Being exotic is no longer an excuse... official!
We'd be lying if we said the number of times the word 'quality' was uttered by a Lamborghini representative during the company's first ever media Quality Day didn't freak us out a bit. Even allowing for the title of the event, somebody, somewhere has really got a bee in their bonnet about the elusive Q-word at the big L. To the point where the more cynical amongst you might start to suspect it has something to do with a dissatisfied Chinese gentleman encouraging a bunch of dudes to whale on his broken Gallardo
while he filmed the incident for the internet.
But we digress. Probably. And for everyone's sake we'll put the why to one side and focus on the what. So, a Lamborghini Quality Day... what?
Pretty simple really. There's a new V12 on sale called the Aventador - you might have heard of it - and Lamborghini is keen to show us exactly what went into the creation of said 700hp beastie. Described - repeatedly - as 'another world' compared to the Murciélago it replaces, the Aventador is apparently the best 'super sports car' Lamborghini has ever made. So here we are at Sant'Agata Bolognese, where there are a lot of Audis outside in the car park, and a lot of Germans on the inside.
This should not be a surprise - Audi AG bought Lamborghini all the way back in 1998, so there's been time enough for its influence to tell. The occasional German language label and the presence of a whole load of 'Volkswagen Behältermanagement' shipping crates is just the tip of the iceberg (or should that be eisberg?).
The always immaculate Stephan Winkelmann, Lamborghini President and CEO, kicks off proceedings by giving us a pep talk about Luxury. Which is a little confusing to start with, until he acknowledges that alongside heritage, technology, exclusivity and craftsmanship, quality plays a vital role in achieving the kind of luxury supercar buyers have come to expect. The multifaceted nature of this business "makes our job very complicated", he says. If it was easy, we'd all be doing it, wouldn't we?
Winkelmann goes on to talk about the twin pillars of innovation and tradition that underpin the Lamborghini brand. This is best represented by the traditionally handmade leather interiors and the innovative use of carbon fibre - both elements that Lamborghini creates in-house for the Aventador. But he's also keen to establish Lamborghini's holistic approach, from the use of virtual data models to hiring the right people and investing in their training, and even the aftersales process. When customers are "buying a dream", satisfaction is vital.
We begin to get a sense of what this means upon being ushered into the Master Body Centre. Here a trio of Germans talk us through Quality Management - everything that happens up to the point a new Lamborghini is released to the public - surrounded by a supporting cast of Aventador 'master body' tooling, and racks and racks of individual component parts. Underlining the production complexity, each Aventador is made up of over 2,000 individual items, sourced from over 500 suppliers, operating in over 30 countries.
Some 500 parts in the Aventador are judged 'critical', but even making sure the plastics match is an arduous task. (It's no coincidence the stuff looks like it's been lifted from an Audi, either. There's decades of lab research at work here, and Ingolstadt isn't about to let Lamborghini say to hell with that.) Then there are the tolerances - defining what they are, and in which direction. The tooling, 'cubed' from solid lumps of metal, is also incredibly complex; Lamborghini's current trip on vectors and angles means there are no less than 50 points of precision in the front bumper alone.
The effort that goes into the cabin ranges from the weight of sprung switches to the finish on the leather. The mk1 human eyeball remains vital for spotting imperfections in the cowhide, but channels in the underlying dashboard material encourage straight stitches (all done by human beings on industrial sewing machines), and the leather thickness is precise to a 10th of a mm. The idea is to create an object that is 'handmade but perfect' - not easy.
Moving on to the Centro Stile, we're introduced to Lamborghini's method of design and engineering. The emphasis is once again on a 'full vehicle' approach, with the designers and engineers apparently working in unison. Earlier Winkelman stated that form always follows function at Lamborghini - and while you can only believe that if part of the function is drama, it's impossible not to be impressed by the carbon fibre innovation in the Aventador's monocoque that makes the form possible. But even as this is currently cutting edge, Lamborghini is already working on the future, displaying the Sesto Elemento's more radical monocoque, which uses short, random fibres in place of a conventional weave. Coming soon.
Following a chat about trim material and paint finishes - the need for quality to be reproducible makes certain ideal choices impossible; and contrary to popular belief, Lamborghini won't let its buyers have any old colour combination, the Centro Stile also serving to 'steer' customer taste - it's out on to the factory floor to watch the Aventador being assembled. This is modern, low-volume production, involving pre-picked parts (kept in the 'supermarket') and plenty of computer-controlled wrenches, as well as the kind of hand finishing you'd expect. But as each car spends two hours at each factory station, each employee is still required to carry out a bewildering number of tasks. Explaining why newbies get eight weeks of initial training.
The line produces 3.5 cars a day, and before being shipped off every one is subject to rolling road start-up tests and then a gentle real road shake down in the hands of one of Lamborghini's legendary test drivers - 35km initially, then another 15-16km to make sure they've caught any and all kinks.
Ok fine. But what have we actually learnt from all this? Certainly Lamborghini is taking the quality issue very seriously. At around £245k for 700hp the Aventador has the appearance of a relative bargain, but in a supercar world now populated by the likes of Pagani and McLaren it's clear that "being exotic is no longer an excuse", as one senior staff member put it to us during the day. The determination is there - but whether that's enough to keep the Aventador's customers from resorting to YouTube, only time will tell.