INTERVIEW | Ferrari's Benedetto Vigna on the future of luxury and the shift from combustion to electric

14 February 2023 - 08:53 By Daniele Lepido, Tommaso Ebhardt and Jacqueline Simmons
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Benedetto Vigna says Tesla gave the automotive industry a wake-up call.
Benedetto Vigna says Tesla gave the automotive industry a wake-up call.
Image: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

One turns 20 this year, the other shipped its first car shortly after World War 2. The former wants to bring sustainable transportation to the masses, while the latter sells speed and extravagance to the world’s wealthiest. One’s cars quietly whirr, and the other’s roar.

Tesla and Ferrari have little in common, and won’t for another few years. But in one of the few interviews he’s given since becoming CEO of the Italian supercar manufacturer 17 months ago, Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna complimented the electric vehicle maker led by Elon Musk while drawing clear distinctions between their respective paths forward.

Speaking at Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters, Vigna, 53, credited Tesla with accelerating change within an industry steeped in engine cylinders. The executive who pioneered sensors used in billions of iPhones discussed how Ferrari will navigate the shift to batteries from combustion engines, the runaway success of the brand’s newest model line and the future of luxury.

What have you learned from Tesla?

The big contribution that Tesla has made to the automotive industry? It was a wake-up call. Things used to happen too slowly. Tesla shook up the industry and accelerated processes and decisions. They were faster and more agile.

How unique is Ferrari’s path towards electrification?

Electrification is a new way to provide our customers a unique driving experience, and I’ve no doubt that our electric power trains will give clients the same thrills of combustion engines. The point is how to extract the best emotion from the use of this technology, giving something unique to the clients.

Driving thrills is a combination of factors: longitudinal acceleration, lateral acceleration, sound, gear-changing and braking. This doesn’t change if the power train is electric.

Is Ferrari on track with its electrification plans?

Yes, we’re fully on track to unveil our first fully electric Ferrari in 2025. That means it will go into the market the following year.

What will be the main differences between an electric Ferrari and other cars?

Well, there are functional cars, that have the goal of moving people from point A to point B, emitting zero carbon dioxide. You don’t care about its brand; what really matters is that it moves you. Separately, there are emotional cars that gives you a unique driving experience, like Ferraris.

How do you consider Tesla?

For me, it’s a functional car. It’s meant to go from one point to another.

There’s a perception Ferrari has been slower with respect to electrification than some competitors.

That’s not true. I just think a company like us can’t impose any choice on clients, and that’s why we’ll keep offering a mix of technology for as long as it’s feasible. That means internal combustion engines, hybrids and fully electric models.

You’re going electric, but the long-awaited Purosangue unveiled just a few months ago will only be powered by combustion engines. What was behind this decision?

That shows there’s still room for a mix of technology. We’ve filled the order book four times faster than our original plan. Still, I can reiterate that Purosangue’s contribution to our deliveries won’t exceed 20% during the model’s life cycle.

Can you tell us more about the Purosangue order book?

The only thing I can tell you is that we are in line with other models, so we have orders placed for delivery going well into 2024.

What are your views on electrification?

Some regulators at a certain point decided that the community should go into electric, right or wrong. And it is — this is going to happen.

Electrification is just one piece of the pie, and there’s indeed too much hype about it as well as on software and the debate about the need to consolidate the supply chain. Most people are looking too much at the technology itself, so you have people talking about things such as axial flow, radial flow and power density, when the most important thing is the client’s perception.

What do you mean?

Electrifying cars is relatively easy from a technological point of view. The real point is how to extract the best emotion for the use of this technology you want to provide to the driver. Technology is just a tool, and I think there’s too much money poured into this, and this is because there’s a lack of deep knowledge.

What is the biggest threat you see for Ferrari?

I can’t see any specific threat for Ferrari. There is a threat for the luxury industry overall, which is how will new generations react to luxury goods? That’s why I’m putting a lot of attention on sustainability, a true sustainability action plan. When I say that we want to be carbon neutral by the end of 2030, I mean that by end of 2030, I want to sharply cut emissions.

What would you like your legacy to be?

What I’d like to leave is a company where there is more empowerment at all levels, that’s more unified. I want decisions to be taken at all levels. There’s this trend in Latin culture companies to wait for the boss to tell the people what they have to do. Do it, full stop.

How do you measure success?

It’s all about how quickly you understand the environment around you and how quickly you adapt and make decisions, partially with the brain and partially with the gut. If you believe you need to wait to have the whole range of elements to make the final decision, well, it’s too late.

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