Sneak Preview: Lamborghini

Stephan Winkelmann is master of Lamborghini, but the fate of his company and the type of products he must sell are decided elsewhere. What we are witnessing right now is a struggle for power and a fight for responsibilities among Volkswagen, Audi, and, to a certain extent, Porsche. Lamborghini is part of the Audi Group, which in turn is part of the Volkswagen empire. The bone of contention among these parties is the third model that Lamborghini wants to put into production in 2015 or 2016. The two rival proposals are an evolution of the 2009 Estoque concept and a super-SUV based on the same platform as the next Porsche Cayenne/VW Touareg/Audi Q7 and an upcoming Bentley crossover. Audi wants its Italian satellite to go ahead with the SUV. To the dismay of Audi leaders, this strategy doesn’t seem to meet the approval of VW Group chief Martin Winterkorn, who recently voiced a clear preference for the four-door coupe and a possible two-door sister model. The Nuova Estoque would share elements with the next Porsche Panamera and the new Bentley Continental GT. The catch is that the architecture for these vehicles is being developed by Porsche, which means that Lamborghini may fit more comfortably under the Porsche umbrella than with Audi. More reticent than usual, Winkelmann stated in a recent interview that “the final decision is still pending. We are working toward a solution that is best for the brand and for our bottom line.”

Although the Aventador has been very well received, recurring quality issues keep slowing its low-volume production. Despite these glitches, there’s still hope that the roadster will be launched according to plan in 2012 and that the 750-hp lightweight SuperVeloce can follow in 2013.

But the big news from the inner sanctum of R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani is, of course, the Gallardo replacement, due in summer 2013. One year after the coupe, the Italians intend to launch the Spyder, which will be followed by the Superleggera edition in 2015. Like the next Audi R8, with which it again shares an architecture, the Gallardo retains its 5.2-liter V-10. Coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the mighty, normally aspirated, direct-injection engine will deliver 580 hp with the potential for up to 600 hp for the Superleggera and Performante versions. Shorter than its rivals but three inches longer than the car it replaces, the next Gallardo promises to be every bit as quick as the Ferrari 458, the McLaren MP4-12C, and the Porsche 911 Turbo S. At the same time, its advantage over the R8 will shrink when the new hard-core Audi sports car appears in 2014.

Stephan Winkelmann, 47

Personality: He’s the Anna Wintour of the automotive world: aloof and distant but the perfect public face for, and shepherd of, his brand. Always impeccably turned out in suits that are as sharply cut as the lines of his company’s cars.

Major career moves: The multilingual jack-of-all-trades joined Fiat in 1994. Step by step, he climbed from area manager to sales director to project leader for Alfa Romeo to CEO for Fiat in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. In 2005, Winkelmann was appointed president of Automobili Lamborghini.

Biggest achievement: Reshaping the brand, getting two new model ranges under way, and cultivating the fine art of limited-edition specials.

Claim to fame: Unforgettable concepts like the Estoque and the Sesto Elemento.