JK: So what do you do with Beetle and Fiat?
FS: The Beetle for me is not a serious car. You get Minis that are like little bulldogs. You walk up to them with a little bit of respect. VW, I hate to say it, but it looked goofy, and you’d walk up and slap it before you’d pet it. And it was really a bit of a compromise on the design side. It was designed to look cool or trendy. Or whatever.
But it didn't really go, and it was a bit of a packaging disaster. That dashboard, so huge, so expensive.
The 500 was the right car at the right time because [by] 2006 Fiat was basically ready to fall off the cliff with sales of everything [deceased or dying.] So there was a need to produce a car in ten months. I remember I was at Ferrari, [and] they said you have to go over [to Fiat,] do something in ten months. And I thought, well, it’s kind of impossible. You don’t design and build a car in ten months.
...But we sat down at Fiat with [CEO Sergio] Marchionne, we figured out, well, realistically we can’t design and build a car in ten months. But if that’s the time period we have, let’s just take the Panda platform, which works very well, take the body off of it and put another body on top of it.
Let’s make it look up to date, sort of the spiritual successor to the 500, like we did with the Mini. And let’s make it customizable, a few different versions of it so you can have a cool version, entry-level or whatever. You would customize it to no end, engines and things. So that turned out to be very successful.
It’s had pretty much the same impact as the Mini [in Europe,] and it’s doing better and better in America.
JK: Why don’t you do a popularly priced sportscar, a Lotus Elan for today?
FS: Well, right now we have a strategy for three products which are going to be pretty exclusive. We are going down one segment to the sports car market next. I’m sure there is a market out there for that, for that bracket of the Lotus Elan. But again I’m sure we want to stay pretty small and exclusive and stay under 10,000 volume a year. That gives us a lot of advantages in terms of legislation and commissions and all that. So ‑‑ but I can see you’d do a limited run of maybe 3,000 small cars, stay under 10,000. You could do that,
JK: Yeah, charge a lot of money for them.
FS: Charge a lot and make money from it and set a new level for small cars.
I just need to find my spot. I’m doing cars that are like dream cars that you usually only dream about them. I mean a Ferrari is kind of like that too. But rarely is it where you get the chance to really design a car the way you want it to be with a very small group of people who are trusting you with it, which is nice. But they’re all focused on performance.
And that’s what makes cars exciting, you know, design a car the way you wished. We don’t have to sell lots of them, just a limited amount. So it’s almost been very ‑‑ what is that called? Where you think of yourself, only about yourself.
FS: Yeah. You can design a car almost like your dream car, and you’re not gonna sell thousands of them or hundreds of thousands. I love performance. I love speed. I love cutting-edge technology. It’s the opportunity to start something that doesn't have a lot of DNA behind it. So you’re not forced to make it look like something in the past, just ‑‑
JK: It’s almost like you’re laying down the DNA.
FS: You actually are. I mean at the end of the day they’re all going to the same dealership. So you want them to be somewhat related. But the worst thing to do is to relate them so much that they look like ‑‑ you know, so predictable that you expected it to be the next car. You want a shot at the customer every time he comes out positively shocked about this thing. But you want them to see a real advancement.
'Cause I find design too much today of being just changing the shirt from one color to the next. There’s no really no breakthrough innovation in the design. And as soon as somebody comes up with a design that’s a little bit more radical, that tends to be cutting edge and starts to lead towards other people following. 'Cause we’ve done beautiful cars, we’ve done beautiful cars forever. Why don’t we start designing cars not unattractive but just in ways that we hadn't done before?