Interview: Ferrari Australia CEO, Dieter Knechtel on Hybrid, F1, EV, Autonomous vehicles and the SF90.

At the Australian launch of the gorgeous Ferrari SF90 Stradale, I had the opportunity to interview the interim CEO of Ferrari Australia, Dieter Knechtel.

On the permanent replacement for the CEO position, I learnt that Ferrari has recruited someone from inside the company, however, are not yet ready to disclose the successful candidate’s name. That should be announced in the next couple of months.

Knechtel was generous with his time and I found some of his responses regarding the future of the automotive industry very interesting. With the rise of EVs, tougher emission standards and autonomy staring us in the face, it’s interesting to talk to a company like Ferrari, about how they see the future.

About halfway through the interview when private jets came up, I was reminded just what a different world many Ferrari owners actually live in.

In many ways, Ferrari is a brand that inspires people to work harder, save your money and one day, maybe just maybe if you play the cards of life right, you could have the opportunity to buy one.

The LaFerrari was one of Ferrari’s first hybrids, can you talk about the learnings from that car and how it fed the development of the hybrid powertrain of the SF90 Stradale.

Technology-wise, a lot of things have developed over the 5 years since the LaFerrari was released. The LaFerrari was a Hybrid on top to boost performance, this is a full Hybrid with a completely different architecture.

The enthusiasm for the LaFerrari was not only that it was a limited supercar (Hypercar), but also that it demonstrated that the performance related to the Hybrid powertrain. This was one of the learnings out of the LaFerrari, was that we should put this engine technology in the benchmark performer, available for a wider range of enthusiasts.

How are the investments in Formula 1, helping develop the hybrid technology in production vehicles?

There’s a lot of F1 technology transfer, hybrid is one of them. We started in 2014 with hybrid and every single year there’s more knowledge coming from it.

Some of your competitors (Mercedes and Porsche) are joining Formula E this year. How do you feel about all-electric vehicles?

Fully-electric is not where we want to be, it’s not for us. Of course, we are always looking around in the market to see relevant developments, but our choice for offering the top-end technology, speed and performance is hybrid.

What kind of buyer are you expecting for the SF90 and what would tip them over to consider this over any other model you offer?

If I was a customer, interested in buying a sports car, and I’m a guy that wants to make sure that I’m the one that has the coolest and best and fastest car, that nobody can keep up with, then I would go for this car.

The people who want the best of the best, the top-notch technology. And of course, we probably have people who have never been a Ferrari customer and get attracted by the performance and impressiveness of the design.

The what attracts, what makes the final decision on the car, not just the SF90, but for every car that we sell, is something that’s very hard to describe, we call it “driving emotions”. Its something you feel in your guts, when you get so excited about sitting behind the wheel and driving a Ferrari.

When you realise how easy it has become to drive a Ferrari, in my generation, some models meant that you needed to be a very skilled driver. It is important to show that it is not the case anymore, you can enjoy your car, you are supported by the systems, that give you peace of mind, that keeps you safe, allow you to go to the extreme at the track, without losing control so easily.

If getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari can give you that feeling that you want to own one, then what are you doing to enable that?

Not everyone who would like to has the privilege to drive a Ferrari. However, if you show a serious interest about buying Ferrari, the dealer will know and he will be elegant and understand what the client wants and needs, and how to excite you.

The second step potentially, is the many driving programs we have locally, regionally and internationally. Going on the track, lifestyle drive, test drive, hot laps, we have so many programs where we make sure our dealers fill up the slots.

Where do you feel the right line is between driver and driver-assist technologies and are we likely to see a fully-autonomous Ferrari?

Autonomous driving is certainly not something for us.

Our clients don’t want to be driven, sitting in the back of a Ferrari. This is something everyone understands, so this is not something we are at all considering.

For some people, autonomous driving is important for many reasons, can be because they don’t want to drive, or they don’t enjoy driving, and for them, it can make their life much easier.

For Ferrari, we can not think of such ambition to have Autonomous driving, it does not fit in with our brand, with the concept of Ferrari, with the positioning of the brand, what our customers expect. High-end performance and autonomous driving are not compatible.

If that performance is only really realised at the track, is there an opportunity for autonomous driving to assist in city congestion to get you to the track?

Some of our customers send their cars to the place where they want to use them. This is a very common option actually, they bring them in a truck or fly them in.

Ferrari XX programs see customer vehicles stored in Italy and flown to events, ready for the owner to drive. The customer simply flies in commercially or in their private jet.

The US configurator offers a digital rear-view mirror, will that be offered in Australia and is that technology legal yet? 

That technology is not yet legal in Australia, however, given the time between now and the release (late 2020), it is possible we could see that change and be offered. For now, expect a traditional rear view mirror.

Are we going to see the FIORANO PACK offered in Australia?

The Fiorana pack is available for Australia and so far between 30 and 40% are electing to purchase it.

After having spent time talking about, sitting in and taking photos of the SF90 Stradale, it’s a pretty special car and if you are fortunate to buy one (don’t expect much change for A$1 Million), then you’ll enjoy a vehicle that’s an absolute work of art, has performance that’ll tear your face off and if you ever get it to the track, make you feel like a superhero.

Back at CES many years ago, I first spotted a display with a curved top, that was really a prototype (all displays were rectangles at the time). The particular demo was, strangely enough, used a vehicle’s instrument cluster as an example. To actually see a company like Ferrari implement a display that’s curved at the top, feel like many years in the making.

Hat tip to the event organisers who arranged a Samsung 8K display for the Australian launch.

Unfortunately, it’ll be late 2020 before we see any SF90 Stradale’s on our Aussie roads, but when it arrives, it’ll be a very welcome addition.

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwright
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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