When does brand extension become brand exploitation?
As you might have seen, I’ve recently been driving the Lamborghini Urus and was wondering if there’s a point where you can push things too far. Over-brand things. Apply a badge to something that doesn’t really sit with a company’s values.
The oddest thing was listening to Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s chief technical officer, talking about the fact that you can fit two golf bags horizontally into the Urus’s boot. Weird. Here’s a bloke who only 12 hours earlier was saying that the day Lamborghini didn’t still make a naturally aspirated engine would be the day he wouldn’t be there any more. And here he is: golf.
Which makes you think: well, is the Urus really a Lamborghini? It’s only able to exist because its maker has built sufficient credit in its brand by making supercars for the past five and a half decades. Sure, Stefano Domenicali, incumbent chairman and CEO, says “the Urus has to be fun to drive, otherwise you wouldn’t buy it, to be honest”, but you wouldn’t buy it either were there not a mid-engined V12 supercar that rolled out of the same gates.
Or would you? The average age of Lamborghini’s staff is late 30s. Most Lamborghini buyers are between 30 and 45. Domenicali talks about hiring young people – teenagers – within the company and listening to what they have to say. What they want. “That doesn’t mean that everything they say is right,” he adds. But he sees the prominence and visibility of the brand among the young.
People who, we’re often told, have fallen out of love with cars, falling in love with whipcrack engine response and the wild looks of a mid-engined supercar. As often as not it’s while it’s parked outside a shop, revving its engine in traffic or being driven by a complete tool, but still: brand appreciation is brand appreciation. Maybe.
Domenicali sees this appeal to youngsters as complementary to Ferrari. Ferrari is “formal luxury”, Lamborghini is “informal luxury”. Which, perhaps, is a modern interpretation of what happened in the early 1960s when Ferruccio Lamborghini assembled a small team of brilliant engineers to start making cars to rival the old man’s.
Lamborghini was full of youthful enthusiasm then: Gian Paolo Dallara on the chassis, Bizzarrini on a V12 that would remain in production, in some form, until 2010, Bob Wallace thraping the living daylights out of cars in the Italian hills. Marcello Gandini would make his reputation with the Miura and... Jeez, alright Grandad, give it a bloody rest and look at this chromed Aventador on the Tokyo ring road.
Anyway, I wouldn’t want to guess what people like that would make of a car like the Urus because doing so makes you sound like a pompous old guffer either way. But I don’t think it’s controversial to say that it’s a different kind of approach to the one that made a Lamborghini badge worth having on the car’s nose in the first place.
Still, it’s a car, and a good one, and I don’t suppose it’s as much of a stretch as a baseball cap, laptop computer, loudspeaker, mountain bike or whatever the hell else car makers put badges on to exploit their brand. So, I guess, get over it: a Lamborghini is whatever kind of car Lamborghini says it is.