouts, especially at the rarified and pointy end-of-the-price spectrum like Lamborghini.
The push for electrification and hybrid powertrains poses a significant challenge to the carmaker known for creating striking, bespoke containers for some of the most powerful gasoline engines in the world, and there's a small sense of reluctance about it from Lamborghini's top brass.
Lamborghini has said it will shift all models to hybrid powertrains by 2024 and already announced one hybrid model, the exceedingly limited run Lamborghini Sián FKP 37 and the Countach LPI 800-4. By next year, the first production (i.e., not limited run) vehicle with a hybridized powertrain will be released, though Lamborghini is still mum on what exactly that will look like. While other supercar makers like Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche continue to make both production and limited run vehicles with hybrid powertrains, Lamborghini is one of the last supercar companies to get into the game.
Lamborghini hopes to leverage its loyal customers to innovate around the future of their iconic super sports cars.
The future of fuel for Lamborghini
"On the one hand, we are super niche -- and make up a very small part of the CO2 equation. But we want to do our part," Andrea Baldi, the new North American CEO of Lamborghini said at a recent launch event for one of the last gas-powered Huracáns that Lamborghini will release, the Huracán STO. "The shift to hybrid, electric and alternative powertrains is forcing us to rethink performance and we're not sure that electrification is the long-term direction to move in."
"Whether we release a fourth model with a hybrid or electric powertrain or find a solution for internal combustion that uses a different kind of fuel, we're still learning. We need to deliver on a common target: Emotion and the authentic Lamborghini experience," Baldi says.
He wouldn't elaborate on specifics around the kind of fuel or technology the company might employ but Lamborghini CTO Maurizio Reggiani did allude to some interesting research that could point to a fully electrified Lamborghini in the future.
"Hybrid powertrains are the next frontier where we are sure we can innovate," Reggiani said separately. "We exist because we have unique DNA. We are engineering emotion and there is some research we're doing with the Polytechnic University in Milan on how physical events like vibration, for example, can impact the flow of emotion." It's possible to see a world where the physical effects of an ICE engine are simulated by gyroscopes and audio tracks.
Technically, Lamborghini's factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese has been carbon neutral since 2015, Baldi says, but the 1,800-person company is part of the much larger, and much more carbon-emitting VW Group. Yet, despite its low volume of vehicles and a concerted push from the Italian government to exempt automakers like Lamborghini and Ferrari from the coming combustion engine ban, Lamborghini is being forced to move toward an alternative-fuel future.
Baldi says that one in 11,000 vehicles in the world is a Lamborghini, which is tiny compared to a massive automaker like Toyota or Honda. "Hybridization and electrification offer the opportunity to expand the future of emotion for the Lamborghini owner. You're buying a dream. The majority of customers are looking for a car that expresses their success," Baldi says. Yet, no matter how much Lamborghini customers want their combustion engines to continue well into the future, the time for those engines is coming to a close.
Building a direct customer connection
Meeting customer demands has always been at the heart of the Lamborghini brand and the company is leveraging its loyal owners to determine the future model direction as it works toward a 50% reduction in CO2 starting in 2025. The recent launch of the already sold out Countach LPI 800-4 at Pebble Beach is an example of how Lamborghini is using its customer base to create a new, high-demand product with a hybrid powertrain.
"We can't just create vehicles in a vacuum. The whole customer experience has enriched the bonds we have with our customers," Baldi said. "The special project we did with the Countach -- that was an exercise of trust directly between the company and the customer. We had 1-to-1 meetings as if they were friends and that helped inform what we did with Countach. Building that vehicle was an emotional decision and it was a good business case."
With the advent of COVID and resulting limits on travel, factory visits were largely halted during 2020, but Lamborghini was ahead of the game having launched a digital platform called Unica, back in 2018, that allowed them to deliver the specialized customer contact and service that owners expect. The app can be downloaded to a smartphone and owners gain access to exclusive events, launches and social media. In order to sign up, you have to provide the VIN of your Lamborghini and your certificate of ownership.
The app has opened up the possibility of direct sales between the company and consumers, as a result. "Direct sales is where we need to explore. We are in an age of acceleration, and we want to have a direct relationship with customers. The question is how much can we expand the direct touch with customers?" Baldi said. "To ensure a sense that the value of the car will be preserved means we have to have high-touch customer relationships. The average wait for a car is currently more than a year, right now. The wait time is selling these cars and the value is preserved because we have direct contact with customers."
The latest Lamborghini model, the Huracán STO, a street homologated race car, is currently sold out until 2022 and comes with added connectivity via the Unica app and the vehicle. The system allows owners to record lap times, throttle and brake input, steering angle and video of laps on a track and upload the data to the app. There, owners can share their information with other Lamborghini owners, their friends, the company or their race coaches to continue to improve their performance. It becomes a sort of elite social network for Lamborghini owners and offers the company a way to connect in more direct ways.
"Customers demand the right context to experience a Lamborghini," Baldi said. "Supersport cars are expanding. If we can offer these experiences in auto lifestyle and motorsport, and expand to more high touch, customers will stay within the brand."