In the Blink of an Eye: Stephan Winkelman


 “It gives you thrill, an adrenaline rush that is incredible. It is pure joy.”

Stephan Winkelmann was born in 1963, the same year as the inception of the renowned auto company that he currently heads up, which makes them both relative youngsters. The Earth has rotated around the sun a mere 43 times since Winkelmann took his first breath in Berlin, yet he already holds the prestigious title of leader of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A., one of the world’s most esteemed companies, not just in the auto world, but in the entire realm of luxury.

Virtually no brand inspires more emotion and intrigue than Lamborghini. Just say the name and one immediately conjures up images of smooth lines, roaring engines, and unsurpassable speed. People worldwide are highly passionate when it comes to these fine automobiles, and rightfully so. Founded in 1963 and bought by Audi AG in 1998, Automobili Lamborghini is headquartered in Northeastern Italy where they manufacture some of the world’s most sought-after and innovate super sports cars.

Such innovations are apparent in the cars that sprinkle the Lamborghini Miami dealership, a modern showroom with dark grey walls and an opaque tiled floor. Large plate glass windows allow South Florida’s bright sunlight to stream in, highlighting the vehicles that are adorned in vibrant orange, yellow, and green-bright, unmistakable hues that are almost as much the brand’s signature as the cars’ vertical Lambo doors. On this Saturday afternoon, two boys, not a day over 10, are clamoring through the dealership, squealing with delight as they move from one $200,000-plus car to the next. Winkelmann is watching them out of the corner of his eye, and his lips curl into a slight smile. He sighs contently and sums up the brand’s ethos: “It is about emotion. Having a Lamborghini is not about just having a car to go from point A to point B; it’s something a lot of people dream about. Driving a Lamborghini is many a child’s dream come true.”

Lamborghini cars are not only a source of awesome power and prestige, but are a source of wonder, which is apparent not only on the face of the young boys climbing from a Gallardo to a Murcielago, but on the face of the company’s president himself as he describes his first turn in a Lamborghini years ago. “It was incredible,” he recalls. “I never drove so fast. I was used to motorbikes, so I had the feel for acceleration, but the feeling of the top speed is something different.”

It is a feeling coveted by many that few have the opportunity to experience. Winkelmann’s current role within Lamborghini is finding the fine balance between maintaining exclusivity while increasing the reach of the brand. “You have to grow in terms of volume, but without hitting the wall,” Winkelmann explains. He has managed to inspire Lamborghini to do so through innovative tactics and a basic understanding of the goals of the company. “We are more extreme than the other [luxury auto brands like Ferrari or Maserati],” he says. “We will never grow in volume like the others are. Our cars are larger with a sharper design and they are lower [to the ground] than our competitors. Our engines are stronger, the sound is better, and our brand stands for uncompromising, extreme cars.”

Said features resulted in record-high Lamborghini sales in 2007, with 2,406 sold worldwide. Despite a sales number that trumps 10 times over the average of 250 cars sold per year in the history of the company, the brand’s exclusivity managed to reach new heights as well, namely through the pre-sales of the highly publicized Reventón. With a limited production run of 20 super cars, each Reventón has been pre-sold with a price tag in the $1.4 million range. Despite a strong international interest in the vehicle, Winkelmann insists that there will only be 20 produced with delivery occurring in the upcoming months. “This was a one-time production, and it is important that it remains as such, although we could sell much more than just 20,” he states. “But building up a brand is all about being realistic and being credible. You have to keep your promise to your customers. We told them 20 and not one more, and it has to be like that.” Upon the release of the Reventón’s specifications, reaction from car enthusiasts was swift and overwhelmingly favorable, which Winkelmann attributes to various factors. “It’s the limited number for sure, and it is the shape of the car. It was something that was completely different from what has been seen before. The success was planned; there was no idea of failing. But in the end, the success comes down to volume and price, because it’s all about luxury and having something which no one else has.”

One of the coveted automobiles has been sold through their Miami dealership, which happens to be the highest grossing dealership in the country, despite the fact that current owner Brett David is a mere 20 years old. Winkelmann will be traveling to Palm Beach to celebrate the opening of the latest addition to the Lamborghini family, a second dealership owned and operated by David. This brings the total number of Lamborghini storefronts worldwide to 108, a dramatic increase from 2005 when Winkelmann took the reins of the company and the number hovered around 65.

The increase in dealerships in key markets across the globe has obviously resulted in growth at the Sant’Agata Bolognese car factory, the birthplace of every Lamborghini. The roots of the auto company can be traced to the birth of its founder, Italian-born Ferruccio Lamborghini. Ferruccio amassed a large portfolio of businesses in Italy following WWII, including a tractor company, which familiarized him with the complexity of engines. Upon hearing that Ferrari’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, had made a derogatory comment about Ferruccio’s driving (legend has it that Ferrari said, “The problem with the Ferrari is not the fault of the vehicle itself but of the driver.”), Ferruccio began working on a car that could compete with the prestigious Italian brand. Despite being called crazy, in less than a year, Ferruccio debuted a vehicle that was on par with the world’s most elite luxury cars, and soon introduced a line that has been giving the competition a run for their money ever since.

Before his passing, Ferruccio never disclosed why he chose to name his first model-the Miura-after an extraordinary breed of fighting bulls, but, then again, he was a Taurus. Thus, a bull has become the unmistakable logo for the brand. The current portfolio of fighting bulls includes the Gallardo series, a V-10 powered/520 horsepower super sports car; the Murcielago LP640 series, a V-12 powered/640 horsepower coupe and roadster convertible; and the limited production Reventón, which is based on the Murcielago platform but designed after the F22 Raptor fighter jet. The 650 horsepower monster can accelerate from zero to 62 in only 3.4 seconds, a miraculous feat for even the most elite super cars. These Lamborghinis, which range in price from $ $190,600 for the Gallardo Coupe to $372,200 for the Murcielago Roadster-which tops out at 205 mph-are surely worthy of the worldwide praise they garner from speed junkies. Lamborghini even offers a driving academy to acquaint drivers with their powerful vehicles. “The driving academy was born for two reasons,” Winkelmann says. “One, to familiarize our customers with the possibilities of what our cars are all about and to ensure the safety of the drivers; and two, to get our drivers on a racetrack and show them what a Lamborghini is able to do.”

The newest model in the brand’s lineup, which will be released in the U.S. in late summer, is the Gallardo LP560-4, the successor of the most successful Lamborghini of all time. (The original Gallardo has sold more than 7,100 models since the launch in 2003.) With a 5.2 liter, V-10 engine, the LP560-4 can outperform its previous incarnation in every measure. “It has a different shape, it weighs less, it’s faster, the top speed is higher, and acceleration is faster,” Winkelmann explains. “The shifting time from the pedals is reduced around 40 percent-this is something for those kinds of people who are used to driving around powerful autos-it’s an impressive improvement. And we reduced emissions by 18 percent.”

Winkelmann is quick to assure us that driving a Lamborghini without proper instruction is a safe enough task, albeit not necessarily for the faint of heart. “The feeling of driving a Lamborghini is difficult to describe,” he says. “It gives you thrill, an adrenaline rush that is incredible. It is pure joy.” A smile returns to his face as he says this, and it is apparent that Winkelmann was one of those little boys that grew up dreaming of being behind the wheel. With his current role, he is able to fulfill the desires of others who dream of feeling the awesome power of a Lamborghini.