PEBBLE BEACH, California — Maurizio Reggiani, the 59-year-old chief technical officer of Lamborghini, embodies the deeply Italian spirit that continues to suffuse the supercarmaker, even twenty years after its purchase by the very German Volkswagen Group. Born in northern Italy, Reggiani studied mechanical engineering in Modena, before beginning his career in the early 1980s at Maserati. From there, he’d move on to the reborn Bugatti, as Romano Artioli’s French-based but nonetheless highly Italian supercar exercise was known. The mind-blowing Bugatti EB110, designed by countryman Marcello Gandini, with engineering by another Italian, Paolo Stanzini, saw Reggiani charged with the development of an incredible quad-turbocharged, sixty-valve V-12 all-wheel drive powertrain.
Bugatti was also acquired by Volkswagen in 1998, so before long Reggiani would wind up at Lamborghini, where he is today intimately involved with the marque’s steady output of ever-more-rapid supercars, as well as leading its Centro Stile Lamborghini design office since 2011, with additional responsibility from 2014 for Lamborghini’s racing enterprise, Squadra Corse. Automobile Magazine New York Bureau Chief Jamie Kitman met up with Reggiani at the Lamborghini stand at The Quail, during this year’s Pebble Beach festivities, where the company was showing its new Urus crossover as well as debuting its fastest ever Aventador, the SVJ (Super Veloce Jota.)
JK: You’ve been in the car business 36 years. Could you reflect on the changes at Lamborghini in the time you’ve known the company?
MR: I think the big, visual change was when we moved to the Audi group. Because when I arrived at Lamborghini we were, more or less, 200 people. Now we are around 1,600. When I arrived, we sold about 200 cars a year. Last year we sold close to 3,600. This year as we launch the Urus [we’ll sell] something close to five thousand. That change is really dramatic. But the company remains a full Italian company. Meaning that the Audi group, leave us like… as they say…
MR: No, like a team of manager they trust. They’ve shown us a lot of trust. Now we’re resolved with the Urus, in terms of volume, in terms of performance, in terms of achievement, we are in good shape. We fulfill what we promise to our shareholders.
JK: Right, so the company is profitable?
MR: Yes, yes, yes. It’s profitable and this is based on the results of investment…Now, we are really at one of the best moments of our company, in all the story of Lamborghini.
JK: Some purists are upset by the Urus because it’s an SUV. Of course, you made one once upon a time [the LM002 of 1986], but obviously this one has strong Volkswagen family roots to it. Within the company and people that had been there for a long time, was it a little bit difficult for some to wrap their heads around this, as in “Oh brother, now we have to make this SUV that’s part of the Volkswagen family?”
MR: We can say that we were the first ones to make an SUV with LM002, meaning we can be proud to say that Lamborghini invented [the luxury, high performance] SUV. With Urus we use components from the group with the platform. But what made the difference is that it is fully developed in Sant’Agata, means we have a specific engine. We are the only [VW division] to have 650 horsepower. We are the only one to have a platform that is based on a long wheelbase, short overhang, front and rear. No others use this. And we are the only one that use, in terms of chassis control, an active anti-roll bar, and torque vectoring in the rear of the car. This means we create the soul of Urus based on Lamborghini. If you say, “Yeah, but you used [shared with other VW divisions] components.” Yes, we used components like the gearbox, but the gearbox is [also] used by other OEMs in the world. It’s what Tier 1 suppliers make and everyone uses it. And we try to use what is already used from the group. Because in terms of money, cost, scale, it is [better that way.] But I can tell you, Urus is a specific Lamborghini, like no other car in the VW group.
JK: With it, who is the customer you have in mind?
MR: We know the majority of the customers of a super sport car brand also have an SUV in the family. The possibility to sell to this customer also an SUV Lamborghini has big potential for increasing the value of our brand for our [existing] customers. And we will conquest customers [from other high end makers] with a different design. More extreme, more sexy, more sporty, and with the dynamics of a vehicle that, uniquely, in term of performance, make 650 horsepower, [with a top speed of] more than 300 kmh [186 mph], 0-100 kmh [0-62 mph] in 3.6 seconds. We are able to brake 100 kmh to zero in a car like this in 33.7 meters [110.5 ft]. It means braking and deceleration that is typical of a super sports car. Urus is a Lamborghini with unique [attributes]. People that love sporty will love it.
JK: Will people really take it off road? Do you think that car can go off road? Have you driven it off road?
JK: Doesn’t it seem sort of insane?
MR: I can tell you that during the development of this car we made several tests on the dunes of Dubai. We ran it on the gravel in dry river [beds], and where it’s real difficult to drive the car —without any kind of problem. We drove it in normal downtown, we used it on the track for long, long mileages, and in the end the car is really able. That’s due to the chassis control, we have higher suspension with lots of wheel travel and the ability to lift and lower the suspension. We have a anti-roll bar system that is capable of de-coupling the wheels when you are in off-road mode. A wheel can go up and down completely freely, between left and right. Also, variable steering ratios, give much more agility compared to all other car. And when you are on the track you have a stiff system that leaves the car as flat as much as possible to avoid rolling and pitching.
JK: You grew up outside of Modena. Were you destined to work with cars?
MR: It’s something that we have in our blood, and after technical college, it was step by step in Maserati. I worked in engine development, including on Maserati’s bi-turbo V-6. When I arrived at Bugatti I was one of the first two employees. I started from scratch.
JK: What was your favorite car when you were growing up?
MR: At this time it was Alfa Romeo. When you are 18, though, normally you don’t have the money to buy the car.
JK: Did you finally get one?
MR: Yes, an Alfetta. Though now I have one little bit older, a Duetto, the car that was used for the film ‘The Graduate.’
JK: There was a time when it seemed performance cars would go away.
MR: Yes. And they said, “It’s impossible to have emotion. No sound, no increase for power.” And I see, year after year, regulations are [more] severe, but if you find the power [you’ll sell cars.] Our job is to face this challenging [situation]… Our job is to prove we can increase performance, power, while staying inside the mission, and to do a job that is not yet finished. We grow the performance, of emotion, of the super sports car.
JK: Have you started thinking hard about electric cars at Lamborghini?
MR: We started to think of a kind of hybrid car. We think it’d be realistic in a medium future. About the full electric car, we started a project with MIT in Boston that we call Lamborghini Terzo Millennio—for third millennium—because we think at this moment the technology is not mature enough to make the super sports car. We created a definition for Lamborghini. To be super sports car means that a car must be able to reach more than [186 mph], and to be able to perform continuously… Based on this specification, at the moment I don’t think there’s any kind of battery that is able to perform, and for this reason we have launch this project with MIT in Boston, where we’ve opened two laboratories for research, exactly in this field where we see today there is nothing that can fulfill our expectations.
JK: So the international electric racing series that exists now, Formula E, that technology is not adequate to what you think a performance car will need?
MR: If you see today the Formula E they need to change the battery of a car [in race.]
JK: But this year they are gonna be able to finish a whole race, with one car, one driver.
MR: But how much cost is this? Can it be produced? This is the other problem. You need have something that is reliable, producible, and offer it at a price that is in a normal range. Otherwise it will be impossible.
JK: If you had to guess, how long out is that day?
MR: The problem for me is to look what will be the rules in term of emissions, in term of fuel consumption, and to see what way can we fulfill the role while leaving the emotion of the super sport car. You don’t buy a super sports car because you need one, you buy it because you want to have emotion. And if you take out the emotion…
JK: Some say that in the era of autonomous, self-driving cars, that wealthy people will still buy sports cars close to the way we know them.
MR: Totally agree. Totally agree.
JK: So, in fact, yours may be the safest part of the market to be in.
MR: I think the super sports car will be the last one to move to electrification and the last of the last ones to move to autonomous driving. If you buy a super sports car it’s because you want to drive, you don’t want to let a computer do your job, [interrupt] your satisfaction. We are not worried about this. We think that we don’t need autonomous driving, we need to support, to improve the skill of the driver. To [expend] more effort, to take the right confidence, to be more under control. This is what we have to do.
JK: Did you ever meet Mr. Lamborghini?
MR: Yes, I met him at the time when I was in Bugatti.
JK: What was he like?
MR: He was a guy that would tell you to your face what he thought. He didn’t take big loops of wording. He’d say, “You are good? Or not good?” The people where we came from were like this. “If I need 10 words, I will not use 11.” Those words you must understand and do your job.
JK: Last question. You’ve had a great career, you’ve worked on some wonderful cars, people know and admire you. What’s still out there for you? What are you excited about?
MR: I think what is important is to be able to create the right competence inside the team, to prepare my successor, and to leave to Lamborghini the possibility to continue to grow like we did in the last ten years. And to leave the best expertise, the most competence to the company. I think this is a job you must arrive at, at the end of a career. You must prepare the future.