No. 964
September 19, 2018
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Tuesday
Oct072008

RANTS #466

October 8, 2008


Ferrari loses its grip on its soul.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. I was standing in front of the Ferrari stand at the Paris Auto Show last Thursday morning with Robert Cumberford and Tom Tjaarda, two veteran designers of considerable skill and reputation, and we were trying to absorb what the new Ferrari California meant as a design execution, and more important to me, what it meant for Ferrari as a maker of some of the world’s most sumptuous high-performance automobiles. I will not deign to speak for those gentlemen (their level of disappointment would be better expressed by them), but I can give you my thoughts on what just may be the beginning of The End of Ferrari as we know it.

For me, the Ferrari California is a derivative, uninspiring, design mishmash of creases and folds (and horrific dimestore-quality side vents) that lacks cohesion and imparts an overall feeling of cheapness when viewed in person that just cannot be swept under the rug. It didn’t help that it was shown in an abysmal shade of blue that would have looked more at home on a third-tier “sporty” car from a Chinese automaker. It was also shown in red at the back of the display, but even Ferrari’s signature color couldn’t save the overall first impression of the car, which was one of “WTF were they thinking, exactly?” (You can see photos of the California at ferraricalifornia.com.)

The California is the first front-engine, V-8-powered production car in Ferrari history. It could also be termed the first “parts bin” Ferrari, as it shares pieces with the Maserati Coupe GT and Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione underneath (even though Ferrari insists that it's "all Ferrari"). The Maserati Coupe GT, a car that remains stunningly beautiful and which was, ironically enough, parked less than a stone’s throw away from the California at the show (the juxtaposition wasn’t good for the newest Ferrari to say the least) is noticeably elegant in comparison to the new Ferrari.

It’s also the first time that Ferrari has come up with a car blatantly designed to expand its production capacity for its burgeoning global reach in markets around the world. The California is the new, dare I say it, “approachable” Ferrari, despite it being priced just below the Ferrari F430GT, according to early estimates.

Though this is the first time for Ferrari, it isn’t the first time that a once-exclusive automaker has fallen under the spell of sky’s-the-limit profitability, of course. We all watched as Porsche, that once “exclusive” manufacturer of German sports cars, embraced leader Wendelin Wiedeking’s “vision” of profitability, no matter what. The result? The bloated Cayenne SUV and soon-to-arrive Panamera four-door sedan. If it weren’t for the remaining “True Believers” at Porsche who crank out cars like the 911 GT3RS and who work on the RS Spyder ALMS racing program, Porsche would be mere a shadow of its former self, because its quest for profitability has blurred Porsche’s original raison d’etre, no matter how whiney Porsche advertising gets in its attempts to suggest otherwise.

Not that Porsche was ever in Ferrari’s league when it comes to automobiles, especially when exclusivity and fiery passion for the marque are taken into consideration. There has been nothing like Ferrari in the annals of motordom, not even close as a matter of fact. You could obtain a Mercedes or a Porsche easily enough or any number of other “desirable” cars including the next best thing - a Lamborghini - but a Ferrari, a Ferrari retained its air of invincibility in the automotive pecking order.

At first the exotic, four-wheeled vision of the flawed genius, Enzo Ferrari, who sold street cars only to perpetuate his desire - and the funding - to go racing, Ferrari sports cars grew to become legendary symbols of speed, power and beauty, and a source of intense Italian national pride.

After Enzo’s death, Ferrari gradually repositioned itself as a maker of technologically advanced super cars, taking particular pride in the fact that its production cars bristled with advancements gleaned from its all-conquering Formula 1 racing program. And the success of the company and the growing popularity of its sports cars brought new challenges – and opportunities.

For one thing, buyers were clamoring for more. The waiting list for a new Ferrari in the U.S. market alone is at least three years (if not longer), depending on the model. And with the emergence of global wealth around the world, especially in the Chinese and Russian markets, Ferrari was finding that the desire for its cars was growing exponentially, and the pressure to provide more was building.

So for Ferrari the question became this: How do we address this growing demand for our cars without diluting the most envied reputation in the automobile business?

The answer for Ferrari came down to the one simple solution that they just couldn’t get around, and that was to make more cars.

Enter the Ferrari California. Ferrari ladled all of the relevant credentials on this new car it could muster, including resurrecting a famous name from one of its glorious past chapters and even having its dynamic package personally developed by the great (now retired) Grand Prix World Champion, Michael Schumacher.

But none of this negates the fact that the design is less than wonderful, the bits and pieces underneath are less than 100 percent Ferrari authentic and last but certainly not least the stated mission of this car is to double the current production and availability of Ferrari sports cars around the world.

Ferrari wants us all to believe that it can pull the California off while keeping its impeccable reputation intact and its iconic status at the top of the automotive mountain untarnished and unsullied. Ferrari also wants us all to believe that pandering to the siren call of volume won’t affect anything it does going forward, that it will still be every bit Ferrari while building 10,000-11,000 cars a year as it was when it built half that amount.

But I’m not so sure about that.

Apart from the fact that I find the Ferrari California supremely disappointing from a design perspective, what the car represents is even worse, because to me it signals an ominous directional shift for a company that once prided itself on selling “one less car than our customers demand.”

With the California, Ferrari’s iron-clad grip on its soul has started to slip. It may be imperceptible at this point, but the fact remains that they made the conscious decision to build a lesser Ferrari – and make no mistake that’s exactly what the new California is – and it will prove to be a defining moment in Ferrari history.

As we like to say around here, Not Good.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.