Ferrari will announce its first hybrid supercar on 31 May. The maker of history’s most exotic catalogue of sports cars, has had some experience in this area with the 2013 LaFerrari. Yet, whilst this is a limited-edition product, the new car will be the first series production Ferrari to drive on low emissions and with outstanding performance. Ferrari hasn’t revealed official performance figures, yet experts are predicting almost a thousand horsepower with the new GT. “I promise it will be really unique,” says the design director Flavio Manzoni when I meet with him before the big reveal. “Ferrari has always pushed the limits of automotive design and represented the pinnacle of vehicle technology. We have a constant quest to reach the ultimate step and this will never stop. Which means every new car must surpass our own expectations and you will see this with the new hybrid car.”
Ferrari’s identity is pivoted on making exotic motor cars, with the promise of driving pleasure. So, I ask the design director how it can maintain its distinctive values in the post-combustion age. Manzoni is candid, hesitating before admitting it isn’t easily. “For me Ferrari is a symbiosis of man and machine and hedonistic pleasure. If life is about the experience, then Ferrari offers an exceptional quality of life. But then, when we talk about Ferrari, we always consider three fundamental components – technological innovation, the pleasure of driving and beauty. So, the aspect of innovation is fundamental to Ferrari design.” Manzoni is quick to note that there will not be room for an autonomous Ferrari in the foreseeable future. “Autonomous driving is about mobility, which is not something connected with Ferrari. If we lose the pleasure of driving, the relation between human and machine, then there is no Ferrari.”
For now, his team are focused on creating a new generation of Ferrari cars, including four new supercars this year, at Centro Stile, the newly opened design studio based at the home of Ferrari, Maranello. It is an impressive building, a collaborative venture which saw Manzoni, who trained as an architect in Florence, work alongside London-based architect Davide Padoa of Design International. The sculptural structure offers complex surfaces, with a double-skin façade of triangular glass and gilded aluminum. Centro Stile sits in the same compound as a handful of architectural gems including buildings by renowned architects Jean Nouvel, Massimiliano Fuksas and Renzo Piano’s dramatic wind tunnel. So, it needed to stand out. “Our objective was to create a ‘wow’ effect – a surprise when you walk in from the old Ferrari entrance to the Maranello site,” Manzoni tells me. The surfaces evoke Ferrari design with their concave and convex shapes and in the interplay of light and shadow. The second skin, he admits, looks great but is also functional for maintaining the privacy of what is being created inside Centre Stile.
The design studio was at the top of Manzoni’s agenda when he arrived at Ferrari nine years ago. He feels an internal creative team housed close to the main Ferrari facilities is essential for design moving forward. “It is a new way of working for us,” he admits. In the past, Ferrari collaborated with Italian coachbuilder such as Pininfarina and Zagato. Now, the company is realizing the importance of daily interactions between design and engineering. “The studio allows us to inspire the creative team and the engineers with our visions. It also helps us to discuss our ideas with management at the start of each project, and to find solutions that answer our imagination.”
Centro Stile houses around a hundred vehicle designers, digital surface modelers, color and trim specialists. “We use real sculptors here to give a human touch to surfaces because for Ferrari technology is not the final objective,” says Manzoni. For him form follows function “but with an artistic appeal and the imagination to create an organic shape that connects with its function”. Ferrari’s are about evoking timeless design.
The Ferrari portfolio has evolved in recent years to include extreme hypercars but also vehicles created for everyday use – models like the latest Portofino. Manzoni says even as the family expands, his work as director of design is to ensure the two road-car families, the sports and GT series, maintain their distinctive identities. “The sports cars are technically driven so performance is pushed to such a high level that the design needs to incorporate a great many technical solutions to reach the goal,” he explains. Whilst the GTs are more design focused, “elegant and refined”, he notes.
Each floor at Centro Stile houses one element of design including customization – “Tailor Made”. Here clients can specify the color scheme, materials and every little detail to make their Ferrari unique. The division opened in 2011, yet this is the first time customers work on their design in a bespoke studio alongside specialist. Personalization, says Manzoni, is increasingly important for Ferrari. He says working directly with customers challenges the team; it gives him the opportunity to create unique identities, work with new materials and shapes. “Our customers are passionate about Ferrari and can make the experience very interesting for us.”