This is the story of Ferrari, FIAT, Chrysler, and Tesla. And this is also the story of how engineers working on a project not ready for primetime can come back 10 years later.
When we think of Ferrari, we probably think of the last bastion of traditional internal combustion engines (ICE), screaming V12, and rumbling V8, but we never associate the cars with green. Sure, the LaFerrari sounded the arrival of hybrid technology for exotic carmakers. Still, the company is anything but green. And before we throw the company to the green wolves, Ferraris are not often driven, at least not as much as most daily cars. They amount to a small fraction of the automotive pollution.
After years of shoeing away the idea of electricity driving a Ferrari, the company seems to have embraced it very seriously.
Is Ferrari Serious About An Electric Ferrari?
We’ve certainly heard of a lot of “Tesla killers” in the past, but Ferrari going after Tesla is something to consider seriously. We can only imagine a torn Ferrari community of those secretly wishing for the electrification of exotic performance cars and those resoundingly wanting to keep the tradition alive with gasoline only. But times are changing, pollution is increasing, and carmakers need to keep up with the ever-increasing emissions standards. And finally, consumers demand better, much better, than what has been offered the past two to three decades.
Back in 2009, Ferrari dropped no less than 6 hybrid patents while dismissing the idea of going electric anytime soon. The writing was already on the wall. ICE engines can’t keep up with tightening emissions standards or performance leadership. Modern cars consistently get more bloated with creature comfort and security systems. The aging ICE technology’s modest fuel saving increases were nullified with the added weight. We wonder why our governments spend billions of dollars every year on petroleum companies to find more efficient ways of burning fossil fuels but have no problems raising citizens’ taxes. But we digress … sort of.
Enzo Ferrari got his start on Alfa Romeo pre-WWII race cars and headed the race team until after the war. He then managed to build his own Ferrari team despite his non-competition contract. Since then, the company has gone on to great racing successes. But one thing Ferrari has rarely been known for was being innovative after the ’50s. It was late adopting independent suspensions. It was also late adopting central engines. Enzo Ferrari instinctively knew what worked but newer companies were innovating and showing it in races.
In the meantime, FIAT and Ferrari’s history became intertwined. In 1969, FIAT S.p.A. was more or less forced to acquire 50% of Ferrari and expanded its stake to 90% in 1988. By 2014, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. split Ferrari S.p.A. from the newly formed FCA but now owned 90% of Ferrari. Today, FCA’s colorful and publicly anti-EV CEO Sergio Marchionne is also the CEO and Chairman of Ferrari. Pierro Ferrari is the Vice Chairman.
The idea of an electric Ferrari has been circulating for a while, but both Montezumma, the 23 year ex-Ferrari CEO, and Marchionne were always quick to dismiss the notion. Traditionally, a high-end Ferrari has a V12 engine and the entry-level cars have V8s. The news of an electric Ferrari resurfacing is the result of a very long and tortuous road.
Marchionne Is No Fan Of EVs, But Is Slowly Turning Around
Sergio Marchionne announced an electric Ferrari at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit before the new 2020 Tesla Roadster. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. And yes, although this is yet another hyped “Tesla killer,” this time, this one has more potential than others. If you’ve been listening to our podcast, you might remember the prediction we made about how the new Tesla Roadster would directly compete with exotic carmakers.
Add insult to injury and look at how the Tesla Model S has eaten away at the margins of the luxury car segments, leaving traditional carmakers to lick their wounds and swallow their pride. It sounds as if Tesla finally got under the skin of the exotic maker after all.
According to Bloomberg: “If there is an electric supercar to be built, then Ferrari will be the first. People are amazed at what Tesla did with a supercar: I’m not trying to minimize what Elon did, but I think it’s doable by all of us.”
Ferrari Electric Roadster — Threading The Pieces Together
If you recall the early days of EVs, there was the Tesla — then called Tesla Motors — Roadster and the AC Propulsion eBox. But there was another contender at the time — the Chrysler ENVI, a division of the Chrysler Group LLC formed in 2007 to create an EV. It basically followed the same philosophy of the Tesla — use a Lotus Elise chassis and put an electric drivetrain in it. The two cars were close in performance but differed in many ways. For one thing, Tesla heavily reworked the chassis while Chrysler’s ENVI left everything pretty much alone. This ended up with the ENVI being slightly heavier than the Roadster but made up for it in terms of kW.
Sadly, Chrysler collapsed in 2008 and we never saw the ENVI Roadster on our roads. But we did see what the team was able to pull off a few years later with FIAT.
Eventually, FIAT bought Chrysler adeptly for little to nothing and formed FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). The FIAT 500 was reintroduced and the Abarth logo was resuscitated. The 500 Abarth came about with better suspensions and a beefier performance. FIAT was also forced to give us an EV, which it did with the electric (have-to-do-for-California CARB) 500e built on the Abarth platform.
We had great talks with what was left of the ENVI team when it was introduced in 2013. Essentially, they managed to shove a battery pack in by only removing half an inch from the interior of the regular 500. All that work paid off then and it could pay off even more in the near future.
Is the Chrysler, Ferrari, and FIAT story starting to make sense? The ENVI team was trying to beat Tesla 10 years ago and now it might be going back to challenge Tesla through Ferrari and the FCA group.
Should Tesla Worry About An Electric Ferrari?
There is little competition between both carmakers. Although some Ferrari owners have a Tesla and vice versa, the two car cultures are different enough not to step on each other’s toes. But the new Tesla Roadster does step up to the major league and demands its rightful place in that club.
Will Ferrari be competition to Tesla in the future? That all depends on whether Tesla decides to go into racing, officially. Yes, the Tesla Model S will be used to race in the Electric GT Championship, but racing is Ferrari’s sandbox, shared only with Porsche and a few other traditional carmakers.
This is good news overall for the EV market. While many won’t be able to afford either the new Tesla Roadster of the electric Ferrari, presumably a Roadster also, we can’t help but wonder what is going on the world of traditional carmakers. And now we hear that Ferrari is considering an SUV? It sounds so desperate … unless it will be electric?
This is a story where we’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg. There is much more under the layers than meets the eye. Simply put, Ferrari needs to step into the modern world of mobility. It was late on more than one occasion, but its halo is more than established 80 years later. Tesla’s halo is also firmly cemented and both companies making high-end electric performance cars is only bound to happen. Next, will Ferrari finally race electric cars in Formula E? We are willing to bet it will have to at some point.