Glambo Lambo: Extreme SUV Likely to Be the Next Raging Bull
Lamborghini needs a third model, one that will attract a different kind of customer than the Gallardo and Aventador. If brand president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann gets his wish, it will look just like the Lamborghini Urus concept being unveiled at the 2012 Beijing auto show.
“I personally think this is a good pick,” said Winkelmann at an exclusive preview staged at the company’s Sant’Agata Bolognese factory in northern Italy. At a second preview during the New York auto show, he added, “We want to do this car. We believe it is the right direction.”
At the time of our first encounter, the Urus super-SUV concept had only a codename: LB 736. The dull alpha-numeric belonged to one of the most extreme SUV shapes ever created. The team decided from the start that it wouldn’t do another “Rambo Lambo” LM002, but instead a vehicle for the modern SUV buyer. The concept’s width, low roofline, and short overhangs imply handling and speed in a class apart. Yet the Urus is also unmistakably Lamborghini. The crisply creased surfacing and angular details link it to the brand’s current supercars, and there’s even an echo of Countach to the cut of its wheel arches, a detail in which the designers take pride.
For Lamborghini’s leadership, the exterior design isn’t the big turn-on; instead, it’s the financial bottom line. The Italian brand sold only 1602 cars in 2011, yet Winkelmann estimates that a production version of the Urus could earn Lamborghini an extra 3000 to 3500 sales a year. Ultimately, the brand would like to see 5000 sales per year.
As well as possibly tripling the brand’s current sales volume, an SUV would attract new customers all over the world, he said, naming the U.S., U.K., Germany, Russia, the Middle East, and China as potential major markets for an everyday, family-friendly Lamborghini SUV. Initially, the U.S. could be as much as 45 percent of the market, though the company sees the potential for China to eventually claim 30 percent. A wider customer base would isolate the company from the economical downturns afflicting the super sports car segment in which both Gallardo and Aventador compete, Winkelmann said. He noted that though the consumer car market has rebounded since 2007, supercar sales haven’t.
Before landing on the Urus, Lamborghini considered a 2+2, a sedan (the well-received Estoque Concept), and an SUV as potential new models. It was decided that an SUV offered the widest possible customer base in a segment with the most growth opportunities. Moreover, Lamborghini contends that a true luxury super SUV segment doesn’t exist yet (Bentley‘s EXP 9F is still a concept, after all), though the company cited the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, and BMW X6M as performance targets.
The decision on whether to green-light the Urus for production will be made later in 2012 after gauging reaction during its Beijing reveal. Detailed design, engineering, and development work would require three and a half to four years, said Lamborghini R&D director Maurizio Reggiani, so the earliest possible launch date would be sometime in 2016. He said this concept is the final design study, so a production vehicle wouldn’t depart much from what you see here.
If produced, the SUV will not be built on a Lamborghini platform. Instead, it would utilize the architecture of the next-generation Audi Q7, due to appear in 2014. Lamborghini operates as a subsidiary of Audi, which itself is part of the Volkswagen Group, so it would be foolish for the Italian brand to ignore the opportunities this structure offers. Lamborghini would use “all the Group synergies we can get” in order to put the Urus into production, said Winkelmann.
While the 114-inch wheelbase of the super-SUV would presumably be shared with the Q7 and other VW Group models using the same platform, it seems Lamborghini would have the freedom to do a unique upper body. Reggiani admitted that the Urus would share its floorpan, electrical platform, rear suspension, and parts of the front suspension and driveline with the Cayenne and Q7. Despite the potential use of some VW group components, he insisted that the front suspension will be a bespoke Lamborghini design intended to maximize handling capabilities and driver involvement. To keep weight down, various types of carbon fiber and aluminium would be used in the body and structure.
According to Reggiani, the packaging of the X6, Range Rover Sport, and Cayenne were studied before Lamborghini fixed the key dimensions of its planned SUV. The 195-inch length and 77-inch width isn’t all that unusual, but its 65-inch height (key to the vehicle’s dramatic proportions) is. The design was intended to make the vehicle look smaller than it is. In actuality, it’s about the size of a Cayenne. Winkelmann and Reggiani insisted that it have the lowest roof in its class, but still maintain good ground clearance. The concept rides on massive 24-inch wheels wrapped in 305/35-size tires.
Reggiani says the production version of Urus would utilize a variety of materials in the vehicle’s body, with the aim of creating a vehicle some 220 pounds lighter than any competitor. “Weight is one of the most important features of the car,” said the engineer. “Every customer will notice it.” Exterior panels, and some structural elements and interior trim, would be made from carbon fiber, he added. Lightweight material would also help the Lambo SUV achieve Reggiani’s declared objective of “best in class for CO2 emissions for this type of vehicle.”
While the official power target for the SUV is 600 hp, the engineer wouldn’t disclose exactly where the horses would come from. It would be a “group powertrain,” he said. As it stands, the Aventador’s V-12 isn’t the right fit, as it doesn’t produce enough low-end torque to get the performance and response Reggiani wants. The concept’s nose also appears too short to accommodate the Lamborghini V-12 or the V-10 (also used in some Audis), which means a V-8 is the most likely choice. With low CO2 emissions a priority, a high-power version of Audi’s relatively new 520-hp (metric) 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with fuel-saving cylinder-shutoff technology appears the logical candidate. Though Lamborghini has in the past quashed the notion that forced induction is right for the brand, Reggiani now admits that it could be considered in the future to meet performance, packaging, and emissions goals. Regardless of which engine they settle on, it will be the first front-engine production Lamborghini since the LM002 and perhaps the first ever with forced induction.
Fuel saving would also guide the selection of other powertrain components. Reggiani said he favors a dual-clutch automatic and an electronically controlled on-demand all-wheel-drive system for the SUV. He downplayed speculation in the Italian auto media that a hybrid powertrain was under consideration, pointing to the weight this technology would inevitably add. And he dismissed any possibility of a diesel version.
According to Winkelmann, the SUV’s handling would have priority over acceleration and top speed. Reggiani provided a little more detail, promising the vehicle would have adjustable ground clearance and downforce-generating active aero elements front and rear. Both insisted that agility, cornering, and steering precision were design targets. The concept rides on MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension with height-adjustable active dampers, though that may not reflect the final design. Massive carbon-ceramic brakes ensure that the Urus will stop as well as it accelerates and corners.
The design was done in just six months by a team of seven and completed entirely on a computer. Not a single physical model, clay or otherwise, was built until the concept vehicle you see in these pictures. Lamborghini design head Filippo Perini says the only change made on the physical vehicle was to split and stagger the LED running lights in the nose.
“We were working on a lot different scenarios,” said Perini, referring obliquely to the shelved four-door Estoque concept and other unseen ideas, before the LB 736 project got underway. It was a challenge, he said, to apply the Lambo look to the tall nose of an SUV. In the past, Perini said, the design team generally ignored the nose, as it would be so small at the end of the raked hood that it required very little work. The layered treatment that Perini and his team came up with does a credible job of carrying the brand’s design DNA into uncharted territory. “We looked at a less inclined beltline,” admitted Perini. But the rising line they finally adopted adds dynamism and aids aerodynamics, he said. Ideally, he’d like all of the vents and scoops to be functional as well. The overall shape and proportions vaguely recall the Cayenne and Range Rover Evoque.
Although Reggiani insisted the concept’s four-seat interior should be retained for a production version — the idea is equal space and luxury for all on board, he explained — both he and Lamborghini Perini agreed the interior could be redesigned to accommodate five. All four seats would be fully adjustable, so “everyone can be as comfortable as the driver,” Reggiani said.
As for the interior itself, “We were asked to visualise lightness,” said Perini. “Comfort, carbon fiber and lightness.” The design is clearly Lamborghini, though the basic bones of the Cayenne’s interior are evident in the layout. The instruments and center stack are clearly influenced by the Aventador, though the infotainment screen is much larger. Lamborghini’s forged carbon-fiber composite was chosen to frame the consoles and dash both for its weight savings and unique aesthetic. The seats look as though they belong in a fighter jet, and feature yet another breakthrough Lamborghini composite. This time it’s a flexible carbon fiber that allows designers to do away with springs and use thicker foam for better comfort. Despite what the sloping roof and rising beltline would have you believe, there appears to be ample room for 6-foot-plus adults in all four seats. The cargo space, though, is really more a trunk with a skylight than a traditional SUV cargo area.
Deciding to go ahead with a vehicle like the Urus — or not — is a heavy decision for Winkelmann and other VW Group executives. Just as the Cayenne gave Porsche newfound financial strength and stability, an SUV could do the same for Lamborghini. But there’s the risk that brand loyalists will see it as tragic brand dilution, while wealthy, comfort-seeking SUV customers might be put off by the brand’s reputation for extremism. Still, Lamborghini sees a large number of potential customers interested in the brand’s extreme style and reputation, as well as the convenience of a single vehicle that meets all their needs, performance or pedestrian.