King of the Road

3 minute read
MONICA LARNER

Sportsman and executive Luca Cordero di Montezemelo likes a challenge. A few years ago he pledged to end Ferraris 21-year Formula One losing streak or else leave the companys helm.

Three consecutive constructors titles later, his job is safe. Now hes determined to launch a pricey new convertible in the U.S., even as the worldwide luxury-goods market trembles from the aftershocks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Born in Bologna and educated at the University of Rome and Columbia University, Montezemolo, 54, has been credited with taming the prancing horse. Gianni Agnelli, chairman of Fiat, which controls Ferrari, handpicked him to head the legendary company in 1992, when it was near bankruptcy. By retooling factories and rethinking engineering and marketing, Montezemolo rescued Ferrari. It had record earnings of $15.4 million on sales of $486 million for the first half of this year. But maybe its not that hard to make money when the cheapest Ferrari goes for $140,000.

Now, Montezemolo is trying to resurrect Maserati, which Ferrari acquired in 1998 and whose trident logo was once synonymous with shoddy mechanics. Though it will borrow Ferrari technology, the Maserati will be priced to compete with Jaguar, Porsche and BMW in the big U.S. market. With long-time pal Diego Della Valle, CEO of the Tods luxury accessory firm, Montezemolo has also revamped the perfume company Acqua di Parma, which recently inked a deal with the French conglomerate LVMH to open a chain of flagship stores in major cities. “Its important for me to keep an open window on worldwide trends,” he says. “My activities as an entrepreneur keep me from being too car-oriented.”

His latest project? Talks are in progress with Universal Studios for a Ferrari theme park. “Whats the biggest luxury one could ask for?” asks Montezemolo, who has a new wife and baby, drives great cars and collects modern art. “Its not 300 villas, four Ferraris and seven Picassos. Its free time.”

Hes busy preparing for the U.S. debut of the Maserati Spyder at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Then its back on the road for the racing season. Free time will have to wait.

Q&A

TIME: What effects have the events of the last couple of months had on the luxury car market?
di Montezemolo: We feel strongly united with the U.S. and not just for commercial reasons. Weve been monitoring them closely but have not noticed a drop in U.S. orders since Sept. 11.

TIME: Will the Maserati brand detract from Ferraris?
di Montezemolo: Maserati is an everyday car, and Ferrari is an extreme sports car. There is synergy between the two. But the Maserati Spyder will sell for $80,000 to $100,000, while Ferrari starts at over $140,000.

TIME: You never make more than 4,000 Ferraris a year and plan to enter the U.S. market with only 1,200 Maserati Spyders. Why so few?
di Montezemolo: To maintain the brands exclusivity we limit numbers. I always want to make at least one car fewer than what the market asks for.

TIME: Before center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was elected, you were rumored to be considering a ministerial post. What happened?
di Montezemolo: I am not a politician. I was very flattered by the proposal, but on the Monday following the elections I was given a letter signed by 1,000 Ferrari employees asking me not to leave. I was moved. Usually when the boss goes away, people rejoice.

TIME: What was your first car, and what do you drive now?
di Montezemolo: I started with a red Fiat 500, and now I have a 3200GT Maserati in blue.

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