Ferrari’s entry-level Portofino confronts USD2.5m Mercedes

Ferrari NV is introducing a new “entry-level” supercar, while Mercedes-Benz is testing the segment’s upper price limit as the rivals vie for the world’s most lucrative customers.

Ferrari is rolling out the 200,000-euro (USD240,000) Portofino, which will replace the Italian brand’s California convertible, at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. Mercedes’s AMG high-performance sub-brand is highlighting the Project ONE concept, which sports Formula 1 hybrid technology and has a whopping price tag of 2.2 million euros.

The models are crucial to the strategic plans of both automakers. Ferrari is banking on the Portofino to help boost sales to 9,000 cars in 2019 – up from a target of 8,400 this year. For parent Daimler AG, AMG is critical to Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche’s effort to show that his electrified offerings will still be upscale and sporty.

Lamborghini is also wrestling with the changing dynamics in the super segment, especially as parent Volkswagen AG embarks on a 20 billion-euro push to electrify its entire lineup. The first sign of that shift for the exotic Italian brand will come later this year with the unveiling of the Urus, which Lamborghini teased in a video in Frankfurt as the world’s first “super sport” utility vehicle. The model will also be the brand’s first hybrid.

“The next step for Lamborghini will be for sure hybridization,” Stefano Domenicali, the brand’s chief, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “But these iconic cars have to be different from others, so this is really the position we need to keep in order to keep alive the dream.”

At AMG, that means ratcheting up the exclusivity factor by making just 275 of the Project One, which has a fin running down the middle and reaches a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour. In line with Mercedes’s 10 billion-euro plan for electrified models, the V6 gas engine will be complemented with plug-in hybrid technology. The extra battery boost will also make the two-seater more responsive on initial acceleration, hitting 200 kph in six seconds.

“The objective is forward-looking technology, ultimate performance, the best lap times,” Zetsche said Monday night at the unveiling of the Project One featuring race-car driver Lewis Hamilton. “And all of it road legal.”

For Ferrari, spun off from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in 2016, the Portofino is less about technology than expansion as it seeks to gradually increase sales to boost profit, with a goal of eventually pushing past the 10,000 mark for deliveries. The Portofino’s sales will amount to about 3,200 cars, 40 percent more than the California’s deliveries this year, according research company IHS Markit.

Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne is equipping the hard-top convertible with a 600-horsepower engine. The car can accelerate to 100 kph (62 mph) in as little as 3.5 seconds. The car is lighter and its 8-cylinder engine offers 40 horsepower more than its predecessor.

The Maranello-based manufacturer showed off the model to the wider public for the first time yesterday following a customers-only unveiling last week in the picturesque Italian harbor town of Portofino. The event was part of the 70th-anniversary celebration of the carmaker’s founding.

While Ferrari’s growth effort might risk diluting the brand’s exclusive cachet, Marchionne has complemented the strategy by offering exclusive limited-edition models, such as the $2.1 million LaFerrari Aperta convertible. The 65-year-old CEO is now seeking to sustain earnings with a five-year plan to be rolled out next year aimed at securing Ferrari’s independence as the industry grapples with the strains of shifting to electric cars.

The business plan is likely to include adding “ utility vehicles” to Ferrari’s line-up, according to Marchionne, who avoids using the term SUV. The initial focus would be a roomy four-seat model, part of an expansion beyond the nameplate’s traditional supercar niche in a bid to double profit by 2022, people familiar with the matter said in August. Tommaso Ebhardt, Elisabeth Behrmann, Bloomberg

Categories Business