FRANKFURT - Audi AG plans to preserve the high-performance image of its exotic-car subsidiary - Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. - by letting Lamborghini determine its cars' styling and engineering.
Audi had already approved the styling for the Diablo successor scheduled for late 2001, but Lamborghini's new top management asked consumer clinics to re-evaluate the new car.
'If Lamborghini will decide the car we approved needs modifications, they can do them,' said Audi President Franz-Josef Paefgen. 'They (Lamborghini) can have access to anything of Audi, but we won't have any direct input in their day-by-day operations. ... Lamborghini has to remain truly Italian on the styling side.'
Giuseppe Greco, Lamborghini's managing director, confirmed that his company will take a second look at the next-generation Diablo's styling.
The new car 'looks really great - almost perfect - but I think we have to add some character and controversy,' he said. 'The current styling looks like Nicole Kidman, but I think from a Lamborghini the market expects Sharon Stone.'
Paefgen and Greco also noted that Lamborghini will maintain its own engineering team. Lamborghini has begun to hire engineers to boost its technical office from the current 60 people to 90 people.
This year Lamborghini will build and sell 260 units, up 22 percent from the previous year. The United States will remain Lamborghini's biggest market with more than 100 units sold.
The sportier SV accounts for 43 percent of sales, the Roadster for 41 percent and the all-wheel-drive VT for the remaining 16 percent. For 2000, Lamborghini plans similar volumes, but revenues will rise thanks to the introduction of the pricier Diablo GT.
Unveiled in its final form at the Frankfurt auto show last month, the GT features an upgraded 6-liter engine that produces 575 hp. With a top speed of 210 mph, the Diablo GT is, according to Lamborghini, the fastest production car on the market. On sale in November, it will cost $308,000.
Lamborghini will produce only 80 GTs. The small production volume will prevent export to the United States because the car would have to be homologated for emissions and crashworthiness.
Greco also confirmed that Audi has approved a five-year investment plan to relaunch Lamborghini. From 1999 to 2003, Lamborghini will spend nearly $161 million to improve its engineering and production facilities at Sant'Agata Bolognese, near Modena.
The plan also includes development of two new models: the Diablo successor and a second car, code-named L140.
NOT A BABY
'Do not refer anymore to the L140 as the `Baby Diablo.' It won't be a baby in terms of size or performance,' Greco said.
The car's new V-10 engine should generate 20 percent more horsepower than the 400-hp Ferrari 360 Modena, although the project has not been finalized, Greco noted.
By 2003, Lamborghini expects to produce 1,500 vehicles. The new L140 will account for two-thirds of that production, and the Diablo successor will account for the remainder.
At the Bologna motor show in early December, Lamborghini will unveil the Diablo GTR, the racing version of the new GT.
Starting next year, that vehicle will race in the Philippe Charriol Supersport Trophy one-make championship. About 25 units are planned.