Words by Nick Hendrix
Lamborghini. Sustainability. I have to say they’re not two words I would normally put together. You’d be forgiven for equating it to a T-Rex claiming a sudden passionate interest in crocheting. I was kindly invited to what the iconic Italian brand dubbed a ‘Sustainability Day’ and felt (full disclosure) a little sceptical – could this marque, known globally for thirsty V12’s and a certain penchant for drawing a crowd, really be eco-conscious?
Of late, most PR-conscious brands seem to pack together like hungry schoolboys at a sweet shop trying to get to the front of the queue and claim to be the ‘most eco’, ‘the future of motoring’ or ‘the first to go fully electric’ etc. I can’t say I’ve heard a peep from the Sant’ Agata powerhouse in this debate – hence the scepticism. However, over one fascinating day and two wonderful nights just outside Bologna, I began to reconsider writing off this dinosaur’s potential dexterity for needlework.
What’s important to hear first and foremost is that this isn’t a new initiative for Lamborghini, they aren’t rushing to say something meaningful, whilst backstage their mechanics cobble together a solar panel out of an old Aventador SVJ wing – this is 10 years in the making – years of work, thought, planning and execution before even breathing a word of it to the public. Lamborghini. Modesty. Another oxymoron to get used to.
After arriving at Lamborghini Park from the airport, I was quickly shown to my tent for the night – this was my first realisation that they were really committing to the event and its ethos. I don’t like tents, or camping, or even glamping (which is what this was) but a Lamborghini tent? That I can do.
Before long we were all swept off for a sumptuous, locally sourced, sustainable dinner – I doubt anyone was concerned about what to expect, this is Italy – it was obviously delicious. What accompanied it though was a fascinating and considerable presentation by Lamborghini HOD’s and none other than CEO Stephan Winkelman. I knew this was a serious company initiative for him to be there leading the charge. There’s no lip service here, this is the real deal.
Tucked up after a little too much of the local wine, I fell fast asleep no longer sceptical but now fascinated to see what we’d learn the next day.
Yoga at 8am (further embracing of the narrative) was lightly populated but started the day right and set me up for breakfast and then our first port of call – an e-bike tour to a local powerplant. Sadly, there was a distinct lack of cars on this trip but the bracing fresh air and the ability to put the bike in ‘high’ gear gave us all the fun we needed. I’ve never been to a bio-gas plant, and I know little about methane – other than the obvious base references – therefore I’m the perfect person to try and convince/explain it to.
The young Italian engineers showing us around painted a clear and wonderfully simple picture of how an agricultural country like Italy (and its many European neighbours) has a large supply of animal waste that is just that – wasted. Mixed with corn flour to stretch it further and left to ferment, produces a gas that can power homes, businesses and a certain super car factory. It seems a no brainer. The other by product is a fertilizer that they use to fertilize the corn that they grow to feed the plant – it’s a closed circuit.
Fantastically simple and Lamborghini were there at the start, investing in the plant – not actually for the gas at that point but in the thermal energy that they then transfer to their plant in six kilometres of subterranean pipes. It’s such an impressive system that, by the end of next year, they will have built their own plant which will power 80 per cent of the factory. What they don’t use will go back into the Italian national grid. I was genuinely impressed.
We left the plant to cycle back to the park and swap onto another part of the tour – which I’ve dubbed ‘trees and bees’. Again, my preconceptions were quickly discredited by keen experts and a conviction that goes beyond skin deep. I assumed that when they said proudly, they’d planted ‘10,000 trees’ and had a number of hives producing ‘Lamborghini honey’ I thought it was a good headline – our own political parties enjoyed tree-planting one-upmanship in the last election; adding endless zeroes to invented numbers in order to sound ‘climate conscious’.
And we all got swept up in the biodiversity debate when Sir David Attenborough told us the bees were all dying. It feels an easy narrative for corporations: ‘we planted loads of trees and we look after bees’. But that’s not what’s going on here. Yes, the 10,000 trees planted nicely offset carbon omissions in the area and the bees are great for biodiversity (not to mention making some lovely honey for the employees).
But Lamborghini use both as a way to study their impact, learn about the environment and find out what is the best way to offset and neutralize their emissions. The trees are planted in ‘Nelder Plots’ which in short is a pattern of planting that allows them to monitor how the trees grow and what grows best. The bees and their hives go well beyond their tasty honey, they are used as a litmus test for the surrounding atmosphere and the factory’s impact – changes in honey production, hive health and bee survival rate feedback to them far more than it being ‘good for biodiversity’.
Finally, we were taken to the factory itself. It goes without saying that as a car fanatic passing through those doors was an out of body experience – automotive Mecca in its purest form. And to be shown around it by designers, technicians and engineers was like Willy Wonka was about to take us down the chocolate river. It was special. Beyond the spectacle there were, of course, more impressive ecological initiatives, lack of waste, recycling of paint materials and collaboration with local schools and colleges – by this point the sceptic had packed his bag and I was used to this new Lamborghini.
As I left the factory building and walked past the 15,000 square metres of photo voltaic panels, it was easy to say I was impressed, no, flabbergasted, at how well Lamborghini have positioned themselves as one of the industry leaders in Italy – if not the world. Fact: In 2015 the factory was the first in the world to be certified CO2 Neutral by DNV GL.
We all then headed to a quiet Italian farmhouse for our second night’s stay ahead of early flights home – keen to let all the information sink in and happy to enjoy another evening of Italian food and wine (local and sustainable of course.)
The car industry nowadays is littered with umbrella corporations, subsidiaries and investor owners. The days of boutique marques surviving on their own in a shed in the Midlands are probably long gone but if done right having a parent company can be perfect.
It doesn’t take a petrolhead to know that Lamborghini have German parents in Audi and above that VW – but does that mean it’s no longer an Italian brand? Absolutely not. And it’s the way in which the company is run and populated that maintains that wonderful DNA. What the great minds in Sant’ Agata do (as I learned first-hand) is to pragmatically take from their German counterparts the things that they need and nothing else. There’s no strong hand from above telling them what to do and that’s why an Aventador is still magic to drive but now has an infotainment system that actually works.
So, it’s no great revelation to find out that the bio-gas plants and tree-planting ethos are very much Audi ideas, that they’ve done the same many times in Germany and other countries with great results. Lamborghini do have plans for electric cars and hybrids, they have to, that’s just the way of the car industry right now. But cleverly they started a long time ago to learn about sustainability rather that pretend to know about it and 10 years later they are much better armed to head into the future than most other brands.
Hopefully it means they can continue to make outrageous, heart-rendering supercars that kids will continue to adorn their bedrooms walls with – whether running on petrol, electricity, honey or chocolate buttons.