What next for Bugatti and Lamborghini as new boss takes the wheel?

Luxury sports car boss Stephan Winkelmann sits down with Arabian Business to discuss electrification and the impact of coronavirus

Bugatti has been producing sports cars for over 110 years

Global changes such as electrification and the impact of coronavirus are key challenges for Stephan Winkelmann as he takes on the dual role of president of the luxury automotive brand Bugatti and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini.

Winkelmann, who returns to lead the company he was president and CEO of for 11 years, spoke to Arabian Business at the UAE media launch of the Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport.

Winkelmann said his main challenge in heading the two brands will be in their adapting to global changes. Part of this adaptation will be electrification at the right time and in the right way, he explained.

In a wide-reaching interview, Winkelmann also spoke about the impact coronavirus has had on Bugatti and how the company adapted to that.

Stephan Winkelmann is the president of Bugatti and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini

What are the challenges and opportunities in your dual leadership roles in Bugatti and Lamborghini?

So the first challenge is how to divide my presence especially that now with the pandemic, travelling is not the easiest. In the beginning, it’s going to be more difficult because I’m still getting up to speed. But I was with Lamborghini for eleven years before and this is helping me in quickly getting to the level of knowledge I need to decide where to be.

Also, we learned this year to have a lot of video conferences, Skype and things like this so once you and the team know each other pretty well, you can rely on that.

The other challenges, in my opinion, is to think of what is coming next for these brands. For me a brand is never just a picture, it is a field which is constantly evolving and changing with the people working in it and with how the world is changing in general.

So this adaptation is not something you perceive now but, if you take a picture today and you look back at in ten years, you would see that there are big changes that happened. However, this is something you have to do very carefully and adapt it to the needs of the times you’re living in while also being ahead of them. This is valid for both Lamborghini and for Bugatti.

The Chiron Pur Sport’s aerodynamic configuration generates more downforce while the lower weight increases agility

How do you see sustainability in relation to the two brands?

When we speak about Bugatti, it is important to say that the total volume of Chiron we are going to produce is 500 cars. The yearly average is between 80 and 85 cars and the mileage our customers are putting on the cars is between a 1,000 and 2,000. So the impact is negligible.

But it’s clear that we cannot cut ourselves out of the reality of this world. There will be a phase where we have to really know what we are going to do next. This is now a bit too early and we still have time to decide, given our limited environmental impact.

There will be electrification coming up somehow in the years to come. What is important for brands like Bugatti is you have to come at the right time with the right offer. Otherwise, even if you have the best offer in this world, but the people are not accepting, you missed it. You don’t have to be the first one, but you have to be the best one when you come and then it has to be a big bang.

At the company and power plants levels, we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint by using alternative forms of electricity. We are also planting thousands of trees a year, in our region in France, to offset emissions. Even though it is at a small scale, I think it is still a good step and I had started that at Lamborghini as well more than a decade ago.

How has the situation with Covid impacted Bugatti specifically?

This year, for us, was a very tough year. Because of the lockdown in France during March and April, we had to close our factory and all the suppliers were closing. But after the lockdown, the ramp-up was smooth. The suppliers were helping us a lot and they were opening up again.

We had almost nobody who was affected by the pandemic from our team as we had all the safety measures in place and this was a good sign. Unfortunately now, after the summertime, the situation is once again a stop and go one. We have markets which are closing, markets which are halfway and the markets which are working fine.

All trim and controls of the Chiron Pur Sport are made exclusively of either black, anodised aluminium or titanium

How do you navigate all that uncertainty?

It’s a constant scenario-changing situation where we have to be very flexible. I’ll give you the example of the Chiron which we are launching here in Dubai today; it was planned to be launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

So the pandemic caused delays because of the cancellation of events but also because of us not being able to test the cars on the road, as we always do at the end of the development phase. Due to the lockdown, we could not test the cars on the road so we had a delay as well.

But despite this, the brand Bugatti is coming out of the pandemic very well. So I have to say that this is not affecting us a lot and also for next year we have a solid order bank and I think that we will get a good result as well next year.

During the pandemic, did you adopt digital alternatives to maintain operations?

Yes, we did a lot of virtual presentations all around the world from our factory and we had webinars with customers and dealers. So we tried to have the best presence possible.

But, because this is a very emotional brand, the touch and feel cannot be substituted by social media, websites or video messages. These tools help because they increase awareness and allow you to speak to people but the process of purchasing a Bugatti is a very personal and needs one-on-one interaction.

Gallery: Bugatti's new $9 million special-edition CentodieciThe French manufacturer of hyper sports cars reveals the new special-edition Bugatti Centodieci+8

Do you think the coronavirus crisis will affect how much people are willing to spend on luxury cars?

A decade ago, when we had the other crisis, people were eager to get back to life again. This is an even more personal crisis so the need for freedom and for getting back to normal is incredibly high with a lot of people already planning their next steps.

I feel it because when I speak with my friends or family, they say ‘when can we do something again?’ So this will, in my opinion, give a boost to these type of brands. Because when the situation is back to normal, they have so much to recover and so much they want to do that they will put this sense of freedom even at a higher level. 

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