Ferrari has been on something of a new trajectory in recent years, and to get the word out on how things have been shaping up for the automaker, Executive was invited on an all-expenses-paid, one-day trip to the Modena province of Italy to sit with company officials, tour the Ferrari factory and test drive the new 2012 California model.
The company’s course of late could be seen as an assault on the turf of rival Porsche. In the 1990s, the German luxury carmaker made strategic decision to position itself as the manufacturer of the racecar one can also drive to the grocery store and pick up the kids with — magnificent engineering and performance potential paired with practical, everyday sensibilities.
First launched at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, Ferrari’s California was an offering of a similar genre, aiming to attract customers who might otherwise have been looking at a Porsche 911 Turbo, a Mercedes SL or even the Bentley GT. The four-seat, eight cylinder California was intended not only for those dazzled by the Ferrari brand, the curving lines of beauty and Formula One racing capabilities, but also those who want to throw their gym bag in the front and look good with the soft-top down on their commute to the office; the sort of versatility Porsche has made its hallmark.
If you’d fallen for the California in 2009, however, you might hardly think a square inch of her has aged in the 2012 model. Indeed, Ferrari has kept the appearance of the California almost exactly the same, instead focusing the evolutionary process on the DNA of the automobile, honing the mechanism inside the machine. The new model is 30 percent more fuel efficient, which helps to rebalance the environmentalist’s guilt-pleasure ratio when flying down the highway with 40 more horsepower and 30 less kilograms. That improved weight-to-power ratio has also trimmed 0.2 seconds off of the zero-to-100-kilometers-per-hour acceleration time — in the 2012 California, one can go from a dead stop at the lights to the highway speed in 3.8 seconds, bringing it equal to the Porsche 911 Turbo in the race to accumulate speeding tickets most rapidly.
Among the many other less apparent improvements are the software upgrades, new pistons and manifolds. A new body structure redistributes impact and shock absorption, improving one’s chances of walking away if, by chance, one were to blink or sneeze while rocketing towards the sound barrier and miss that hairpin turn. And while one’s insurance broker would likely have to cover the cost of removing your California from the crater in someone’s living room wall, for almost everything else, call Ferrari, as the company’s complimentary seven-year maintenance program will have you covered.
Why Executive was of particular interest to Ferrari is that the company sees Lebanon as a mature market and a trend setter for the region — cultivating a cool and sophisticated market positioned in fashion-conscious and notoriously fickle Beirut pays off in big money sales in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. And Ferrari’s strategy seems to be working. Not only did 70 percent of their new customers last year migrate from Porsche, Mercedes and Bentley, according to company officials, but of the 3,000 California’s manufactured last year, some 450 were sold in the Middle East and South Africa, with the United Arab Emirates being the top customer. Interestingly, the company has no part in the operations of Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World theme park on Yas Island, but rather offers up its name and branding for the Emirate to use for the modest compensation of $40 million annually.
Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the California is that Ferrari has made the design so enduring. When you pull up to the stoplight, no one watching could guess whether you bought it yesterday or four years ago; you’ve opted out of the race to catch up with the latest model. Rather, with Ferrari’s California there is a sense of elegant timelessness, and in that lies the making of an icon.