The name Lamborghini evokes powerful acceleration and large engines, with oodles of cylinders and a sound to match. But the supercar builder isn’t blind to the electrification movement. And while Lamborghini is not yet phasing out its thundering herd of combustion engines, the brand is moving towards a compromise that feels true to itself: internal combustion plus an electric motor.
In 2019, Italy’s Raging Bull automaker teased its future with a hybrid, the V12 Sián FKP 37. The vehicle went above and beyond with 819 horsepower, the company’s most powerful model ever. However, with a $3.5 million price tag, it wasn’t made for the masses (nor even an average Lamborghini buyer). Only 63 were made in honor of the year Lamborghini was founded, and collectors snapped them up quickly. The Sián, which means “lightning” in Italian, contains a 48-volt electric motor that adds 34 horsepower to V12; it was made to showcase the brand’s capabilities and show a hint of what’s to come. Here’s what’s next.
Vitamin V12 deficient
The leadership team is making it clear that it’s not the right time for the Raging Bull to go all electric. All in due time, Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann says.
“If you would have asked me five or six years ago, I would have been convinced that hybridization would happen, but I’d have my doubts on the execution and acceptance,” Winkelmann told PopSci. “Now, it’s a generational issue. We have a lot of young fans who are telling us we’re on the right path in terms of sustainability.”
While an all-electric vehicle is slated to be revealed in 2028, Lamborghini is first launching a hybrid-powertrain successor to its top-of-the-line Lamborghini Aventador sports car before the end of Q1 2023.
“We have to take care that we have this kind of emotional attachment, but always the technology will find a way,” Lamborghini chief technical officer Rouven Mohr told PopSci. “Even if I personally like the combustion [engine], it would be a mistake to think that there will be no tipping point.”
Mohr says they are not following the engine-downsizing trend, pairing a smaller powerplant with an electric motor to compensate for power. The plan is to take existing internal-combustion vehicles and add power in the form of electricity, so the electric motor isn’t a replacement but an enhancement, with the benefit of hopefully fewer CO2 emissions.
Rumors hold that the follow up to the Huracán, which is more compact and less expensive than the Aventador, will be a V8 hybrid, which is a smaller engine than the current V10. Whether or not the whispers are true, Lamborghini isn’t yet willing to say. It’s too soon to talk about that, Winkelmann told PopSci.
The heart of the bull
In the last couple of years, the automotive market has flipped inside out. The pandemic affected the supply chain in ways no one anticipated, but even more surprising to Lamborghini was the uptake of luxury products in the aftermath. Lamborghini broke its own sales records for 2022, delivering 9,233 vehicles worldwide: that’s a stunning ten percent over the sales figures for 2021. Lamborghini launched its SUV, the Urus, in 2017, which has been an explosive seller for the brand. Winkelmann says 80 percent of its new customers are Urus buyers; breaking into the SUV segment also helps attract more female buyers.
In the meantime, in 2021 Lamborghini shared the details of its Direzione Cor Tauri (“Heart of the Bull”) program, which lays out a roadmap for a nearly two billion dollar cash infusion. This, the highest-ever investment in the company’s history, translates directly to the development of hybrid and all-electric cars to get the Italian automaker primed for the switch to EVs in the next few years. That funding will be welcome as the automaker shifts its design and production to include electrification. Software and its upkeep will be another significant line item as driver-assist technology advances.
Machine learning, for example, will allow engineers to do new things. Imagine there’s a kind of algorithm Lamborghini could use to train its motorsports teams to be better drivers on the track. “You can have an intelligent stability control, for example, that understands exactly your driving style, analyzes it, and helps you enter the corners [more efficiently],” Mohr said.
It may seem incongruous to tie advanced driver-assist tech to a supercar for people who love to geek out on cars and live to drive. What’s the attraction of a car that takes over for you when a car like a Lamborghini Huracan—or even the Urus SUV—is designed for the sheer pleasure of driving it? The technologies Lamborghini is looking at can enable a driver to improve their driving skills and enjoy the limits of the car, Mohr says.
The sounds of silence
For the 2023 Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona International Speedway this month, Lamborghini fielded five teams: four in the GT Daytona class and one in the GT Daytona Pro category. The distinctive sound of the Raging Bull Huracáns echoed across the lanes, its voice calling out clearly. One of those teams was the only all-female lineup, the Iron Dames, piloting a can’t-miss-it hot pink Huracán.
Motorsports like this endurance race give manufacturers a chance for research and development in high-stress situations for the cars. It also gives them an ear to the ground to listen to the fan base and get more insight on what’s needed to improve.
What Lamborghini is hearing now is that the younger generation is demanding more sustainability, and they want to see change. The other is an open question about a personality crisis for supercars when EVs take over. EVs are much quieter than combustion engines, and that will affect not just motorsports events but everyday satisfaction while driving the cars.
Mohr, who grew up admiring a poster of a purple Lamborghini Diablo on his wall, says he’s not about to let the brand lose its grip on the super sports car community. While both he and Winkelmann say they don’t have an answer to the sound question quite yet, they know it’s going to be uniquely Lamborghini.
Mohr says people often suggest to him that he might have enjoyed working for Lamborghini 20 years ago instead of today, but he disagrees. “I say no, because from the engineering perspective, you now have much more freedom,” Mohr says. “To influence this kind of new generation of cars, this is a good change. I want to ensure that in 20 years I still like to buy cars, and if they are only boring cars, it will be really a mess. Because at the moment, to be honest, there are a lot of boring cars on the market that I will not buy. And I can see that in the electric world the dream of Lamborghini is continuing on. It’s pretty exciting.”
The Huracán and other models by the Bull remain a touchstone goal for many, and Mohr welcomes the challenge to make sure it lives up to its reputation as it shifts into hybrid, and eventually all-electric, mode.
“The favorite part of my job is the fact that I can influence the dream cars,” Mohr tells PopSci. “Because at the end of the day, every Lamborghini is a dream. It’s not like [with] volume manufacturers, they [launch] a kind of icon of the brand every 20 years. In our case, you work permanently with dreams.”