Five Minutes with Stephan Winkelmann, Lamborghini President and CEO

Apr 10, 2015 03:10 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

We had the chance to sit down with Winkelmann ahead of the North American reveal of the Aventador Pirelli Edition during media days for the New York auto show.

Auto World News: You're a maker of high-performance cars. But there's a point at which there are 700-horsepower Dodges on the street.

Stephan Winkelmann: Seven hundred fifty [horsepower], we have now, in the Super Veloce.

When is there too much power?

Too much power is something which is a matter of the time you're living in. Ten years ago, it was 100 horsepower less, in comparison to today. But the most important thing for us is not so much the race for additional power: it's to have a balance between the power and the weight of the car. To increase the power is usually [easier] than to decrease the weight. Even though we have to say that decreasing weight [gives] much better performance from the car-inertia, when you brake, when you come out of the corner, in terms of acceleration, etc. The point is, due to active and passive safety, and due to comfort items, the cars are getting heavier and heavier. And it's very expensive to get the weight out again. For example, the Super Veloce has 750 horsepower, and we reduced the weight by 110 lbs. on top of that. This is the car that we presented in Geneva, and it has a power-to-weight ratio of 2 kg/horsepower, which is incredible. ... So, for us, even if we are very proud of the maximum speed, like 217 on the Super Veloce, or the Aventador, [it's] much more important than top speed and acceleration is handling. And handling comes about, out of this perfect balance. I think that the race for incremental horsepower is not gone, but we are not participating in this race, in the sense of one-to-one. We are looking much more into what I said before. This is paying off, because you are unable to go top speed on a racetrack-not even if you have a long straight. Even in our cars, it's already impossible. ... You can experience acceleration, but even there, you have to brake and you have to reaccelerate. This is why the handling is the most important thing. Power is important, but even more is weight.

So, is top speed now a theoretical exercise?

No, because we always test our cars on straights-long straights-to get to the top speed, which is fun. But less than 1 percent of our customers are able to do it on the road. It's something like, when you were a kid, you said, "My father's car's top speed is this or that," and this is part of the game. It's getting less important, and we strongly believe that this is not going to be like in the '60s or '70s, where top speed [and] acceleration [came before] handling. Now, it's handling, acceleration, and then top speed, in terms of importance to the customer. This is bringing the emotion, much more than just accelerating.

My father drove a Land Rover Defender 90, so we never talked about top speed.

You're going to talk about off-roading.

When you look at the landscape of supercar manufactures, it seems like it's growing. McLaren has a supercar. Tesla could call the P85D a supercar. Where does that leave a brand like Lamborghini, which has a supercar heritage?

Then we are super-supercars, or super-super sports cars. The point is that, yes, there is more competition. The market is more or less the same than it was 10 years ago, so there is no big growth, but more and more manufacturers are stepping in, because this is giving [an] image. It's changing the life of a brand, if they achieve, because they are different types of brands. McLaren, which is positioning itself in this sense, that it's a pure sports-car manufacturer, and the other premium manufacturers, which are putting one at the top to create [sportiness] for the rest. It's a halo effect for the rest of the brand, and for the rest of the products. I think this is very positive to have more competition, and it's a win-win situation for the customers. On one hand, they have more [choices], and they have more news. Everybody is more focused on innovation and bringing out something which is always better than what they had in the past. Life cycles are getting shorter, and innovations are getting higher. Where this is going to end, nobody knows.

Do you see Lamborghini coming out with a car that could compete at a lower price point, with less power, lighter-something like that?

I learned one thing in the car industry: never say never. It's not planned. If we are thinking about a third model, then we are thinking about in a different segment, and something far away from a super-sports car as we know it today. If we look at the two cars we have today, the Huracan and the Aventador, then it's about their weight. For their weight, we are doing the utmost to give the customers a huge variety of choices, and to give them also the opportunity to always have something new. This is the biggest task: to keep stable production running for the peaks, and to always have something unexpected to come. This is the big challenge inside the life cycle of an existing product.

Maurizio Reggiani hinted that the SUV might be next, as opposed to the sedan. Could an SUV be a super-sports car?

If it's an SUV, then for sure it's a super-sports car amongst the SUVs. Even if it's going to have a different target and different positioning, because it's a daily-usable car. It's a car that is also meant for cruising, much more for handling than anything else, so it also has to be comfortable, and has to be a car that is fast in every moment of the situation you are living in with the car: in traffic, out of traffic, off road, on the race track. It has to be a car that is an all-rounder, in this sense, and it has to be the super-sports car amongst the SUVs, in terms of design but also in terms of performance.

Do you have a favorite, historic Lamborghini?

I have more than one. The Miura, in my opinion, created Lamborghini. Then [there's] the Countach, of which the design is the ancestor of the design we have today, and this is something that is a real super-sports car. And then I like the off-roaders and SUVs, as an idea, [so] LM002.

What are you driving these days?

I drive an Aventador Roadster.

How do you like it?

I like it a lot.

If you could change one thing about the car, what would you change?

I would change the weather, because it's always raining. You know, we are all very critical of our cars. But I think this is the car that is incredibly strong, [four] years after the start of production. It's a real super-sports car, and there is no competition outside. For the V-10 Huracan, it's the newest car, the newest kid on the block, and this is an amazing car. It's not only a super-sports car, but it's also a car which is so easy to drive that it's almost unthinkable, When I look back a couple of years what was done there, and in the entire industry. This car is really, as we say, easy on the road and performing on the race track without any help. This is very positive.

Do you think a car today could make a statement like Miura did, when it debuted?

It's getting more difficult today, because you don't have the freedom you had back in the '60s. What you think you could do without the limits of homologation and safety, and you could sell it almost all over the place. This is something which is not possible anymore. I think that the challenges of today are much higher than in the past, because the past 30 or 40 years was an ongoing evolution. What we have in front of us, in the next decade, will be a revolution. This will also affect super-sports car manufacturers like Lamborghini. We will see what the future will bring us. I'm talking about the emissions issue, and there is a lot we have to check. We need to be with the right innovation at the right time, which is key. You cannot expect from a super-sports car manufacturer that everything is innovative, even though we think most of it should be. There are things that are part of the emissions business-the engine, for example, and the shape [and sound] of the car-which are key also for our success in the future. This is something we have to maintain. Other than that, it is much more difficult which you have in mind to [produce] it in reality, which 40 or 50 years ago was much easier.

Would you consider production outside of Italy?

Today, I would not consider it. For the time being, we are not taking into consideration to produce outside of Italy.

Auto World News was on the ground and covering the 2015 New York International Auto Show. Check out our up-to-the-minute coverage of all the action in New York City, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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