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'There is no way of going back': Lamborghini global boss predicts tricky road to electric car future | Opinion


As the world looks forward to embarking on a new voyage into a future full of electric cars, Lamborghini's global boss is bracing his company as he captains it through the fiercest storm it's ever faced, one that could sink the company as it struggles to stay relevant and true to itself while it adapts to a technology which can make even a Kia supercar fast.

Lamborghini's chairman and CEO Stephan Winkelmann is the Keith Richards of the car industry, from his colourful bangles to his relaxed confidence, but he's about to be tested by the transition to electric vehicles which could spell the end of his beloved company and perhaps all performance car brands from Porsche to Mercedes-AMG. But not if he can help it. Lamborghini isn't just a brand to him.

"For me Lamborghini is a bit like the first love," Winkelmann tells me. "But more than that because it's a family atmosphere."

Either way it's a special place for Winkelman - he has now been the boss of Lamborghini twice. First from 2005 to 2016 and then, after a stint as Audi Sport CEO and as Bugatti's president, he returned in 2020 to take the reins a second time.

Like the head of any family, he has a concern for Lamborghini's future and those worries are becoming very real as the company ponders how it will survive in a world where petrol engines are being phased out and replaced by electric motors.

How does an ultra-high-performance brand such as Lamborghini, which trades on its ear-splittingly loud V12, V10 and V8 petrol gargling engines, transition to electric motors which are as silent as a toaster?

Lamborghini’s chairman and CEO Stephan Winkelmann is the Keith Richards of the car industry. Lamborghini’s chairman and CEO Stephan Winkelmann is the Keith Richards of the car industry.

Not only that, but electric motors bring incredible acceleration to even the most household of brands. The Kia EV6 GT is an all-electric five-seater family SUV and can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds. Meanwhile, Lamborghini's new Huracan Technica can do it in 3.2 seconds and also for $340,000 more.

Winkelmann has outlined the course he will take Lamborghini. First hybrids, and then in 2028 the brand's first fully electric model.

This means that as more Lamborghinis are bestowed with fully electric powertrains the cars will hand in their beautifully terrifying V10 and V8 screams.

Winkelmann has outlined the course he will take Lamborghini. First hybrids, and then in 2028 the brand’s first fully electric model. Winkelmann has outlined the course he will take Lamborghini. First hybrids, and then in 2028 the brand’s first fully electric model.

Part of the love of owning a high-performance car is people hearing it before they see it and the faces of scorn and adoration that materialise when the beast struts down the street.

It's not just the sound that will be muted, but the heat, vibration, smell of the engine, its fuel and exhaust will be deleted, too. The loss of these attributes will lead to less connection with the driver and less appeal to buyers.

To make Lamborghini even less special, their outrageous acceleration will be matched by garden variety family SUVs.

As more Lamborghinis are bestowed with fully electric powertrains the cars will hand in their beautifully terrifying V10 and V8 screams. As more Lamborghinis are bestowed with fully electric powertrains the cars will hand in their beautifully terrifying V10 and V8 screams.

This new treacherous voyage into the electric unknown surely presents the greatest danger ever to face the brand. Winkelman knows the course he is taking is fraught with risk, but admits he is committed now.

"I feel a responsibility of navigating the company, from one shore to the other," he said.

"I think that we already left the shore of the past and we're in the middle of the ocean, and there is no way of going back. This has to be clear to everybody and it is clear to everybody."

I like to think Winkelmann knows what he's doing. I mean, if he doesn't then nobody does. He understands Lamborghini and its place within the auto eco system better than anybody.

The Kia EV6 GT is an all-electric five-seater family SUV and can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds. The Kia EV6 GT is an all-electric five-seater family SUV and can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds.

"So we must continue to build dream cars that bring design and performance," he said.

"This is the truth and will continue to be in 10 years' time when all this turmoil is over and the uncertainty in terms of what the cars are going to look like is going to be decided."

That continuation to build dream cars will be harder without the sound and fury of internal combustion engines. On top of this challenge would be the huge expectations of parent company Volkswagen which would also demand a commitment to environmental sustainability.

"We have a big social responsibility which is bigger than the footprint of the company," Winkelmann said.

Winkelmann is the magician who navigated Lamborghini through the GFC and also through COVID while still breaking sales records driven by the success of the Urus SUV. Winkelmann is the magician who navigated Lamborghini through the GFC and also through COVID while still breaking sales records driven by the success of the Urus SUV.

Lamborghini unveiled its first plug-in hybrid supercar the Revuelto this year and in 2028 will launch a fully electric model which Winkelman describes as a 2+2 seater with more ground clearance and inspired by the company's grand tourers from the 1960s.

Winkelmann is the magician who navigated Lamborghini through the GFC and also through COVID while still breaking sales records driven by the success of the Urus SUV. Last year, Lamborghini sold more cars than it had ever sold before. I'm sure he can find a way again to overcome this next challenge.

A hint might be in what he said to me last year when first asked him about the threat of electrification to Lamborghini: "We have to take this very seriously by changing everything, but not to change anything".