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Five brands that could struggle as the automotive world moves into the electric age | Opinion

The electric vehicle wave has been building for some time, and now it’s starting to break and flood the global new car market. 

Manufacturers are faced with the challenge of environmentally focused legislation on one side and the opportunity of increasing consumer demand on the other.

Some of the world’s biggest carmakers have drawn lines in the sand that mark the end of internal combustion engines in their line-ups.

Jaguar will be completely EV by 2025. Audi will only launch new EVs from 2026. Under the Stellantis umbrella, Alfa Romeo will be electric-only by 2027, with Fiat, Opel and Peugeot to be fully-electric come 2030. Renault will be all electric in Europe by 2030, as will Lexus.

Volvo has also targeted 2030 as its date for a full shift to EVs globally, but as we reported recently, the company’s Australian subsidiary is ahead of the curve, nominating 2026 as the year it will be EV-only locally. And Volvo’s sister brand Polestar is already exclusively electric.

BMW and VW are targeting 50 per cent of global sales to be EVs by 2030. Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and other global players have been investing massively in programs focused on a zero-tailpipe emissions future, sooner rather than later.

Which is fine… unless a fundamental part of a brand’s attraction is underpinned by the engines that power its products. 

Here are five automotive brands that could struggle to keep their head above water as the automotive world moves into the electric age.

Ferrari

Two of Enzo Ferrari’s most famous quotes come from his close to single-minded focus on motor racing - “Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines” and “I build engines and attach wheels to them”.

Close to 35 years after il Commendatore’s death, Ferrari remains closely aligned with the fabulous engines that power its exclusive and exotic supercars.

Arguably, it’s the V12 road and racing engines developed through the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, by engineering giants like Gioacchino Colombo, Aurelio Lampredi, and Vittorio Jano that solidified the brand’s reputation for stunning performance.

Despite flirtations with hybrid powertrains, starting close to a decade ago with the LaFerrari hypercar, and continued in the current SF90 and 296, Ferrari’s latest release, the much-anticipated Purosangue SUV, is powered by a naturally aspirated V12 engine, mounted in the nose, just like the 125, Ferrari’s first V12 of 1947.

Ferrari remains closely aligned with the fabulous engines that power its exclusive and exotic supercars. (Image: Quattroruote)

Sure, the 125’s ‘Colombo’ V12 was a 1.5-litre unit, producing 82kW/122Nm, while the Purosangue’s monstrous 6.5-litre (borrowed from the 812) pumps out 533kW/716Nm, but it’s the principle of the thing.

Will the hum of an electric Ferrari raise the hairs on the back of the neck like a screaming V12. I think not.       

Potential saviour: Ferrari is as much a luxury goods brand as a car manufacturer, in 2021 generating 50 per cent of its $4B in annual revenue from merchandise. At 36.3x, its share price-to-earnings (PE) ratio is more in line with premium names like Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey (25.4x), Hermès (49.38x), and Prada (31.8x). For reference, Ford currently sits at 8.9x and VW at 3.7x. 

Fun fact: Despite a steady share price decline in the past 12 months at the time of writing Tesla’s PE still sits at 53.9!  

Ferrari’s latest release, the much-anticipated Purosangue SUV, is powered by a naturally aspirated V12 engine.

Lamborghini

Lamborghini has never had an engine with fewer than eight cylinders powering one of its production cars, and the company’s charismatic founder, Ferrucio Lamborghini was as big a fan of V12s as his one-time friend, Enzo Ferrari.

From the very first 350 GT in 1964, 12 cylinders arranged in a vee has been the classic Lambo layout.

A smattering of V8s, even V10s have been included to great acclaim and commercial success, the latter powering the Gallardo ‘junior’ supercar that (under (Audi/VW Group ownership) pumped up the company’s profits for a decade from 2003.

Yes, eyebrows were raised in 2014, when the plug-in hybrid Lamborghini Asterion concept was revealed, the all-wheel drive two-seater combining a 5.2-litre V10 with three electric motors for a stonking 669kW (910hp). 

But at the time it felt like a response to the brand’s VW Group overlords demanding some action on alternative powertrains. Something of a shot in the dark, until…  the Sian FKP 37 arrived five years later.

Lamborghini has never had an engine with fewer than eight cylinders powering one of its production cars.

The dramatic limited-build (63 units) mild-hybrid features a 48-volt 'e-motor' in the gearbox, a supercapacitor instead of the expected Li-Ion battery, and yes, a 6.5-litre V12. Total output - 602kW, 0-100km/h - 2.8sec.

Stunning numbers, but in terms of electrification a step backwards rather than a step closer to the pure EV future the brand often refers to.   

Lamborghini says its Urus, Huracan and Aventador replacements will go hybrid by 2025, with its first electric supercar to follow soon after.

But will an electric Lamborghini fire the imagination and emotions of potential buyers as much as a howling V8, V10, or V12? I wouldn’t bank on it.

Potential saviour: Lamborghini CEO, Stephan Winkelmann is up for the electric challenge, recently telling CarsGuide: “This is already a path that we have digested..."

“We have to keep in mind that at Lamborghini we are not selling mobility, we are selling dreams. So, we have to take this very seriously by changing everything, but not to change anything.”

Fun fact: The most reliable narrative describing Ferrucio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari’s famous falling out, and the beginning of Lamborghini as a carmaker, centres on a 10 lira clutch plate. Lamborghini took exception to the parts and workshop charges for a replacement clutch on one of his Ferrari 250s, especially when he discovered the part was the same as the that used in one of Lamborghini’s smaller tractor models. Ferrucio complained, Enzo palmed him off, and a car company was born.  

The Asterion produces 602kW of power and achieves 0-100km/h in just 2.8 seconds.

Land Rover

Think of Land Rover and you’re likely to think of military machines slogging through the mud transporting equipment and/or personnel in the most hostile conditions imaginable.

Or maybe it’s the Camel Trophy in the 1980s and ‘90s, with a tough-as-teak Land Rover Defender or Discovery fording rivers in Mongolia, or battling up a mountain pass in Borneo.

Missing from each of these scenarios is an ultra-rapid 350kW DC charger, but nonetheless Land Rover says it will be launching six pure EVs by 2025, phasing out diesel engines by 2026.

Clearly, Land Rovers have evolved into urban assault weapons, rather than the hardcore utility vehicles the brand’s reputation has been built on. And for top-shelf Range Rover models the refinement and pulling power of an electric powertrain is a perfect match. 

Think of Land Rover and you’re likely to think of military machines slogging through the mud transporting equipment and/or personnel in the most hostile conditions imaginable.

But will the transition to EV impact that go (absolutely) anywhere image of the Land Rover brand overall? And does it matter?

Well, Marketing 101 says people buy brands first and products second. So, can an electric motor match a chugging turbo-diesel for the perception of indestructibility and ease of maintenance in arduous conditions? At this stage, it’s doubtful.

Potential saviour: Many see Land Rover as the ideal EV candidate. With increasingly constrictive legislation likely to squeeze traditional SUV-loving city-dwellers, an electric Landie will mean they can have their ‘Toorak Tractor’ cake and eat it, too.    

Fun fact: In 1948 the first-generation Land Rover featured body panels made from ‘Birmabright’ an aluminium and magnesium alloy noted for its light weight, corrosion resistance, and being easier to weld than pure aluminium. 

Land Rover says it will be launching six pure EVs by 2025, phasing out diesel engines by 2026.

Mercedes-AMG

Crackling and popping in-line fours, atmo, supercharged and turbo V8s, the occasional six, and sledgehammer V12s. Outrageous, high-horsepower engines have been the centrepiece of AMG’s product line-up and brand appeal since the company was founded in 1967.

And what about the big-bangers of the DTM and top-level sports car racing?

Well, park all that, because company CEO, Philipp Schiemer says Mercedes-AMG is now “taking performance electric mobility to a whole new level”. 

He was speaking at the early 2022 launch of the Vision AMG Concept, a vehicle created to “offer a glimpse of the all-electric future of AMG Driving Performance”.

No popping, no banging, no borderline antisocial roar on start-up. Rather a synthetic ‘Performance’ soundtrack with specific ‘Race-Start’, ‘Engine Startup’, ‘Drive Sound’, and ‘Engine Shutdown’ sequences piped through the speakers.

The Vision AMG Concept was said to have been created to “offer a glimpse of the all-electric future of AMG Driving Performance”.

Even if the carefully crafted soundscape is brilliant, it’s not 'real', not connected to anything physical. The experience for a current AMG fan is likely to be hollow.

Having driven it recently, I can confirm the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 4Matic+ is eye-wideningly rapid. Pin the accelerator and it rockets from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds.

But without the thundering engine induction noise and raucous exhaust note that normally accompanies this kind of AMG performance the experience feels one-dimensional.

How’s that going to sit with current AMG devotees? My guess? Not well.

Potential saviour: The boffins in Affalterbach recognise that compelling sound is important to AMG’s on-going success, and have put a bucket-load of time, money, and effort into addressing the issue. Who knows what the future holds?

Fun fact: In 1971 AMG created the ‘rote sau’ (red pig), a Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 race prepared to compete in the European Touring Car Championship. Its standard 184 kW 6.3-litre (M100) V8 engine was extensively modified and enlarged to 6.8 litres, with power jumping to 315 kW. Its magnesium wheels were borrowed from the Mercedes C111 experimental sports car.

The Vision Concept has a synthetic ‘Performance’ soundtrack with specific ‘Race-Start’, ‘Engine Startup’, ‘Drive Sound’, and ‘Engine Shutdown’ sequences piped through the speakers.

Porsche

Okay, okay, the Taycan has been a big success, and the upcoming Macan EV is set to deliver amazing range and performance.

But will an all-electric Porsche line-up maintain the famous German maker’s reputation, largely built on motorsport competition at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring, as well as road racing in the Carrera Panamericana and Targa Florio, short- and long-distance rallies around the globe, Formula 1, Indy, and much more! 

Horizontally opposed engines are as much a part of the brand’s DNA as the 911’s iconic profile, or the heraldic shield on each car’s nose.

The characteristic bellow of the 911’s flat-six engine as it revs to the stratosphere, screaming flat-12s howling down the Hunaudieres Straight at midnight, or the insane 1.5-litre V6 turbo bolted into the back of Niki Lauda’s F1 title-winning McLaren MP4/2.   

Remember, this is a brand close to enthusiasts’ hearts. Some diehards mourned the passing of the company in 1998 when the 911 moved from air to liquid cooling!

Horizontally opposed engines are as much a part of the brand’s DNA as the 911’s iconic profile, or the heraldic shield on each car’s nose.

Yes, it’s a different business post-Cayenne, with the following Panamera and Macan further broadening the product line-up. And the Taycan’s popularity has even raised eyebrows around the boardroom table at Stuttgart HQ.

Continued participation in the Formula E World Championship is a further signal of future intent. But does a battery powered racer whizzing around the streets of London have the same charisma as a thundering 1100hp twin-turbo, flat-12 917/30 shredding the bitumen at Road Atlanta? Nope.  

Potential saviour: Environmentally friendly, synthetic eFuel. Porsche claims more than 70 per cent of the million-plus 911s produced since the model’s introduction in 1963 are still on the road. It sees the benefit in keeping them and future new combustion models running. Porsche has already established a pilot (300 megawatt) eFuel production site in Chile, and says, “electrically-based” synthetic fuels will allow close to CO2-neutral operation of internal-combustion engines.

Fun fact: Porsche-philes predicted the arrival of the Cayenne SUV in 2002 would mark the beginning of the end of the company. After three generations and total production heading towards 1.5 million it not only saved the business but helped it grow and prosper.  

Some diehards mourned the passing of the company in 1998 when the 911 moved from air to liquid cooling.
James Cleary
Deputy Editor
As a small boy James often sat on a lounge with three shoes in front of him, a ruler between the cushions, and a circular drinks tray in his hands....
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