EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The 360 Modena represents several firsts for Ferrari, which tell a lot about the way Ferrari has traditionally built cars and how it plans to build cars in the future.
Behind the changes: Ferrari wants to increase its volume cautiously to around 1,500 vehicles annually in North America, nearly twice the number sold in 1998.
The Ferrari mystique is a unique mixture of high-tech and hand-built. The emphasis has been on speed, with a disregard for almost everything else - including the customer, or certainly the customer's creature comforts.
To borrow a line from an old Nissan ad, Ferrari today is designing 'cars for the human race.' Ferrari executives refer to the 360 Modena, which went on sale this month, as a 'daily driver' - an important departure for a company that always prided itself on building race cars that happened to be street-legal.
Today, Ferrari is building cars a little more like the way the rest of the world does it. The 360 Modena is:
The first Ferrari that was designed ergonomically, using the driver's seating position as the starting reference point.
The first Ferrari car project to make extensive use of computers.
The largest two-seater Ferrari has ever built.
Concessions to ordinary drivers include easier entry and exit, more comfortable seats, better air conditioning, better visibility, a bigger gas tank and a Formula One-style, clutchless transmission.
That is not to say the 360 Modena lacks boy-racer credentials: It is the first Ferrari with an all-aluminum chassis, body, gearbox, engine and suspension, instead of only aluminum body panels.
The 360 Modena also has the most powerful normally aspirated V-8 engine Ferrari has ever built.
'The mission for the 360 Modena was to improve usability, to be more comfortable yet with higher performance,' Gian Luigi Longinotti Buitoni, CEO of Ferrari North America, said at a press introduction here.
THE PRICE: $133,725
All this does not come cheap. The 360 Modena sells for $133,725, which includes freight charges of $1,350 and a $350 dealer preparation charge.
North America is the largest market for Ferrari, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy, in that order. Worldwide sales were 3,637 in 1998. North America accounted for 23 percent of the total, including a handful of sales in Canada.
In addition to increasing volume for Ferrari, Ferrari North
America also will reintroduce Maserati to the United States in two years. That represents another volume increase for a company that sold only 483 cars at its most recent low point, in 1993.
Ferrari's attitude today is shaped by a boom-and-bust cycle a decade ago. In the mid- to late 1980s, U.S. sales volume topped 1,000 units. Speculators bid up the price of Ferraris, even brand-new ones, to several times the sticker price.
Rare vintage Ferraris were worth millions of dollars, like works of art. Owners treated them like works of art, too, and were afraid to drive the cars.
Predictably, the bottom fell out. The stock market crashed in 1987; a recession and a new luxury tax came in 1991.
Suddenly people were suing Ferrari dealers to be released from deals to buy cars at inflated prices.
So today Ferrari is basing its strategy on the radical notion of having people actually drive the cars.
And to attract more buyers, Ferrari is bending some of its own traditions.