"We believe this could be our future," Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann insists.
Yes, the head of Lamborghini said that about an SUV. Not just any SUV, though. This is the Lamborghini Urus concept, a 600-horsepower, carbon-fiber-infused brute of a sport-ute that makes even the Cayenne look tame.
Unveiled for the first time at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show, it's aimed squarely at the U.S. and Chinese markets. Lamborghini claims the four-seater will create an all-new market segment well above the Porsche Cayenne and Land Rover Range Rover.
"Last year we sold 1,600 cars, which was a small recovery after the bad times of 2009 and 2010," Winkelmann said. "We are seeing 3,000-3,500 a year for the Urus and will be more than doubling of what we have at the moment."
A More Useful Lamborghini
Hit hard by the global financial crisis, Lamborghini first tried to insulate itself against future downturns with the Estoque sedan concept. Since then, the company has changed tack and the Urus is now leading the charge to improved profitability.
"We need to have something to counterbalance the ups and downs of our lifecycles," Winkelmann explains. "We want to widen our customer base and to have a third model gives us a much more stable profitability.
"For us, it has to be a segment that's useful for families as the first car in the family, and despite what people think, we have a lot of this in our history," Winkelmann said. "If you look at the Miura today, it looks more like a GT car than a super sports car. If you look at the Espada or the LM002, we are not a company that always did specifically sports cars."
He also insists Lamborghini has no choice but to make it stand alone as the fastest-accelerating and best-handling soft-roader in the world — a tall order in a world that already boasts Porsche's Cayenne Turbo S and Mercedes-Benz's AMG ML63 and GL63 V8s and even the twin-turbo V12 G65.
Winkelmann insists the 600-hp Lamborghini Urus will launch from zero to 62 mph in around 4 seconds, will be comfortable enough for adults to use all four seats every day and would cost upward of $230,000.
While Lamborghini is being coy about what power plants its Urus (it's named after the ancestor of modern cattle) could use, the hood line rules out V12 power.
There's no doubt the engine is one major sticking point for the Urus. Lamborghini R&D boss Maurizio Reggiani admitted it could be "derived from VW Group developments in that area" between now and a forecast on-sale date of 2017. "We could be looking at a VW Group powertrain and we are part of the group, so that is sensible when it's well managed," Reggiani explained.
He admitted that the Lamborghini management team wasn't ruling anything out at the moment, even the twin-turbo version of its own Gallardo V10, which Audi used for its slow-selling 2008 Audi RS6 Avant and which would comfortably hit the Urus' horsepower target.
"It could be pure petrol power, it could involve some performance-boosting electrical hybrid system. At the moment the important thing is to see what happens in the Group's development because we have four or five years before we will have something to sell."
Reggiani and Winkelmann are both convinced the key to having the fastest, greenest super-SUV going around in 2017 will be slashing the power-to-weight figure. They have had the Lamborghini Aventador's in-house carbon-fiber team working on structural weight savings over conventional SUV thinking.
They claim to have already found 220 pounds in weight savings by using structural carbon-fiber elements in the chassis, the dashboard and the central tunnel. And, Reggiani promised, there is more to come.
"The weight-to-power ratio is the most important number with a vehicle like this because we have the most to gain with reducing weight, not adding power," Reggiani insisted.
"Weight is important for performance, but we want 600 horsepower and to also have CO2 reductions. For us, the important discussions to lock in right now are about target power, weight, packaging and CO2," Reggiani admitted.
A Practical Italian
Inwardly, the Lamborghini Urus drips with lightweight structural carbon fiber, an adjustable suspension and a radical front suspension while outwardly, it incorporates active aerodynamics, an edgily aggressive design language and 23-inch wheels.
Designed in 11 months (and completely on computer), the Urus concept is 196.4 inches long, 78.6 inches wide and just 65.4 inches high and sits on a 114-inch wheelbase that, unfortunately, forces most of the engine's mass to sit ahead of the front axle line.
It carries the Aventador's braking system in concept form and sits on bespoke wheels and enormous Pirelli Scorpion Zero 305/35 ZR23 tires, which are actually a production item for the U.S. aftermarket.
Though it can theoretically carry five people, Lamborghini wants to retain its four-seat layout and Reggiani insisted a design team member who stands over 6-foot-3 sat in the rear with suitable clearance over his head.
An Agile SUV
Handling will also be a key, and Lamborghini plans to give the all-wheel-drive system rear-biased torque distribution to counter the MLB's nose-heavy weight distribution, though it's so early that Lamborghini isn't even talking about what gearbox it might use.
"In terms of ground clearance, it has to be a normal SUV but it has to be something that you can drive and not be disappointing when you are pushing it," Winkelmann opined.
"The drivability and the emotion and the handling are much more important than the top speed in this segment for us, and this is a good attempt in the right direction."
Reggiani is promising movable aerodynamics and constantly adjusting suspension ride height to achieve his boss's goals. "We will have movable aero to make it perfect in every condition," he promised.
"The important points on its drivability are a consequence of the weight and power, but more strictly our front suspension will allow our car to be the best in class and the most sporting SUV in the world."
Not a Done Deal
As done as it looks, the Lamborghini Urus has to get production approval first, and it's competing with Bentley's much-derided EXP 9 F concept in popularity and profitability to get there.
Both concepts have been planned around Audi's MLB platform, which will form the basis of the 2014 Audi Q7, but sources insist the VW Group is likely to approve only one.
While the business case will ultimately determine a winner (or two), Lamborghini is hoping the more coherent design of its 16-foot off-roader will give it a popular edge.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.