After more than a decade as the boss of Lamborghini, Stephan Winkelmann is leaving to join Audi's Quattro division.
At the Geneva motor show, where Lamborghini took the wraps off the special-edition Centenario, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, Winkelmann sat down with Autocar for one last interview in his current role.
He reflected on his years at the helm of the Sant'Agata sports car company before he makes way for ex-Ferrari man Stefano Domenicali.
Autocar: Leaving Lamborghini as the company reveals a car celebrating its founder's 100th anniversary is pretty neat timing?
Stephan Winkelmann: “The timing is a chance - but it is a nice co-incidence. The limited editions we started to launch about ten years ago, but this one is very special - it shows emotion, it recognises our founder and it shows we have an exciting future.”
SW: “It allows us to do something outstanding from time to time. That’s important for us, because it allows us to do somethings special for our customers and for our own workers, and for the brand, to show what we can do and to make headlines all the time even with a two model line-up. We are a passionate company and this gives us a chance to channel this passion.”
A: Have they all made money?
SW: “Yes, otherwise we couldn’t have made them.”
A: Do you have a favourite special edition car?
SW: “I always say my last car is my favourite, but in this case I will allow that the first one, the Reventon, has a special place in my heart. We had an idea and we turned it into something very special. The other one that stands out is the Sesto Elemento. It was the highest technological demonstrator without peer. It showed lightweight technology in a new way and really pushed the limits of what was possible. It achieved something that was almost impossible.”
A: What’s changed during your time at Lamborghini?
SW: “It is not for me to judge. I worked on everything that I thought was important, but we worked on everything: the brand, the product, the dealer network - we worked together on the same themes and changed the perceptions. The key was that we all took the same line.”
A: What will never change at Lamborghini?
SW: “The passion. It is important that it is always kept alive. And it is important everyone can see it.”
A: Does passion mean fights, too?
SW: “Yes. Always. If you want passion you must have fights.”
A: What was the biggest fight?
SW: “The biggest challenge was the third model [the Urus SUV]. Getting that through was a hard fight.
A: Do you have any regrets about the [front-engined, four-door] Estoque not going beyond the concept stage?
SW: “If I had one shot for a third model, then it was right that the Urus is being made. We could come back to Estoque. All I would say is that Lamborghini can be bigger than three product lines.”
A: Can you summarise typical Lamborghini customers?
SW: “Male, entrepreneurs, characters. They love that the cars are made in Italy and they are very proud to own the cars.”
A: Will you miss knowing every customer by name?
SW: “Yes, I had good relationships with all the Lamborghini dealers and customers, and maybe that can’t continue at Audi. But you cannot separate from them even in a bigger scale company. You must talk to the customers all the time to know what they think and want.”
A: Do you have a favourite production car you oversaw?
SW: “The Aventador, as it was the first project I did from A-Z. It is closer to my heart and the one I’d pick with a gun to my head - but I love them all.”
A: Critics might say Lamborghini prioritised looks over performance during your time. Is that fair?
SW: “The design is always one of the two main reasons for purchase - alongside performance, of course. We said handling was more important than acceleration, and acceleration was more important than top speed. That was a priority over everything. The lap time is much faster with good handling than a high top speed. That was the direction.”
A: What advice would you give Stefano Domenicali?
SW: “I have none to give. He’s been in the car business for decades and he knows what he has to do.”
A: What’s his biggest challenge?
SW: “To bring the Urus to production. It is a big deal.”
A: On your first day at Audi, what will you miss?
SW: “The team. I’ve grown to love them. Anything else, I will have to wait and see.”
A: What is your role at Audi exactly?
SW: “For now, I must wait to see. I’ve been concentrated on Lamborghini, and until I arrive at Audi that won’t change.”