The Leopard Bows Out

As Luca di Montezemolo’s reign at Ferrari comes to an end, an entire chapter of Italy’s automotive industry – as well as culture – is being closed.

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“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” proclaimed Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina in the seminal Il Gattopardo. He was, of course, referring to Sicily and the impending changes to country, people and his own dynasty. But such a statement could clearly have been made with regards to fellow nobleman, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo’s sacking from the post he had held for more than two decades. Only in this case, it would be untrue.

It can be assumed that Luca di Montezemolo himself would have preferred things at Ferrari to stay pretty much as they are – Ferrari, the road car manufacturer, that is, not the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team. There was little evidence to suggest that his policy of limiting Ferrari’s road car output to about 7.000 units per annum was in any way hurting. But in this day and age, exclusivity is rarely considered in its simplest meaning – rarity. Such a simplistic, outmoded view could therefore only be held by someone who had either enormous stamina or was wielding superior clout. For quite a while, di Montezemolo possessed the former and practiced the latter.

To say that Luca di Montezemolo stood for “the other Italy” is hardly an understatement. Here we had a businessman with unmistakably Italian flair, a man who managed to combine style with success, who could very well serve as a role model for all the things that are still right with Italy. An above-average decent man, so to speak. The fact that a few of his extra-Ferrari ventures failed did little to diminish his appeal as a symbol of the righteous Italian businessman. Neither did his failure to bring back the glory of the Schumacher years to Ferrari’s Scuderia. At least until recently.

As di Montezemolo had to find out the hard way, reputation and elegance only count for so much when one is engaged in a bonafide power struggle. Especially when one’s adversary is Sergio Marchionne, who famously doesn’t care much for either quality. Marchionne, being a financier first and foremost, sees everything as a means to an end – the end being profitable figures. To such a mindset, exclusivity comes at a price – the price of lost sales due to lack of supply. If, by his reasoning, this loss outweighs the gains attained through the premium that can be attributed to Ferrari’s exclusivity, then there is simply no discussion: any income that can be generated shall be generated.

It remains to be seen whether the Marchionne spirit works when applied to as decadent a brand as Ferrari. So far, his approach has been moderately successful when it comes to Maserati’s recent realignment – but then again, Alejandro de Tomaso also appeared to have sharpened the tridente during the first years of his ownership, until the severe rust at its core became all too apparent. Only time will tell whether Marchionne knows how to handle a proud prancing horse.

What is already clear is that Luca di Montezemolo’s departure finalises the death of Italy’s automotive old world. The old guard has left and the new boy in town isn’t interested in restoration, tradition or patriotism, values which his predecessors upheld more or less firmly and with varying degrees of success.

Should a survey among prospective owners bring to light that they would not mind a Ferrari SUV being assembled at Chrysler’s newest Chinese factory (of course built to strict Italian standards), Sergio Marchionne will do so. Which would put the di Montezemolo-era’s merchandising efforts into perspective.

Like Don Fabrizio Corbera, Luca di Montezemolo’s legacy is not without flaws. Yet he stood for a certain Italianate panache, which made one forget about a great many shortcomings and bad decisions – an Italian quality in itself. He also, despite Ferrari World et al, lent his business a sense of dignity that’s been widely absent recently, but had been at the core of the Italian automotive business during its heyday.

Without Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari has taken one step towards becoming yet another ordinary carmaker. And the Italian industry has lost one of its remaining originals.

3 thoughts on “The Leopard Bows Out”

  1. I get the impression LdM was a decent and serious bloke. The idea of limiting production was precisely why Ferrari could charge what they did. It made a Ferrari a positional good where a Mercedes and Seat are not. A Ferrari should be such that because I have it you don’t, rather like a Monet or mansion. Marchionne will serve them up as pricey Fiats.
    That said, I have not liked or admired a single Ferrari since the 456 GT. All have looked like drug dealers’ cars. They lacked elegance from every angle. McLaren made a much better job of shaping raw functional speed.
    If the Ferraris of LdM looked as elegant as he did, that would have been optimum.

  2. I wouldn’t call any modern Ferrari (well, not since the 456 GT) elegant, but there are a number of modern Ferraris I actually deeply respect – with Okuyama-san’s Enzo and the 458 Italia spearheading them. The FF I also find very impressive indeed – I really like the solution of offering utility-hungry buyers a proper Ferrari that’s been added a few extra qualities, rather than giving them an SUV that’s put on a Ferrari disguise. It’s this kind of brand consistency the likes of Porsche simply don’t feel is in their power anymore – a sentiment likely to be shared by the automotive world’s Sweater Numero Uno.

    Idolising LdM wasn’t my intention, yet I do believe he stands for a kind of business acumen that is standing a few rungs above the “making ends meet at any cost” mentality of many other executives. There is a reason why Ferrari is still as revered, despite the plethora of nasty merchandising. And there is also a reason why Ferdl Piech reportedly takes delivery of each and every new Ferrari that’s being brought to market.

  3. Today’s truly surprising news that Ferrari R&D boss, Roberto Fedeli, has left Ferrari, crossed the Alps and joined BMW is a significant reminder of the ramifications LDM’s ousting has brought about (and will continue to do, as I must presume).

    One may argue about the very nature of current performance cars, but I find it hard to object to the common perception that Ferrari does at least play the rulebook best. Any current Ferrari possesses a sense of thoroughness/depth I find absent in, say, a modern Lamborghini. I must presume Fedeli played a significant role in nurturing such quality.

    The man replacing Fedeli at Ferrari is said to be a former Porsche man, by the way.
    And Porsche – I won’t tire to remind anyone who isn’t quick enough to escape out of earshot – is the company that believes the Cayenne and Macan are the perfect solution for sophisticated, all-weather motoring requirements with a provision for real-world luggage space.
    Ferrari answered that question in a somewhat different form in the shape of the FF. But that car, of course, was developed when Ferrari was still basically an independent arm of the Fiat Group.

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