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Interview: Stephan Winkelmann 

Interview: Stephan Winkelmann 

Amit Benjamin 3 months ago
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At the Dubai launch of the new Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport, we catch up with company boss Stephan Winkelmann for a chat about the future and of course the obligatory, “So what do you drive?”…

Stephan Winkelmann is widely credited with saving the fortunes of Lamborghini and taking it to another level, before leaving Sant’Agata Bolognese to a standing ovation from the factory in 2016. Now four years later he has just taken up his second term of office with Lamborghini – they just couldn’t stay apart. Meanwhile, there is the business of being president of Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S, too… 

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Motormouth spoke to Winkelmann in Dubai at the launch of the Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport, the latest weapon from Molsheim with a top speed of just 350km/h…

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Motormouth: Your brands have a very close connection to internal combustion – now motoring is going through a huge shift. How does a brand like Bugatti or Lamborghini stay relevant, considering their close ties to loud petrol-powered engines?

Stephan Winkelmann: I think that it’s important to understand that brands are in constant change – this constant adaptation to the people working for the brand, changes in the product line-up, and the changes in terms of legislation. This is something which is a challenge for all of us, to be relevant also in the future. 

And the point is that you have to have an idea which is progressive – it’s not in this sense important to be the first one to do something, but when you do it you have to be the best, you have to be accepted – it has to be a big bang.

I think there will be changes in the type of engines we’re going to have in the future. To say today exactly when this is going to happen is in my opinion important, but it’s more important that you come at the right time. The right timing is the biggest thing, because the technology is changing fast so you have to adapt but also the public acceptance is something which has to change at the same time. You always have to keep in mind – forget the Urus – but with the Chiron, and Huracán, you don’t buy the car because you need the car on a daily base to go from one place to another. You buy it because you want to have something which is your dream since childhood.

And just to say know, this is the new thing, and you have to buy into it immediately, I think that would be the wrong approach from our sides. We have to be trendsetters but in the things that matter. Here it’s important, that this shift in terms of mindset needs to be built up very carefully.

What do you see in your mind – what would be a Bugatti in the future?

For the next generation there are two ways – you go internal combustion engine only, where the power and the uniqueness of the engine is one way. And the other way is to go with a type of hybridisation.

Is the end goal still to be the fastest?

For Bugatti, we say, and I think this is perfectly fitting for a brand like Bugatti, “If it’s comparable, it’s no longer a Bugatti.” 

And then the other thing is being on top of the automotive world somehow. It’s something that has to exceed the dreams of what is ready to step in, so the next Bugatti always has to be something that is unexpected.

Does that mean you’re preparing something that no one ever thought of before?

There will be a time before the car come out where you start to talk about it and to see the reactions. But this is much too early to speak about it.

You could argue the world is becoming increasingly more sensitive to extravagance. How do you position an object like Bugatti in a world that’s changing.

I think it’s not about the price. The price is the result of three main areas. It’s the technology you put inside. The second one is the degree of craftsmanship. And the third one for sure is the limitation. Limitation means that if you have a life cycle of 500 cars over around eight year – this means that with a high investment, the craftsmanship you put inside, the result is a price which is higher than normal.

But it’s not about us positioning ourselves just to be more expensive. This, let’s say, is somebody else telling us that we are more expensive than others, but it is not the wish of Bugatti to just overprice the car. This is not our goal. We are running for perfection, the incredible job our engineers our doing, and also the individualisation of our car. There is no Bugatti that is the same as the next one.

What characteristics of current Bugattis will remain in the future?

For sure, it’s going to be speed, it’s going to be design, and the third one is in my opinion what is really the difference between the other brands and us, besides being very fast it’s also very easy to drive a Bugatti comfortably. So you have two souls under one roof. So performance, design, and comfort.

If you look at the Chiron Pur Sport, you’ve reduced the top speed which is the party piece of every Bugatti – it’s down to 350km/h.

For me in the base car, the Chiron, there is a balance between performance and comfort. But then we really looked at it and we thought there must be a way to get the best out of this car, even more than this. On the one extreme we have acceleration and top speed. On the other extreme we have reduced weight, more downforce, different gearbox, etc.

When it comes to speed, you did your top speed record runs – fine… But why didn’t you ever hit the Nürburgring with this car?

Because this is something we still have to decide. For us this is not the main goal – we didn’t want to have the best-lap-time car in terms of a proposition for our customers. We want a car which is easy to drive and in which you can have fun wherever you drive. And therefore this is not something we need to prove on the race track. We have the simulations, but I don’t think we have done it on the Nürburgring.

You’ve said in the past that the car industry may be going the way of the horse – can you elaborate?

Batteries will get better in the future – with the battery technology and the digitalisation, if you don’t keep the expertise in your home you won’t have enough to show off any more. As a part of the Volkswagen Group, I think we are doing the right thing, we are putting in the key elements of the car of tomorrow, we keep inside the group, or we even buy the knowledge. But to buy still means that we are creating our own knowledge.

Which side are you on? Are you on the side of electrification, or are you on the side of fuel cells? Which do you think is more viable for the propulsion of the future?

I think that the way of electrification is the one which is going to win. in terms of mass production I think that this is the future for city cars, for sure. It depends on the battery range, recharge time, and also infrastructure which will determine the next step in the automotive industry.

Once the automotive industry is concentrating on one type of technology, at least for one decade you cannot step out of it. I think there was enough thinking and testing to decide in favour of electrification.

Any outrageous plans for Lamborghini – any specials like the Reventón or Veneno?

I can tell you we are working on a lot of projects, but let me see what we can do…

In 2007 the Reventón was our first attempt – we wanted to see how strong the brand was at that time, and it worked out very well.

On a lighter note, what’s your company car now?

For the time being, since a couple of weeks ago, it’s an Urus. But Bugatti for a company car? Nobody would allow something like that – and it’s fine, I can test the car. And I need to test the car very often…

  

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