Sriram Narayanan on: Ferraris

Posted by Sriram Narayanan at 11:27 am on Thursday January 01, 2015

Like there are cat people and dog people, there are Ferrari people and Lamborghini people. Me? When I could only evaluate a car by rating its bedroom wall quotient, I was among the Lamborghini people. Lambos looked like they belonged to an advanced alien race. Besides, the story of a tractor maker making a supercar to teach the arrogant Enzo Ferrari a lesson was as heroic as The Ghost Who Walks and The Caped Crusader for a kid into cars and comics.

It stayed that way until I popped my Ferrari cherry with a 612 Scaglietti in early 2008. And then the California, the FF, the F12 and the 458. Compared to an Aventador and the numerous Gallardos I’ve driven, Ferraris are equally as high on theatre, but are slightly better as driving machines. Since most of you are into smartphones, let me put it this way.

​Imagine​ a​ phone with an app, which, when ​you touch the app icon, sets off fire​works and out-of-the-world animations​ before the app opens​. That’s a Lamborghini. Now, think of a phone that opens the same app with the same amount of drama, but without you having to touch the screen. Simply hover your finger over the icon, think of it, and it’s done. That’s a Ferrari.

Apparently, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo quit Ferrari because of differences over F1 and the role of its road cars in the Fiat-Chrysler group. I don’t care for F1, but Ferrari’s road cars are phenomenal. I reckon the internal tensions may have something to do with Ferrari’s knack of annoying people and being opaque. At a motor show, anyone can walk into a Lamborghini stand, touch the car on display, take pictures, and sit inside it. The Ferrari stand? Queue up and be at the mercy of a bouncer. Even if you have a press card. Now, I know a person at Ferrari who would let me in. But why should you have to know somebody to access a car at a motor show that’s open to the public?

Ferruccio Lamborghini was annoyed enough to start a competing business. Henry Ford II was annoyed enough to commission the GT40. The public and the press are annoyed, too. Ferrari’s ‘we know better than you’ attitude can be incredibly off-putting. And it is. Till you drive its cars. But I reckon that attitude drips from the top. From Montezemolo. I don’t know him personally. Perhaps he was an annoying, stubborn man who rubbed people up the wrong way. But I’ve seen him remain humble enough to have his lunch at the factory cafeteria in Maranello.

Sure, there’s no ‘I’ in a team. Everybody is equal, nobody is indispensable. But some passionate and talented people just don’t work with interference. They are more equal than others. They understand the product. They understand the brand. And they stick to that vision. Montezemolo’s leadership has seen Ferrari weather oil prices, the green brigade, the economy, a severe recession, retain a lot of independence despite being a part of Fiat and yet end up being the most successful arm of the Fiat family. This is not by doing more work or doing it better, but by restraint. Ironic for a performance car maker. They could have made more Ferraris, cheaper Ferrari, diesel Ferraris, Ferrari SUVs. But by not doing that, Ferrari has ensured one unique trait. A trait that will impress even boring people like accountants and investment bankers.

Ferrari is the only car maker bringing out cars that are an investment, and retain value over time. For all of Ferrari’s performance, technology, history and racing pedigree, it’s this one fact that’s the most impressive. And that doesn’t come with tangibles like the bottom-line, sales figures, championship titles or by ‘playing a bigger role in the conglomerate.’

Maybe Montezemolo told his boss, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, “You don’t know better. I do.” Which is not the best thing to tell your boss. But as much as you’d hate such a man, if you ​were to drive the road cars his company makes, you’d have to agree with him. Perhaps Ferrari’s technical director, Roberto Fedeli, d​oes​. After 26 years at Maranello, he will now be signing the roster at BMW.

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