Jay Leno doesn’t own a Ferrari. Jay Leno hates Ferrari and Ferrari dealers. In this he’s not alone. Thousands of people who’ve experienced the displeasure of Ferrari ownership – or tried and failed to buy a new Ferrari – know the score.
Back in the day, Brock Yates wrote Enzo Ferrari – The Man and His Machine. It’s not the least insightful biography I’ve ever read – or tried and failed to read – but it’s certainly in the top five. There are [very] occasional passages that shed light on Enzo Ferrari’s “philosophy.” Like this:
Ferrari would divide his customers into three groups: the ‘gentleman sportsman’ who is ‘convinced he knows how to handle a car like a racing driver’; the ‘fifty-year-olds’ who are ‘making a dream come true’ and ‘try to snatch back a little of their youth’; and the ‘exhibitionist’ who buys a Ferrari merely because it is, as it were, the chinchilla among automobiles,’Enzo Ferrari – The Man and His Machine
You could argue that it’s true. But there’s one thing it’s not: respectful. If you made a Venn diagram of Enzo’s customer break down, all three groups would be encircled by the category “loves fast, beautiful cars.” And, of course, “has a lot of money.”
Enzo couldn’t have cared less about his customer’s passion. Yates makes it clear enough that the mediocre Italian race car driver turned manufacturer was a cold, distant, imperious, ruthlessly ambitious, often angry man. A man who manipulated all those around him to serve his own ends.
Right from the start, Ferrari’s corporate culture reflected its founder’s condescending contempt for his customers. Now that the Commendatore has gone to the great race track in the sky . . . that’s still the way Ferrari rolls. The company chooses its customers based entirely on what they can do for Ferrari, not what Ferrari can do for them.
That’s just about the worst possible way to deliver great customer service. No surprise then, that Ferrari doesn’t provide great customer service. Not even close.
To the point where Ferrari is willing to let an owner go to jail rather than admit their own technical incompetence. To knowingly put owners’ lives at risk from sudden, catastrophic brake failure. To announce a recall designed to drum-up business for parts they confiscated from their dealers, to sell back to dealers for a higher profit margin.
There is hope on the horizon. Ferrari is now a public company, run by a former electronics executive with no prior interest in performance automobiles – on the track, in the showroom or in his garage (Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna Is So Not A Car Gu).
Sr. Vigna answers to shareholders, rather than the unalloyed demands on his own ego (like Enzo). He must grow the company and maximize profits, because that’s what shareholders demand. At the moment, mission accomplished.
Ferrari shipped 3,188 vehicles in the third quarter, up 16% from a year ago. The increase in deliveries was driven by the ramp-up in production of the six-cylinder hybrid 296 GTB sports car, Ferrari said. But those gains were partially offset by lower shipments of the higher-priced eight-cylinder hybrid SF90.cnbc.com
The fact that this data is public knowledge highlights the truth about Ferrari: it’s on a different course. No longer can the boss simply dismiss detractors’ complaints about outdated, faulty, unreliable and uncomfortable cars by declaring “we make engines and throw the car in for free.”
Well, yes, actually, Vigna could say that. Ferrari sales would be unaffected. But Ferrari shareholders might get skittish, driving down the company’s share price. Not something the CEO of a publicly-traded company worth $36.43b is paid to do.
Besides, Vigna’s a physicist. Unlike Enzo, he deals in quantifiable metrics, not bluff and bluster. In fact, I can envision a time when Ferrari’s current CEO makes the Italian automaker both solicitous of and answerable to its customers. That said . . .
Even if Vigna decides to reform Ferrari into a higher quality, customer-centric carmaker, he may not be successful. As Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. famously pronounced, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Ferrari and its dealers make their living by contemptuously exploiting customers ready, willing and able to be their b*tch.
If the world economy tanks, the odds of a sea change will increase dramatically. With Western nations determined to wage war against the fossil fuels underpinning their economic prosperity, I reckon that will happen.
If and when it does, the unthinkable may occur: Ferrari will have more cars than customers. (It’s happened before). At that point, this time, Ferrari may finally respect the people who put food on their table. Unlike the man who gave them their start.