Ferrari turns to tech industry for its electric era leader

Mr Benedetto Vigna will lead carmaker Ferrari's drive into a new era of silent, electric powertrains.
Mr Benedetto Vigna will lead carmaker Ferrari's drive into a new era of silent, electric powertrains.

MILAN • Ferrari has turned to technology industry veteran Benedetto Vigna to drive the luxury sports car maker known for its roaring, high-octane engines into a new era of silent, electric powertrains.

Mr Vigna, a 52-year-old Italian and physics graduate, runs the biggest division of chipmaker STMicroelectronics, where he has worked since 1995 and helped pioneer screen technology used in early Apple iPhones.

His appointment shows Ferrari's development strategy remains firmly anchored in making cutting-edge, high-end cars in an electric future, rather than repositioning itself towards pure luxury.

The company said on Wednesday: "His unique knowledge gained over 26 years working at the heart of the semiconductor industry that is rapidly transforming the automotive sector will accelerate Ferrari's ability to pioneer the application of next-generation technologies."

With cars starting at over €200,000 (S$322,500), investors often see Ferrari as more of a luxury firm than automotive specialist and there had been some speculation that its new chief executive might come from the world of premium consumer goods.

Mr Vigna's appointment fills a six-month vacancy at the helm after former CEO Louis Camilleri retired nearly 21/2 years into the job in December for personal reasons.

Chairman John Elkann, the scion of the Agnelli family that controls Ferrari through its investment firm Exor, said in a statement that the company was delighted to welcome a technology industry leader aboard.

"His deep understanding of the technologies driving much of the change in our industry, and his proven innovation, business-building and leadership skills, will further strengthen Ferrari and its unique story of passion and performance."

Ferrari, which already offers hybrid models, promised to deliver its first electric car by 2025.

Mr Pietro Solidoro, an analyst at Bestinver, said Mr Vigna's appointment should reduce market concerns about Ferrari's future and its path towards its first electric vehicle. "We believe that he will be able to further accelerate Ferrari's ability to remain ahead of the curve in next-gen technologies compared to the automotive sector."

Mr Elkann has led Ferrari on an interim basis since Mr Camilleri, who had a more cautious approach to electrification, left.

Mr Elkann made clear in April that the new CEO would need the right technological capabilities, playing down initial speculation of someone having a luxury or consumer goods background.

Exor, which has invested in the luxury sector in recent months, on Wednesday dismissed a report that said investment banks had proposed that Ferrari merge with Italian fashion brand Armani.

Mr Vigna is president of STMicroelectronics' Analog, Micro-electromechanical Systems and Sensors group, its largest and most profitable operating business last year. He will leave on Aug 31, the chipmaker said, and start at Ferrari the next day.

Despite recently pushing back its 2022 financial targets by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ferrari booked a profit last year and has not delayed its roll-out plan for new models.

Mr Vigna, however, faces several challenges on top of leading the carmaker into an era of electric mobility. He will have to revive Ferrari's fortunes in Formula One after its worst racing season in 40 years last year.

He will also have to manage the new brand extension strategy without undermining the exclusivity that has supported its premium pricing and profit.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'Ferrari turns to tech industry for its electric era leader'. Subscribe