NV’s chief executive in July last year surprised many, including himself. Fifteen months on, his imprint on the Italian luxury sports car maker is becoming evident.
Mr. Camilleri is grappling with the rise of electric vehicles and the advance of autonomous-driving technology, while also seeking to return Ferrari’s storied Formula One racing team to success after a barren decade. On Monday, he laid out his plan to turn Ferrari into a luxury-goods brand that makes a range of products from apparel to leather accessories, a goal his predecessor,
aspired to but failed to achieve.
After Mr. Camilleri’s appointment following the death of Mr. Marchionne, many in the car industry assumed he was a placeholder until a true successor to the charismatic Mr. Marchionne could be found. Mr. Camilleri, an outside director on Ferrari’s board, had worked for 40 years in the tobacco industry but never for a car maker.
Since taking over, the 64-year-old Mr. Camilleri has largely stayed out of the spotlight, shunning the media and commenting publicly about the business only during quarterly conference calls and once at the presentation of a new industrial plan.
Being a tobacco executive offered relevant lessons for running Ferrari, Mr. Camilleri said in his first interview since becoming CEO, because it involved “managing a company which is part of an industry going through major transformation and how to keep ahead of that transformation.”
Mr. Camilleri, a British citizen born in Egypt, was a business analyst in Switzerland for a chemicals company before joining tobacco giant
in 1978. He eventually moved to the parent company, which was renamed Altria Group in 1996, and remained until retiring in 2013. He was chairman and CEO of Philip Morris International from 2008 to 2013 and he remains a nonemployee chairman.
As Mr. Marchionne, CEO of Ferrari and the larger
NV, was dying, the head of the family that controls both car companies,
asked Mr. Camilleri to take over as Ferrari CEO.
Mr. Camilleri knew the company well as a board member and because Philip Morris had been a key sponsor of the racing team since the 1970s. Mr. Camilleri was also a fan of the marque, having bought his first Ferrari, a 275 GTB, in 1977. He won’t say how many Ferraris he owns, but that “it’s a lot.”
The difference between Messrs. Camilleri and Marchionne became apparent at Ferrari’s Formula One team, the pride of the company and the testing ground for many technologies—like the steering wheel gear shift—that eventually make it into series production. Mr. Camilleri’s measured, soft-spoken style contrasts with the freewheeling and often-abrasive Mr. Marchionne, who would publicly criticize employees, an approach that led to high turnover at the racing team but failed to produce results.
Ferrari this season once again came up short against rival Mercedes, but the team won three races in a row for the first time since 2008, an improvement Mr. Camilleri linked to better moods.
“Mercedes has had a lot of stability, and we’ve had something of a revolving door,” Mr. Camilleri said. “People were afraid of taking risks because if they made a mistake they could get their head chopped off,” he said.
While all car makers are confronting the shift to electric vehicles and autonomous driving technology, the changes are particularly tricky for Mr. Camilleri and Ferrari because of the nagging doubts that people will shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for an electric, self-driving Ferrari.
Electric cars have fewer moving parts than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, potentially making it harder for Ferrari to showcase its engineering prowess, which has produced cars that can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles an hour in 2.4 seconds and can hit top speeds above 200 miles an hour.
“The perception is that the battery is a leveler; it’s up to us to be sure we can differentiate,” Mr. Camilleri said.
Ferrari has begun to dabble in hybrids—this year it released its first series production plug-in hybrid, the SF90 Stradale—and has set a target to have three of every five new Ferraris be hybrids by 2022. Mr. Camilleri said the first fully electric Ferrari should arrive between 2025 and 2030, with the precise date depending on the speed of technological advances.
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At the time of Ferrari’s 2015 initial share sale, Mr. Marchionne argued that the strength of the Ferrari brand and the price of its cars meant it should be valued in the same way as luxury goods stalwarts like Hermès International SA, which have higher relative market values than car companies.
Since Mr. Camilleri took over, Ferrari’s stock is up more than 25%, and the company’s $31 billion market value is more than that of former parent, Fiat Chrysler, which last year generated 33 times more revenue and 10 times more profit. Fiat Chrysler made 4.8 million cars in 2018, compared with 9,251 for Ferrari.
To build up its credentials as a luxury consumer brand, Ferrari has commissioned Armani, the Milan-based fashion company, to oversee the production of Ferrari-branded clothing. Mr. Camilleri wouldn’t say what other consumer products he has in mind, only that they should be suitably high-end.
Ferrari doesn’t declare the size of its merchandise business, but financial analysts estimate it accounts for just a few percentage points of total revenue and profit. Mr. Camilleri forecasts selling products other than cars will generate 10% of Ferrari’s total profit within seven to 10 years.
Mr. Camilleri plans to terminate half of the licensing agreements and products that carry the Ferrari logo, which has proliferated on items ranging from key rings to coffee mugs. There will still be Ferrari key rings, Mr. Camilleri said, though they will be better made and higher priced. Products getting the ax include Ferrari-branded computers, credit cards and fragrances.
“These are products that have nothing to do with Ferrari and frankly dilute the brand,” Mr. Camilleri said.
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