Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Ferrari that you can take to the Grocery Store??? A seriously expensive way to haul the groceries with style...

The only difference between boys and men is the price of the toys....yeah, whatever.

I have always been a Porsche Guy when it came to foreign wheels and saw Ferraris as way outta my league.....Looks like they want to tempt a few more people to their side of things.....Damn, they got some seriously good looking horses over there in Italia.

Sex on Wheels’? Now Ferrari Has ‘Room for Groceries,’ Too
NY TIMES - 05/15/11 by Liz Alderman

THE yellow Ferrari Italia twists out of a steep curve and rockets down the ribbon of blacktop.

The tires smoke. The V-8 howls. Somewhere on the long straightaway, the needle on the speedometer touches 150 miles an hour. The test driver downshifts and hurtles into a hairpin turn.

So this is what Ferraristi mean by “sex on wheels.”

Here, outside the north central Italian town of Maranello, yellow, blue and blood-red Ferraris race through 14 curves on the company’s 1.9-mile-long track known as the Fiorano circuit. This is the heart of Ferrari-land, a seductive, mysterious place that at times seems to defy logic, or at least the economics of the conventional automotive industry.

It is a place of sonorous engines and sinuous curves, where engineers don’t just tune up engines — they tune them, like pianos, to produce that libidinous vroom. It is a place where the price of admission is at least 180,000 euros ($250,000) and can zoom toward a million with custom colors, hand-stitched calfskin seats and dashboards upholstered with manta ray hide.

And where Ferrari executives are now looking to get a bit practical — or at least what passes for practical here in this rarefied world.

So, brace yourself: Ferrari is making a hatchback. Mind you, this is no ordinary hatchback. With a cobra-like front end and a 660-horsepower engine, it starts at 260,000 euros ($370,000).

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the company’s chairman, says the car, an all-wheel drive known as the FF, is intended for the man who craves a Ferrari but finds himself hauling a baby seat and sports equipment on the weekends.

“Ferrari used to be the car that you kept in your garage, took out to polish and show, and put back into the garage,” Mr. Montezemolo, 63, said as he gave a tour of Ferrari’s headquarters recently. “Today,” he said, “people want to do more with a car.”

Going hatchback — Ferrari style — is part of Mr. Montezemolo’s survival strategy for a company whose name has been synonymous with power, braggadocio and Italy itself for more than 60 years. It comes as Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat, which owns 85 percent of Ferrari, has been asking Ferrari and its sister brand, Maserati, to aim for higher profit and sales by offering a wider range of cars.

As Mr. Marchionne moves to raise Fiat’s stake in Chrysler to 51 percent, he has also suggested an eventual initial public offering of Ferrari, which could compel it to start dialing up profitability.

But Ferrari is about more than cars and profit: its selling point is prestige, status and sex appeal, carefully calibrated through the economics of high-end luxury.

DRIVING in from the Bologna airport, you can tell immediately when you reach the realm of Ferrari. One minute, small, squat cars — mostly Fiats — are puttering along on the narrow roads that wind through the countryside. Then, suddenly, a roar of engines rips into the pastoral quiet, and a parade of sports cars zooms around a curve in a blaze of color.

The machines have just rolled out of a plant after a four-month birthing process that begins with a custom order at one of 200 Ferrari dealerships around the world. After the car bodies are glossed with a triple coat of paint, workers install custom dashboards, hand-sewn seats and transmissions that allow drivers to shift gears, Formula One-style, with the touch of a lever.

The secret to any Ferrari is the sound of its engine, whose power is depicted by a prancing horse, a symbol that was emblazoned on a lightning-fast World War I plane flown by an Italian pilot. To fire up the engine’s magic, Mr. Montezemolo gathers with top officials in a secret facility three years before a model hits showrooms to vote on a playlist of engine tones that are composed with the help of a musician. A prototype Ferrari is built around the most thrilling pitch, and the men gather again in a soundproofed, padded room to judge the real thing. If the engine hits the right primal note, the car is approved for production.

I got a taste of the engine’s power when a test driver took me for a spin in that canary yellow Italia on the Fiorano Circuit. As we hit what is known as Straightaway 1, I was pinned to my seat by the g-forces. The driver turned to make sure I was smiling.

“You feel the excitement in your skin!” he said, gunning the engine. The sound was glorious, the vibrations electric.

The Italia’s more pragmatic cousin, the hatchback FF, will start being delivered to customers this month. Though it makes up less than 10 percent of total production, to some Ferrari loyalists the car and its hunched backside are a step toward compromise — and a sign that Ferrari is toying with its image.

Mr. Montezemolo prefers to cultivate Ferrari’s exclusivity by limiting production and enforcing yearlong waiting lists, much the way a luxury fashion house like Hermès creates desire for a handbag. To do so, Ferrari sells only four models, including the FF, and makes around 6,500 cars a year, controlling the number sold in each country. Analysts say Ferrari could easily catapult its sales if it simply made more.

Ferrari’s production “is nothing in a market of 60 million cars,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, the director of Center Automotive Research in Germany. To meet Mr. Marchionne’s goals, he said, the automaker could sell 20,000 vehicles a year while remaining exclusive, if it designed the right models.

Mr. Montezemolo concedes that Ferrari could consider raising production to about 10,000 cars annually in the next 10 to 15 years, but only by putting limited numbers of cars in new markets. “I will always produce less than demand,” he told me. “If I do more, I would destroy the brand.”

“This is fashion,” he added, leaning into his handmade red leather desk as the high-pitched whir of new Ferraris pierced the air outside his office. “We don’t sell cars; we sell dreams.”

When he wants to feel the breeze and throw things in the back, he tools around in a Ferrari California convertible, painted in blues and grays instead of Ferrari red. He and his wife, Ludovica Andreoni, now have an 8-month-old son (his sixth child), so there is more to tote around these days.

To him, practicality and sex appeal are not mutually exclusive. The FF might be a hatchback, he argues, but with a 660-horsepower engine that can whisk a family and its luggage up to a ski lodge in short order, “it’s a racing car, not a station wagon.”

So far, his instincts have paid off: All 800 FFs scheduled for production this year sold out within weeks, despite the 260,000 euro base price and the minimum one-year waiting period.

MR. MONTEZEMOLO, a larger-than-life industrialist with a flowing mane and a studied elegance, pours boundless energy into every detail of Ferrari. He pops up on the factory floor, jumps in and out of prototype cars and buzzes through the employee cafeteria. He is also deeply involved in the operation of the company’s Formula One racing team.

One day in April, he showed off some of the more than 1,000 kinds of Ferrari paraphernalia at an onsite boutique, including a 6,000-euro cellphone and a new line of baby products. After bounding to a rack of leather jackets, he began rearranging the display and asked a staff member why no race flags were visible. “Put up 5 — no, 10 — flags, and bring out the life-size cutouts of the Formula One drivers,” he commanded.

A member of an old aristocratic family from the Piedmont region of Italy, Mr. Montezemolo stumbled onto the path to his dream job after phoning a radio station in 1973 and starting a fierce debate with another listener over car racing. Enzo Ferrari, the company’s founder, happened to be listening and rang the station to track down the mysterious caller.

Mr. Montezemolo soon became Mr. Ferrari’s assistant and, at 27, was put in charge of Ferrari’s Scuderia Formula One racing team. He continued to rise through the Fiat empire when Gianni Agnelli, the patriarch of Italy’s most powerful family, which owned Fiat, tapped him to be chairman of Ferrari in 1991. In 2004, after Mr. Agnelli’s death, he became Fiat’s chairman.

Mr. Montezemolo set about engineering a turnaround in Ferrari’s road car business, which had been flagging after Mr. Ferrari died in 1988. He turned a mountain of debt into profit, in part by transferring Formula One technology to road cars. In 1993, Ferrari sold about 2,000 cars at its dealerships in 30 countries; today, it is in 50 markets.

For the Formula One team, he brought in crucial players like Jean Todt, catapulting Ferrari back into a dominant position in racing. The racing team is a huge investment that feeds the myth of Ferrari for branded merchandise and licensing, including Ferrari World, an over-the-top theme park in Abu Dhabi. About 20 percent of Ferrari’s operating profit comes from items emblazoned with the prancing horse symbol.

Last year, operating profit jumped 23 percent, to 302 million euros, and sales rose 8 percent, to 1.9 billion euros. In the first quarter of this year, sales were 491 million euros, up 18 percent from the period a year earlier.

But Mr. Montezemolo refuses to divulge the costs of operating the Formula One unit, citing competitive reasons — a sore point among analysts who complain that the company’s financial picture isn’t as transparent as it should be. That could spell trouble for any Ferrari stock offering, said Eric Hauser, an analyst at Credit Suisse who has pored through Ferrari’s balance sheets.

Another concern is whether Ferrari could independently meet American or European emissions regulations, which are calculated as part of Fiat’s overall carbon footprint, Mr. Hauser said. “There are so many loose ends that would need to be addressed in an I.P.O.,” he said. He estimates Ferrari’s overall worth at around three billion euros.

Such talk inflames Mr. Montezemolo, who argues that Ferrari is worth at least six billion to seven billion euros. “When I hear people say that the value of Ferrari is only three billion, I think, ‘Someone must be out of their mind,’ ” he said.

Yet critics question whether Ferrari could ever be worth as much as Mr. Montezemolo believes as long as he is in the driver’s seat. While he succeeded in digging Ferrari out of debt early on, some analysts say he may not have the business acumen needed to drive Ferrari toward greater profitability.

Some point to his record at Fiat. As chairman, he had a hard time turning the company around when it was skidding toward bankruptcy in 2005. Fiat brought in a new chief executive, Mr. Marchionne, to help steer it clear of disaster. “Mr. Montezemolo could not have pulled that off,” Mr. Dudenhöffer said.

Last year, Mr. Montezemolo was replaced as Fiat chairman by John Elkann, Mr. Agnelli’s grandson, in a planned succession. Mr. Montezemolo remained Ferrari’s chairman.

NONETHELESS, Mr. Montezemolo’s management of Ferrari as the ultimate “made in Italy” icon makes him nothing short of a hero in his country, not to mention a fixture in Italian magazines. He often tops polls of people Italians would like to see run against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Over lunch in his private dining room overlooking the Ferrari campus, Mr. Montezemolo showed me a two-page, single-spaced political speech that he had stayed up typing the night before to gather his thoughts on Italy’s problems. “Italy today is like a boxer in the corner,” he said. “We have to get back into the center of the ring.”

He blames political infighting for throwing the country and the economy into gridlock. Mr. Berlusconi might have taken power with the fire of an entrepreneur. But 16 years later, he has distracted Italy and made the country less competitive and more protectionist, says Mr. Montezemolo, who has started a research group, Italia Futura, to monitor problems in government and identify new political candidates.

“Today, the largest industry in Italy is politics; the state is present everywhere,” says Mr. Montezemolo, who lamented similar problems when he led Confindustria, Italy’s biggest business federation, in 2004. “This means less of a free market, more corruption and less meritocracy.”

His discourse is laced with the catch phrases of a politician. But will he run for public office? Pressed, he said he wouldn’t rule it out, but then added: “I don’t believe in a one-man show. I’m more of a team-spirit guy.”

This month, he was re-elected to another three-year term as chairman of Ferrari. And while he may be spending more of his time fighting Italy’s ills, at the end of the day, he said, “I’m married to Ferrari.”

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