MILAN -- Ferrari's search for a new leader of the same standing as Louis Camilleri will be a challenging task for the Italian brand, just as it looks to roll out new hybrid models and its first ever SUV.
CEO Camilleri, 65, retired with immediate effect citing personal reasons late on Thursday, after being in the role for nearly two and a half years. Chairman John Elkann, the scion of Italy's Agnelli family, will lead the company on an interim basis while a permanent successor is found.
Camilleri's exit comes at an unfortunate time for the company. He was leading Ferrari's ongoing effort to expand its vehicle lineup to hybrid technology and also the use of its brand, without undermining the exclusivity that supported its premium pricing and profit.
The company is often seen by analysts and investors as a luxury goods maker rather than an automotive specialist and last year it launched a plan to enhance its brand through new apparel and accessories, entertainment offers, and luxury products and services for clients.
Ferrari expects this brand strategy might contribute around 10 percent of its profitability in the next seven to 10 years.
Intesa Sanpaolo analyst Monica Bosio said finding a successor "capable of managing Ferrari's peculiar business model, facing at the same time Ferrari's current issues in F1," was no easy task and his retirement also occurs "in a technological transition phase" to electric vehicles.
Ferrari have not won an F1 championship race all year and are in 6th place currently, with one race to go, heading for the team's worst performance since 1980.
Camilleri was appointed to lead Ferrari in July 2018 after the sudden death of former CEO Sergio Marchionne. During his tenure, Ferrari was one of the best performing auto stocks, as demand for its high-performance cars remained strong despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Under his leadership, Ferrari shares rose around 50 percent and have hit record levels, with those listed on Milan bourse touching an all-time high of 182.95 euros ($221.70) last month.
Citi analysts said whoever replaces Camilleri would inherit a "significant legacy."
"At the same time, Ferrari faces perhaps the biggest upheaval in its history with a number of questions around the deliverability of 2022 profit targets and more pertinently navigating the launch of the PuroSangue SUV and negotiating the transition to zero carbon emissions," Citi said.
Ferrari has pledged that 60 percent of its vehicle sales will be hybrid by 2022, but has ruled out a full-electric model for now.
But according to analysts Ferrari, which customers love for its engine roar, could struggle to retain its leadership in the long term, when silent full-electric motors are set to rule in the market and traditional powertrains are progressively banned around the world.
According to a company source, Camilleri, 65, had suffered health problems, which made it necessary for him to be hospitalized for COVID-19 in recent weeks. He is now recovering at home, but his illness was not the cause of his decision to retire, the source said.
Camilleri also resigned as executive chairman of Philip Morris International (PMI), the Marlboro maker said separately.
Names of possible candidates emerged Friday in the Italian press.
A spokesman for F1 dismissed rumors that the former head of Ferrari's racing team and ex-Lamborghini chief Stefano Domenicali could take Camilleri's role, saying he was looking forward to starting his new job as F1 CEO on Jan. 1 as planned.
Besides Domenicali, Italian media cited former Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao, Apple CFO Luca Maestri and Apple's former Chief Design Officer Jonathan Paul Ive as possible candidates.
The appointment of Camilleri's s replacement was unlikely to be rushed. "It will take the appropriate time," a source close to the matter told Reuters.