- Lamborghini CEO Stephen Winkelmann has helmed the Italian brand longer than Ferruccio Lamborghini himself.
- The brand is enjoying unprecedented success in a post-pandemic luxury goods boom, fueling future hybrid development.
- Winkelmann says, "Younger fans of the brand are telling us we are on the right path to sustainability."
Lamborghini CEO Says Investing in Electrification Will Safeguard the Brand
Endurance racing is helping the Raging Bull advance its goals
Stephan Winkelmann is a fascinating combination of German practicality that is his birthright and a leonine chic absorbed throughout his upbringing in Italy. The Lamborghini CEO has been at the helm of the supercar company for a total of 13 years between two stints, which is longer than anyone else in the Raging Bull’s history.
Longer, even, than Ferruccio Lamborghini himself.
Lamborghini's future frontier
A motorcycle enthusiast since childhood, Winkelmann fell into the automotive world after a stint on the financial side. He landed at Mercedes-Benz and then Fiat, taking a leadership role in the European region for the latter until 2005, when he moved to Lamborghini as CEO. In 2016, Winkelmann jumped over to lead the motorsports division of Audi until 2018, when he was named president of Bugatti. Incredibly, the executive kept the presidency of Bugatti and took on the role of CEO at Lamborghini at the same time and held both for nearly a year.
“My career started by chance in the automotive world; it was not planned,” Winkelmann told Edmunds at the Rolex 24 in Daytona, Florida. “I am very happy about what we have achieved at Lamborghini. [Shaping] the brand or being part of this history is something which is even more important than the cars itself now, because you are part of a team which is growing and looking in the same direction.”
Today, the executive is helping to usher Lamborghini into the next frontier: electrification. Last year at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, he told Yahoo! that the entire lineup will be hybridized by the end of 2024, including the popular Urus. However, all we know for sure so far is that the line-topping Aventador will be replaced with a hybrid version and will be revealed in the next few months.
Meanwhile, the Raging Bull is focused on its good fortune in a booming marketplace. The economic recovery in the past few years was startling to even Winkelmann, who has had his finger on the pulse of the luxury market for so long. Lamborghini landed a record sales year in 2021 and topped that by an additional 10% in 2022.
“The biggest surprise for all of us — and for the total industry — was the comeback of the market after the pandemic,” Winkelmann said. “You never know what is going to happen, so you have to be prepared for the worst. In this industry … you never think that this is going to last. There's a tipping point that we have to watch very carefully.”
Lamborghini hopes that staying current with electrification and investing in the future will safeguard the brand. It’s a delicate balance to stay true to the Raging Bull’s DNA. Part of that strategy includes a strong presence in motorsports as a research and development field and to connect with its fans.
A return to motorsports
As the legend goes, Ferruccio Lamborghini was quite wealthy, having grown several businesses with great success. He owned several expensive cars, including a Ferrari. Apparently, he was disappointed with the mechanical quality of the Ferrari and was inspired to start a supercar company of his own. Ferruccio poached an engineer from Ferrari and the Lamborghini 350 GTV was born.
Ferruccio expressed disdain for motorsports for his own cars.
“In 1963, Ferruccio said, ‘I don’t have to prove anything on the racetrack because I’m building the best and the fastest super sports cars and therefore I don’t need to go racing,’” Winkelmann said.
Times change, though, and in 2009 the current CEO led the charge to make waves in the motorsports realm with the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series. The reason racing is important, Winkelmann told us, was to build a stronger connection between the brand and its customers.
This year, Lamborghini flew its racing colors on a field of five cars — including the all-female Iron Dames team — in the 24 Hours of Daytona race that serves as the season opener of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The brand enjoyed back-to-back victories three times between 2018 and 2020, and while the teams didn’t notch a win this year, they’re keeping an eye toward the future. Next year, Lamborghini will enter the top class of endurance racing with a hybrid LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) car powered by a twin-turbo V8 engine boosted by an electric powertrain. Its development is timely, running parallel with Lamborghini’s consumer lineup.
"We are entering [LDMh] because it’s the best opportunity to test materials,” Winkelmann said. “The fact that it's a hybrid is fitting perfectly in our strategy."
The future of the Lamborghini roar
As Winkelmann emphasized, he and his team must be cognizant of staying focused and true to the brand. The roaring sound of a Lamborghini is so distinctive that Eddie Van Halen used a revving Miura as a primary sound effect on Van Halen's hit song “Panama” from the 1984 album. How the sound will change as Lamborghini dips its toe into the electrification pool is so far unknown, and Winkelmann understands the need to change not just for the sake of change but with purpose.
Both Winkelmann and Rouven Mohr, Lamborghini’s chief technical officer, emphasize that the pursuit of electrification is not just about building fast cars, which they say is “boring” by itself. The key is for Lamborghini to maintain its current fan base while appealing to new fans, some of whom don’t even have their licenses yet.
“You have to be very cautious ... because the brand is all about exclusivity,” Winkelmann said. “It's about residual values; it's about being collectible. It's about being a dream of many and the reality for few.”
At least we can all dream.
As fans of Lamborghini's spine-tingling combustion engine sounds and thrilling ride, we're very curious about what the next generation of cars will sound like. The brand is smart to look ahead and anticipate what the next generation of buyers will want to maintain Lamborghini's success in the future.