March 22, 2013 2:53 pm

The Pursuits Interview: Luca di Montezemolo

Can a 218mph road car really be environmentally friendly? Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari, presents the F1 legend’s first hybrid supercar
Portrait of Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari president, at the motor show©Christian Lutz

When Ferrari launched its fastest-ever street-legal supercar at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month, something unexpected came with its £1m price tag. The LaFerrari is a hybrid.

That means that Ferrari – with a car capable of 218mph – says that its top-tier trophy cars are going green. At the same show three years ago, Ferrari did display a hybrid version of its then flagship car, the 599GTB, but that was merely a concept machine, never intended for production. By contrast the LaFerrari is real and for sale.

At 330g of CO2 for every kilometre it travels, its emissions are only a fraction more than a top-spec Range Rover. And compared to the 574g/km of the world’s current fastest car, the Bugatti Veyron, whose acceleration the LaFerrari will certainly eclipse, that figure is a near miracle.

Shortly before the covers are pulled off the first road-going Ferrari to have more power than its latest Formula 1 car, I ask Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo if the Italian company has indeed managed to square the circle of an environmentally friendly supercar.

“We see it not only as a car itself, but a platform on which to develop future technologies,” says di Montezemolo. What this means is that sooner or later Ferrari will build hybrid versions of its more affordable, more mainstream models. An industry insider, who asked not to be named, put it more bluntly: “The only reason Ferrari is making a hybrid now is because that’s what its customers are asking for.”

Yet there are other factors at work here. Ferrari, which was founded in 1947 and is the only team to have been in F1 since its start in 1950, has always emphasised the technology transfer from race to road. It was the first supercar manufacturer to introduce an F1-style paddle-shift gearbox; a Ferrari steering-wheel is splattered with switches not because they are necessary but because they allow its customers to feel more like F1 drivers. Likewise, all Ferraris have race-specification carbon ceramic brakes. And with the LaFerrari, one is now a hybrid, just like its electrically assisted F1 car.

©Agence VU

Di Montezemolo sees no conflict. He points out that compared with the company’s last limited edition supercar, the Enzo of 2002, the LaFerrari is almost 50 per cent more powerful yet with 50 per cent lower emissions.

Only 499 LaFerrari’s will be made. And money alone will not be able to secure ownership: purchases are by invitation only. Di Montezemolo says that more than 700 clients have already said they want one – so at least 200 putative buyers will be disappointed. But there is a more important imperative than catering for a select group of allegedly environmentally minded supercar buyers. “We are preparing ourselves for when we have to have hybrid,” concedes di Montezemolo, referring to a widely predicted time when cities will permit only cars with zero emissions within their ring roads.

The LaFerrari will not yet run purely on battery power, but that is only because Ferrari chooses for it not to. Like a Toyota Prius, it has a conventional petrol engine which is assisted by a battery-fed electric motor. Di Montezemolo makes this clear, though: “It is important that Ferrari is still seen as a manufacturer of extreme sporting cars. I never want anyone to think we are decreasing our fundamental characteristics due to the environment.”

©Agence VU

The new supercar will be made at Ferrari’s Maranello plant, whose workers travel around the site on little red bicycles. Power is generated by two vast natural gas engines, and a 4 sq km bank of photovoltaic cells on the factory’s roof provides back-up.

“A few years ago, I felt people thought Ferrari didn’t care about the environment. This is not true,” says di Montezemolo, who is in uniform for the launch: grey double-breasted suit, brown suede shoes, blue tie bearing the prancing horse emblem of Ferrari. He appears totally relaxed.

“We are committed to drastically cutting fuel consumption and lowering emissions. But to us it was never something we made a lot of noise about. It is like washing your face, something you quietly get on and do every day.”

Di Montezemolo, now 65, was born into Piedmontese aristocracy and studied commercial law at Columbia University. He was 26 when – having been a rally car driver for Lancia – he took over Ferrari’s ailing F1 team in 1973. The team went on to win the world championship twice in three years. In 1977 he left Ferrari and, over the next 14 years, became CEO of the publisher of La Stampa; the chairman of Cinzano; and headed the team that built Italy’s first America’s Cup yacht. He organised the 1990 World Cup before running Juventus for a single, bruising season.

The controls of the LaFerrari©Agence VU

The controls of the LaFerrari give drivers a taste of F1 experience

In 1991 di Montezemolo returned to Ferrari as chairman and has never left (though he also had spells as CEO of both Maserati and Fiat, all three companies being owned by the Fiat Group). In the past 20 years production has more than tripled, from fewer than 2,400 cars a year to more than 7,300 as the company has taken advantage of lucrative new markets. Last year its sales in Italy fell by 56 per cent, yet it made a net profit of €244m on revenues of €2.4bn.

“In 1991, 90 per cent of sales came from Italy, Germany and the US. Now China is our second-largest market,” says di Montezemolo. “Without our strategy of opening up Ferrari to new clients in new markets, now we would be in the shit.”

The Italian domestic situation clearly bothers him. In 2009 he founded the Italia Futura think-tank and talk was rife that he would launch a bid for political office – speculation he did little to quell until finally ruling himself out of the Italian elections in January this year.

“I don’t think Italy is likely to recover soon. If you open the newspaper, you see we have no government and everyone is against everyone else. So I will push as a citizen, as chairman of Ferrari and as a well-known person to find responsible people to sit around the table to find a few crucial reforms for the future of Italy.”

But now there is work to be done, for he must introduce the LaFerrari to a thousand or so media people camped out on his stand. “Everything on this car – the hybrid, electronics, materials and so on – anticipates the future. It doesn’t mean we’ll use it all on all our cars tomorrow, but at Ferrari we know the importance of being prepared.” With that di Montezemolo smiles, shakes my hand and sets off for the scrum.

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