Lamborghini has officially announced its SUV. This is the vehicle previewed by the wild-looking Urus concept car at the Beijing auto show in 2012. The production version hits the streets in 2018.
Lamborghini has been wooed by the Italian state via tax breaks to assemble the vehicle at its home factory in Sant' Agata near Bologna, Italy. This despite the fact it's spun off the same platform as the new Audi Q7, the next Porsche Cayenne, and VW Touareg, and could have been built at their plant in Bratislava, Slovakia. In fact, the British Government did a similar thing, so the related Bentley Bentayga will be built in England.
The company says it aims to build about 3,000 units a year, with the U.S. as one of the prime markets. That means Lamborghini production would more than double. Indeed, the factory will be nearly doubled in size and 350 new employees taken on. It "will also provide important opportunities for the supplier network in Italy and internationally," according to the statement.
So far that's about all the company is saying officially. But a few days prior to the announcement, we spoke to company bosses, asking them what they might do if, y'know, they did, one day, perhaps, decide to build an SUV.
The Urus concept had a carbon fiber backbone, on view down the length of the cabin, as well as many other structural carbon fiber parts. But this week Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini's engineering chief, told us that it made little sense to put much carbon into the structure of a production SUV. That's because SUVs' drivetrains, suspensions and interiors are unavoidably heavy. So building a carbon structure doesn't actually save much mass in overall proportion.
The structure of the 2016 Audi Q7 gives more clues, as it's the first car based on the SUV version of Volkswagen Group's new MLB Evo platform, which is the architecture that all these group SUVs will use. It has a lot of aluminum, both pressed and cast, and strategically placed high-strength varieties of steel.
But, of course, Lamborghini engineers are keen to get the best dynamics they can. To do that, Reggiani says it's less about weight and more about chassis tech. He reckons active anti-roll (which he points out is unnecessary on the company's lizard-low supercars), and adaptive damping, and variable ride height will all be important. He also mentions Lambo's active variable-rate steering, and torque vectoring. Four-wheel steering is also available on the new platform.
Reggiani said these technologies will produce a vehicle of the required multiples talents. It must, he said, be capable off highway, comfortable and sporty on it, and able to do hot racetrack laps.
At the time of the concept car, Lamborghini talked of 600 hp. But without a lot of adaptation, the company's V-10 and V-12 engines would be unsuitable. They're too expensive and thirsty, and don't have enough torque. So we can expect either turbos or a hybrid booster. The platform allows it: the Audi Q7 eTron PHEV places its battery under the trunk.
Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann did nothing to quench our speculation that a PHEV would be at least an option on his SUV. Last week he told us: "Our plug-in hybrid Asterion concept demonstrates the price is a bit higher because it's a plug-in. And [a PHEV drivetrain] doesn't allow you to do a car like the Aventador. Now, being small we have to maximize the output on every penny invested. If we do a plug-in hybrid we have to invest in a third model, not a super-sports car. It's a car for everyday use. It has a different size and packaging, and then to do hybridization is much easier. It's less affecting on the performance." The SUV then, we asked? On that day he would only smile.
The new group platform also gives Lamborghini the chance to give its SUV a full suite of driver aids, from self-steering during cruise and in traffic jams, to autonomous braking, self-parking to night vision. Plus a huge range of connectivity and social apps have been developed.
As to the looks, well, the design is still being finalized. Lamborghini's statement explicitly referenced the 2012 Urus, so there must be a recognizable bloodline. But 2012 was six years before the production car's launch, so there must be some development. Besides, the interior will become less radical, as always happens in the transition from concept to dealership.
But Winkelmann insists Lamborghinis must not be run of the mill. "We were always the bad boys in the car industry. We have a responsibility to create something which is unexpected and ahead of the peoples' dreams."
The new car is going to have to be distinctive, if only to get noticed among all the competition. As well as internal rivals -- the next-gen Porsche Cayenne and the 2016 Bentley Bentayga, and 2018 Audi Q8 fastback -- it will also have to face an unnamed Rolls-Royce "high-bodied car," the upcoming Maserati Levante and Aston Martin DBX SUVs, and the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 Coupe.
Kelly Pleskot contributed to this post