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Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann talks Aventador's end and Bugatti's future

The times, they are a changing, and this week we got wind of some major shifts for two of the greatest automakers. I spoke with Lamborghini CEO and Bugatti president Stephan Winkelmann to get his thoughts.

2019 Bugatti Divo

Bugatti president Stephan Winkelmann will soon hand over the keys to the company.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

On the surface, the Lamborghini Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae doesn't look particularly distinctive compared to its predecessors. Take the driveline from the wild SVJ, tone down some of the bodywork and the graphics, and you're basically there. Yes, the Ultimae will be hard to get, with just 600 cars slated for production, but even that isn't what will really make it special.

What'll make the Ultimae stand out will be its status as the last Aventador and, more significantly, Lamborghini's last unassisted V12. Yes, the Aventador's replacement will still pack a dozen cylinders, and no, it won't use turbos, but that engine will be aided by a plug-in hybrid system. It's the end of a generation of sports cars and, more significantly, the end of an era for Lamborghini.

For Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann, who first took over the company in 2005, the Aventador has personal significance. "It's the first car which I had the pleasure and honor to follow since the first day," he told me in an interview this week. "Development starts in 2007, we launched the car in 2011, so you can imagine how close this car is to my heart."

But it's a more than emotional connection. In the 10 years since the launch of that particular raging bull, Lamborghini has seen massive growth. "If you count all the cars sold as V12 prior to the Aventador, the volume is lower than the Aventador alone," Winkelmann said. Lamborghini sold 1,602 cars in 2011. In 2020? 7,430, though more than half of those were the Urus SUV.

The Urus will be the next Lamborghini to get an electrified powertrain, following the mild-hybrid Sian supercar, but even more significant will be the plug-in hybrid system used in the Aventador's replacement. Surely it'll help on the emissions and environmental side, but Winkelmann is naturally adamant that it's more than a green play. "Always that the generation which is following has to be better than the previous generation," Winkelmann told me. "This is a must. So I am 100% safe that our customers will perceive this as an added value and more performing than before."

That performance will surely mean extra power. By way of comparison, the hybrid system in the Ferrari SF90 Stradale adds about 280 more ponies than the F8 Tributo, but at the cost of nearly 500 pounds. For the Aventador replacement, Winkelmann says materials will be key: "Carbon fiber is our expertise. ... One of the biggest things in the plug-in hybrid is the power-to-weight ratio. Therefore the lightweight materials are one of the things which make us stand out of the crowd."

Visually standing out is another key aspect of Lamborghini, and Winkelmann told me that likewise won't be a problem: "I saw already the new car. I can tell you, in terms of packaging we mastered things in a spectacular way so that the design is going to stay outstanding. It's going to be a distinctive thing."

Sadly, you and I will have to wait a bit longer until we get a glimpse. The target launch date is sometime in 2023.

We didn't talk just about hybrids and batteries, though. Winkelmann has also served as president of Bugatti since 2018. With that company's upcoming sale and merger with Rimac, I asked Winkelmann for his thoughts on what this means for the brand.

"Ettore Bugatti would say if it is comparable it is no longer a Bugatti," Winkelmann said. "We stick to this sentence, and now it is the decision to say that we have a new partner who has the idea of going electric, of combining his brand with the expertise of Bugatti, and I think that this can be a great success story. It's clear that for me Bugatti is a bit like Lamborghini, very close to my feelings. I went there with all the expectations you can imagine and now that there is a clear future for Bugatti, I am very pleased."