Hubert Burda Media

Race to the Finish

Has Ferrari broken free of its Italian silo? GIUSEPPE CATTANEO speaks with Justin Harper

Race to the Finish

When you're heading up a luxury car brand, it helps if you embody its values as closely as possible. Enter Giuseppe Cattaneo, managing director for Ferrari's Far East operations, who's based in Singapore.

An erudite Italian who speaks with passion and emotion about the famous sports car brand, Cattaneo is the perfect man to take control of Ferrari in Asia. Indeed the brand has been part of his life since he was a child. “When I was 12, at the Monza Grand Prix in Milan, I would take my bicycle and go to the track with my Ferrari flag. You grow up with Ferrari — bread, milk, soccer and Ferrari,'' he says with expressive candour when we meet in the manufacturer's plush new office in the heart of the CBD. Overlooking part of the F1 circuit, it's exactly the view he was keen to acquire — and he'll be up there in late September to watch his racecars whizz around the track.

His love for the iconic Italian supercars doesn't feel like marketing speak or advertising jargon. Instead it comes from the heart, a feeling lost on many cold-blooded CEOs. With rival companies bringing out four-door versions and SUVs, Ferrari says it will never go down this route however profitable, staying true to its roots. ‘'Whichever Ferrari you drive, we never compromise on performance. A Ferrari is a Ferrari — full stop. This is in our DNA. I feel like a priest. I am bringing [people to] the faith of Ferrari but I am not God,'' he jokes.

Interestingly though, the brand has a very strict company policy on its own cars. “We are not allowed to drive a Ferrari. No one in the company, apart from the chairman, is allowed to drive one. The reason is very simple and I totally agree,” Cattaneo reveals. “We sell dreams, not cars. Many people use Ferrari as an accomplishment in life. They might do a big deal and say now I am going to buy a Ferrari. So an employee cannot drive a dream. I am selling you a dream; I should not be driving that dream.''

One of the initiatives Cattaneo is carrying out is getting to know Ferrari owners much better in Asia. He explains: “For this part of the world, we have not always been locally present with our staff and people, so I believe the big change is to be close to the market and try to dig in and understand the needs of the people and develop a relationship with our clients.''

His job of becoming more intimate may be made easier by the fact that the family of Ferrari owners is relatively small. In Asia — excluding Japan, which alone accounts for more than 12,000 cars — there are just 400 to 500 Ferraris around. “We cannot know them one by one, but nearly. Staying closer to clients means, in practical terms, knowing them individually. Not all companies have the privilege to know their clients this way,'' he says. One of the ways of doing this is to organise events for Ferrari drivers to meet and socialise within an exclusive community the company calls Ferraristi.

As well as building stronger ties with owners, Cattaneo will also oversee a shift in focus as the Italian-centric firm homes in on Asia. Until 15 years ago, 90 percent of Ferrari sales were generated from continental Europe and the US with a small amount coming from Japan and Hong Kong. “That was very dangerous. The strategic decision behind this global reshuffle is to have an ideal world where we have one-third of our sales in Europe, one-third in the US and one-third in Asia-Pacific. So we are strongly reinforcing our presence in Asia; we are not there yet.''
He admits Ferrari needs to break out of its Italian silo and become a more global player. It has one factory based in the small town of Maranello, along with its headquarters. The factory produced 6,800 cars last year, with about 20 percent distributed to Asia. This will rise 33 percent under Ferrari's new global plan. Indeed, Asia is an exciting region for the brand with its rapidly expanding high-net-worth (HNW) population who crave luxury brands.

In fact, Cattaneo is no stranger to the continent having spent most of his working life here, including as CEO of Pirelli Asia-Pacific in Singapore, along with stints in Hong Kong and Shanghai. This puts him in a strong position to deliver on Ferrari's new strategy to get closer to its Asian clients.

Speaking to Prestige around the time of the California T's launch, his expectation in drawing in a new breed of owner is palpable. “The previous California was an enormous success. We sold 11,000 cars and it changed the profile of the company. From the purists, there was some doubt about the heart of the car but since the 1950s, Ferrari has always been producing GT cars. We refreshed and revamped the concept and it has been a great success.''

About 70 percent of California customers are new to the Ferrari brand, which is an impressive statistic for a luxury brand known for loyalty. “This was an amazing figure and much above our expectation. It was a sort of a reward to the bet. We bet on this and we won,'' he says.

Already, the California T has generated a lot of interest in Singapore. It comes with a price tag of $905,000 which would make it less expensive than previous models. “We now have a different Ferrari for every Ferarristi. The California T is a versatile, everyday car. But it is still very powerful with 560 horsepower. If you decide to go, you go. Never forget this is a Ferrari. But if you don't push, she's not asking you to,'' he says.

Indeed, versatility is the underlying feature Cattaneo and Ferrari are trying to stress. Their cars are no longer meant for the weekly Sunday morning drive but for every day of the week. However, this may be a hard proposition for the average Singaporean Ferrari owner who is likely to own a handful of supercars in his garage, which he rotates on a daily basis. For such owners, a Ferrari Friday may be a more appropriate scenario.

While all seems to be running smoothly in Singapore, Ferrari globally is going through some turbulence due to the merger of its owners Fiat with US car giant Chrysler earlier this year. Following the marriage, Fiat Chrysler has now revealed its game plan for Ferrari — the jewel in the crown for the group. In the five-year plan for the Italian car manufacturer, it will offer a range of high-performance models with V8 and V12 engines. This will mean the launch of a new model every year, of which each will have a four-year lifecycle. These will be followed by M versions, which will last another four years. Besides the standard models, Ferrari will occasionally offer special series that will be targeted at valued and high-end customers.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, said the group planned to keep production of Ferraris capped at 7,000 units annually, but there is a chance this number could go up to 10,000 as the company expands into developing markets. With rising wealth in China and other emerging markets, there is plenty of demand to justify raising production by almost 50 percent. But for now, bosses are happy to limit production to 7,000. “This supports the concept of exclusivity,'' Cattaneo says. A Ferrari is a Ferrari, after all.

 California Dreaming

Ferrari's next-generation California T is a turbocharged V8 specimen that combines performance and torque with fuel efficiency

The California T was unveiled in May at a suitably glitzy event at the ONE°15 Marina Club in Sentosa to an exclusive group of owners and admirers. It is a seamless blend of sportiness and elegance powered by a direct-injection 3,855cc V8 turbo-charged engine. This helps the sleek machine sprint from 0-100kph in just 3.6 seconds, delivering extraordinary acceleration even in higher gears. With such a powerful engine and impressive performance stats, you'd think this was a gas-guzzler. But surprisingly, engineers at Ferrari have improved fuel efficiency by 15 percent, supporting its claims that this is an everyday sports car.

Ferrari also says the California T boasts improved sports car dynamics too, thanks to reduced steering wheel activity and a new suspension set-up. The car also sports the latest evolution of F1-Trac, Ferrari's stability and traction control system. If it's anything like the F12, handling should be sublime which sticks to the road like glue at high speeds.

As you'd expect with Ferrari, both inside and out is aesthetically pleasing with sleek lines and curves, and tasteful colours. The hand-finished cabin is trimmed in luxurious semi-aniline leather, while there is plenty of space in the trunk even with the top down.