Stephan Winkelmann, the newly appointed President of Bugatti Automobiles and arguably the best-dressed man in the automotive industry (rumor has it he’s never been seen in the same suit twice) has a resume few will ever replicate. He was President and CEO of Lamborghini from 2005 to 2016, the longest tenure in the brand’s history, where he saw record sales numbers and the launch of the Aventador V12 and the Huracán V10 supercars. Winkelmann then moved on to Audi’s new sub-brand Audi Sport in 2016 and oversaw a critical refresh and revitalization of the entire lineup of all RS models.
As of January this year, the Berlin-born and Rome-raised businessman sits atop one of the most exclusive car brands in the world. Bugatti has already unveiled the record-breaking 1,500 horsepower Chiron Sport under his watch. With a track record that speaks for itself and a clear modus operandi when it comes to shaking up and running high-end car companies, what does Winkelmann have in store for a storied manufacturer like Bugatti, a company that, on the face of it currently only makes two versions of one car? I sat down with him to piece things together and figure out where he’s taking his new team. – Bryan Campbell
Campbell: Lamborghini has quite the vault of cars, do you have a favorite?
Winkelmann: The Aventador. It was the very first one that I made from scratch with the team and it was very successful. It will always be something very close to my heart. I love the engine, the design and the fact that the monocoque was made out of carbon fiber, which at the time, was pure innovation.
Campbell: And a favorite from Audi?
Winkelmann: At Audi, for me, it’s the RS6. The RS6 is the balance, the center of the brand. And you’ll see, when the new one comes — it’s a great car. I drive two cars on a regular basis; one is the RS6 — the other is a Porsche 911 GTS Targa.
Campbell: What about of all the cars on the road today, is there one that stands out for you?
Winkelmann: You know, there is a normal luxury car which I like. I think Range Rover has done a very good job in the past, which I admire in this sense. They did a great job with the Velar.
Campbell: When you walked through the door on your first day at Lamborghini, what was the grand plan and how did that unfold for you?
Winkelmann: At the beginning, we needed an assessment, and I recognized it’s important to work on the strategy for the base models, keep their life cycles short and always have news coming up. On the other side it was important to get the message out to prepare the [world] for more than just super sports cars. So, for me, it was to focus the brand, the products and to prepare the world for a company ready to do more. In 2012 I showed the first [Urus] concept car, in Beijing. So we already started thinking about the Urus in 2010-2011.
Campbell: Did you use the same tact at Audi Sport?
Winkelmann: Again, it was a strategy for the brand. We wanted to establish something which enabled us to have an overview, collecting all the sportiness of Audi — the racing, the R8 and RS models. Therefore, we needed one name within the company, which was Audi Sport. So we made that the umbrella. And then it was a matter of preparing the RS models for the future, to create a strategy.
How the products have to be developed by continuing being sporty; pick the right segments, the right body styles and have an exclusiveness. Because for me it was not about sales volumes — it was about the wow factor and the halo positioning for the rest of the Audi models.
Campbell: Is it safe to assume we can expect a similar infusion of energy at Bugatti?
Winkelmann: (Laughs) It’s too early to discuss. I’ve only been on the job three months, but what I can tell you is the team is extremely motivated and have a lot of passion for the company, for the brand, for the car. And I also think the brand is ready for more, but I cannot tell you now what we’re planning.