Lamborghini’s Gallardo Superleggera (above) on display during the Geneva car show in March and its Murcielago LP 640 Coupe (below) in New York in April are not known for fuel economy.
Lamborghini’s Gallardo Superleggera (above) on display during the Geneva car show in March and its Murcielago LP 640 Coupe (below) in New York in April are not known for fuel economy. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters Photo)

Lamborghini motors on in green era

Carmaker keeps niche despite EU emissions rules

Any automaker would love to be in the position that Italy's Lamborghini holds.

Customer loyalty is intense with repeat buyers more than willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new model even before they take shape on the assembly line in Bologna, Italy. Lamborghini is in the enviable position of being able to announce a new version and have it sell out before one bolt is tightened.

But the cars -- famous for precision and design -- are infamous on fuel efficiency, a potential drawback in Europe where curbs on emissions are taking hold. At the Geneva Motor Show in March, the color in style was more earthly green than race-car red, as carmakers tried to lure eco-inspired consumers to showrooms with cleaner diesel engines, hybrids, and the promise of fuel cells and batteries.

That is not to say that Stephan Winkelmann, chief executive of Automobili Lamborghini Holding SpA, is worried that the venerable carmaker could find itself singled out by campaigners who want to make an example out of it.

"We are sticking to emissions rules in every country we are selling to," he told The Associated Press . "As part of the (Volkswagen) group, but even as Lamborghini, we have to meet the standards, and we are doing the best that we can do."

Concern over emissions has taken a firm hold in the European Union with the 27-member bloc setting a goal of 4.6 ounces of C0{-2} per half-mile per vehicle by 2012, down from around 5.75 ounces per half-mile, on average now.

Winkelmann conceded that Lamborghini's models, which include the Murcielago LP640 Roadster and the new Gallardo Superleggera, would not fall in line with those regulations.

"We'll never meet the standards set by the EU," he said, but added that since most Lamborghini owners only put around 3,000 miles a year on their cars, it is hard to compare the emission output to that of a compact or sedan that is driven daily and averages around 12,000 or 13,000 miles annually.

"We're a niche within a niche," Winkelmann said, given the fact that Lamborghini only produces around 2,000 cars annually.

So far, it's a profitable niche market, and sales have been steadily increasing since 2004.

Last year, sales rose 43 percent to $454.87 million from $319.18 million a year earlier with 2,087 vehicles sold, it's highest figure in the company's history. Looking ahead in 2007, Winkelmann declined to offer a specific forecast, but noted that this year's production lineup has already sold out. He added that 10 more partnerships for selling Lamborghinis would be added, with dealers in India and Kiev, Ukraine.

"It's all about having more demand than output, more demand than production," Winkelmann said. "We've invested a lot in quality."

Quality is evident in the company's latest model, the Gallardo Superleggera. Built on the Gallardo frame, it is 220 pounds lighter than the Gallardo with 530 horsepower, 10 more than the Gallardo, which means it can go from zero to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds.

"Every new Lamborghini which is coming out is a new car," Winkelmann said. "It is not an evolution, it is a revolution."

The company's top market remains the United States, which accounted for 876 cars sold last year, up 37 percent from the 640 sold in 2005. Europe is second with 746 cars sold last year, up nearly 50 percent from the year, with demand high in Switzerland. But new markets like Russia and China are on the horizon and the company expects those to generate growth and revenue, too.

"New markets for us are important. We are selling there, in Russia, India , and China," he said. "Yes, it is a limited number of cars but we think that China will become, in the future, one of our top five performing markets."

(Mark Lennihan/Associated Press Photo)