Chief technology officer Michael Leiters details brand's plans for electrification and range expansion
Mark Tisshaw
30 August 2019

Ferrari is preparing to launch the first of the 15 new models promised in September 2018 and due to arrive before 2023. The man tasked with leading the development of them all is chief technology officer Michael Leiters, who joined the company in 2015. We sat down with him on a recent trip to Maranello. 

Ferrari will soon launch its SF90 Stradale supercar. Why have you made it a hybrid? 

“We’re convinced we’ve made the next step with hybrid technology. We had the alternative of an internal-combustion-engined car but the one element that really convinced us was all-wheel drive [due to the SF90’s twin electric motors at the front]. 

“You gain a lot with all-wheel drive. Not just in the 0-100kph time but in a very sporty way to the car. To do this on a sports car convinced us to do it. 

“Why plug-in, and not just hybrid? Even though you want to have so much power for certain moments, you don’t always want the sound. If you leave early in the morning, you don’t have to make a racket.” 

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What’s the positioning of the SF90 Stradale? 

“We had 488 and 812 and saw space to create a new segment with no consolidation to the 812 or 488. So we needed to add a load of performance over the 812 and make new features over the 488, which is not hybrid or all-wheel drive. 

“So we defined a new segment, a top segment for sports cars. We think we will do it and the first feedback has been positive. 

“It’s been difficult for us to catch customers in the top segment over €300,000 (£275,000) who are used to buying mid/rear-engined cars.” 

How do you feel about adding more weight to make hybrid cars? 

“It hurts! It adds 250kg for the entire hybrid content. It’s clear you can’t compensate for 250kg. You can do some by adding carbonfibre parts and structures. There’s also no mechanical reverse gear. You use the electric motor to turn backwards. We have a lot of these little things. 

“To have low weight is good for a few things: acceleration, but with 1000hp that’s no problem. Then agility: how responsive is the car? That’s weight and inertia. More important is the wheelbase: it’s very important not to extend the wheelbase so you can have low inertia. So the wheelbase of SF90 is the same as the F8. Next is a low centre of gravity: the engine is very, very low. 

“Then the front axle: the two electric motors and cabling weigh about 65-70kg, but the torque vectoring they give to 200-210kph [125-130mph] is the equivalent of about 200kg of weight you’d need to save out of the car to have the same objective assessment of driving emotions.” 

The F8 Tributo is an update to the existing 488. What are you planning for a successor? 

“From the architecture point of view, our philosophy is the same: weight, wheelbase and centre of gravity. From the pure technical point of view, there are two axes. One is performance. The other is driving emotion. 

“Performance is everything you can read about in a magazine: 0-100kph, power, torque – all these numbers. 

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“Emotions are the actual secret of Ferrari. Take Bugatti: they put 1000hp in a car, and if you go straight, it works very well. To have fun on mountain streets, we think this is our secret. It’s not just about being on the limit. Our cars are always fun. 

“But what’s fun? It’s sound, perceived acceleration – not just the 0-100kph or 0-200kph times. I accelerate and I feel the torque and how the acceleration evolves. It’s not like driving a diesel. It’s a turbo that evolves power and torque like on a naturally aspirated engine. 

“Then it’s a go-kart feeling. Everything you do brings a controllable feel to the car. Every customer can drive a Ferrari and have fun. 

“We have a very special engineering approach which combines engineering data with perceived emotions. We have a catalogue of manoeuvres which are connected to car characteristics perceived from customers. So we talk a lot to customers and our test drivers are very capable of translating customer perceptions into more engineering evaluations of cars. 

“So back to the F8 and its successor. If an SF90 is a very performance-orientated car with high fun to drive, the F8 successor will have less performance [than 1000hp] but maybe more fun to drive. More driving emotions, more capable, even lighter… We’re thinking of some specialities.” 

Will you continue to develop V12 engines? 

“We will try and build it for as long as possible. I am convinced there is still space for it on the market and we can do it technically and manage emissions. We’re working on the next EU6c emissions and will add gasoline particulate filters to manage this.” 

With the SF90 Stradale and the upcoming SUV in 2022, there will be six Ferrari model lines. Will you stick at six in the future? 

“No. The company has to grow. By repositioning that, you can grow in a certain way, or add certain models. We’re not interested in volume. It’s revenue. Volume doesn’t interest us.” 

Will you make a pure-electric Ferrari? 

“Right now, the technology is not mature enough. Look at customer requirements: the most important thing is sound. Today, there is also a problem on range, which for a sports car really is a problem. The range of an electric car is especially so if you accelerate or go with high speed. These are contributors to sports cars. You need high speeds and you can’t limit to 200kph. If you’d like to remove that technical constraint, you add so much weight it’s not a sports car. 

“Maybe in a few years, it could be a possibility. To sell the technology, you need a big step.” 

Ferrari tends to make a new hypercar around every 10 years. As the LaFerrari is almost seven years old, is work under way on its successor? 

“It is true that almost every 10 years we bring one out. It’s also true that Ferrari only does one when new technology is available. So we have to understand what is the technology we want to be on new supercars.” 

Will you make more special models like the Monza? 

“We want to segment our offering into four pillars: GT, sports cars, Icona [icons] and Special Series. Icona [where the Monza sits] will be a line of cars.

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