Words shoot from Nicola Bulgari fast and loud, like bullets from a machine gun.
But that's just his zest for Buick and General Motors.
Bulgari, 60, is vice chairman of the 114-year-old Italian jewelry company that bears the family name. The company is famous for outfitting movie stars and monarchs with diamond-encrusted necklaces, bracelets and watches.
Custom work has been a Bulgari specialty. It just finished the instrument panel for the 2003 Cadillac Luxury Roadster, the performance convertible based on the Evoq show car.
It is Bulgari's first automotive venture. Cadillac believes Bulgari's Old World luster will add polish to its luxury marque.
The roadster's round analog speedometer and tachometer feature classically styled white numbers on black faces and have jeweler's gothic roman letters B V L G A R I cast around the aluminum bezels, similar to one of the company's $5,000 watches.
Cadillac's Italian connection could help GM's luxury division establish credibility with European buyers, where the Bulgari name is better known.
GM is counting on the Roadster and other upcoming rear-wheel-drive luxury cars to be successful in Europe. Cadillac's cars must succeed there if the brand is to become a global player on par with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar.
A passion for Buick
The Bulgari deal would never have happened were it not for his passion for Buick.
As a boy in Rome in the 1940s, Bulgari saw the big, black Vatican-owned Buicks with their giant chrome grilles and staid patrician looks squeezing through the city's narrow brick streets. He saw Buicks in Third World countries in the pages of National Geographic magazine. To him, they were the epitome of American style, power and prestige.
That feeling has never wavered.
Bulgari has assembled 50 of the world's finest antique and high-performance Buicks. Bulgari's connection to the company has helped him acquire several historic vehicles, such as the last retail sale Buick Riviera Silver Arrow and Roadmaster, a high-performance Buick Grand National and the last two Reattas. The Bulgari Buick collection is housed in Italy in a replica of a 1940s Buick dealership, and in the United States.
Bulgari considers the Buick Park Avenue Ultra to be one of the world's greatest luxury cars because, he says, it offers unparalleled performance, style, luxury and value for the money. Bulgari often sends out dealer brochures to his friends asking them to test drive the Park Avenue. He has given them as gifts. He has had fleets imported to Italy and he has frequently granted access to GM's design studios and top executives.
A cautious decision
It was during a trip to the Pebble Beach Concours car show in California in 1998 that Cadillac designers asked Bulgari if his company would design the instrument panel for the Luxury Roadster. Bulgari thought about saying yes immediately.
'I spoke to our board,' Bulgari said. 'Everybody at first was suspicious. They thought Cadillac had a very bad name and that its reputation was going down the drain.'
But Bulgari told the board GM had committed to spending billions to revamp Cadillac's lineup. He convinced the board a deal with GM would be smart for both companies.
Cadillac buyers can afford Bulgari jewelry. With the roadster, every time they sit in the driver's seat, they will see the Bulgari name. Says Martyn Schorr, Bulgari's close friend and spokesman, 'It's a win-win-situation for both companies.'
At least one analyst agrees. 'Among upmarket consumers, Bulgari is a hot brand,' said Ken Gassman, a jewelry industry analyst in Richmond, Va. He believes the Bulgari logo above the instruments will convey an understated elegance for Cadillac. 'Upmarket buyers love those kinds of things,' he said.
Bulgari hopes the link to Cadillac will expand his company's appeal in the United States. The company has 11 stores in major cities, a catalog business, plus retail agreements with luxury stores.
'I think 95 percent of Americans who would buy a Cadillac have never heard of Bulgari,' Bulgari said. 'This country is like an ocean, you have to promote yourself always to have some recognition.'
Piergiorgio Traverso, global brand manager for Cadillac, said the companies have found it easy to work together despite cultural differences and Bulgari's lack of automotive experience.
Traverso said Cadillac didn't try to dictate what it wanted; it gave Bulgari designers freedom. The Bulgari-designed instruments, he said, will be one way Cadillac stakes its claim to being a global brand.
Cadillac and Bulgari craftsmen crossed the Atlantic many times while the project was under way. Cadillac designers tore pages from the Bulgari catalog and hung them in the design studio for inspiration. 'There was very good communication, a good feeling and a very close working relationship,' Bulgari said.
Though Bulgari designed the instrument panel, Cadillac will be in charge of manufacturing. Cadillac's quality lags behind that of industry leaders Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, but Bulgari is not worried that his company's name will be connected to an inferior product. He has great faith in GM's engineering and manufacturing.
'We will show you that we can build a car designwise, enginewise, performancewise and handlingwise that will say we are back in the arena,' Bulgari said of the Roadster.
Traverso declined to say how much Cadillac paid Bulgari to design the Roadster's instruments. But he said Cadillac was happy with the outcome. And, he said, there might be more Cadillac-Bulgari projects, such as joint marketing and promotional events and additional design work. Bulgari said his company's automotive work will be confined exclusively to GM.
Cadillac might not want to hear this, but Bulgari says there's another GM division he'd like to see the famous Bulgari logo attached to.
'That would be my dream,' he said, 'to do a project for Buick.'