Ferrari's softly-spoken CEO explains a few things about his company's future.
Ask anyone other than hard-core Ferraristi to name the company’s CEO is and the likelihood will be an answer of “Luca di Montezemolo”. The flamboyant president of Ferrari is such a dominant presence in the organisation that it’s often difficult to think of anyone else being in charge, but the actual chief executive officer – the boss – is a softly spoken, unassuming man named Amedeo Felisa. And he’s taken a few minutes from his exceedingly busy schedule to talk to The National.
Normally shy of journalists, Felisa isn’t one for fluff and nonsense. He’s a straight-talking engineer at heart, yet the cars he has ultimately been responsible for in recent years are nothing if not talking points. And when a man is this focused you must choose your questions carefully if you’re to build a bridge rather than burn one. So there’s no point whatsoever asking the usual idiotic stuff about four-door Ferraris, SUVs and all the rest. I first ask about Ferrari’s recent announcement that it was to cap annual production at 7,000 cars, while everyone else is clamouring for more and more sales.
“We have been increasing sales year on year for a long time now, except for 2008 when we were down five per cent, and last year we built and sold just under 7,400 cars,” he says. “But the feedback we were getting from clients and shareholders was that we were in danger of harming the exclusivity that Ferrari has always enjoyed. So we decided to reduce production by five per cent and, at the same time, increase profits. So far the feedback has been that we’ve made the best decision and, as Enzo Ferrari always said, you should build one less car than the market demands.”
This exclusivity does, indeed, drive demand and Felisa tells me that owners of 458s in the US, for example, are finding that after two years of ownership the values of their cars have dropped by only seven per cent – a staggeringly low figure that makes ownership of new Ferraris much less of a financial gamble than other brands.
He says the diversity of the current range has made an enormous difference to Ferrari’s customer base and that new clients have been swayed by the California and the four-wheel drive FF, both of which were quite radical departures for Ferrari. “With the California we went for a softer approach without extreme performance but when we start the engine and drive it, it’s still a Ferrari. The same with the FF – we wanted to offer a car that could be driven in all conditions but still sounded and drove like a true Ferrari. The four-wheel drive system will probably stay on that model only for the time being as drivers of the other cars are not asking for it.”
What, I ask, about the power outputs of cars these days? With the F12 pushing out 740hp – a figure that only a short time ago was reserved for endurance race cars – is there a limit as to how much power a Ferrari can put through its tyres before it becomes undriveable, or will the company draw a line under this and seek improved efficiency rather than horsepower and top speed in the near future?
“The answer is very simple,” he states. “In 2007 we decided we had to look at reducing the consumption of our cars and yes, at the time we thought that the chase for more power was finished. And now, six years later, the consumption of our cars is 30 per cent less than it was, yet we have increased the power. So what does this mean? Obviously we can’t carry on like this forever, but if we constantly look to improve the efficiency of all our systems then there is no reason for us to not be able to increase power and efficiency at the same time. If you think about the LaFerrari, for instance, that car has close to 1,000hp yet it emits less and consumes less than any of our other models.”
Has Ferrari reached the limits of its model range, or is there room for a smaller sports car or a new model with a smaller, turbocharged engine? “I think we’re diversified enough now, we’ve covered all the bases for Ferrari customers. Everyone asks if we are moving towards an SUV, but how could we do that and still cap production at 7,000 cars? For now we keep the range as it is and work towards maintaining the exclusivity of the brand.”
With time for one last question, I ask Felisa if he can foresee a time when Ferrari won’t build a V12. “We have to wait to see which way legislation moves,” he says. “In 2017 the rules may change but V12s for Ferrari are definitely sustainable until that time. We try to defend the V12, after all the very first Ferrari road car had one.”