World Exclusive Interview with Lorenzo Ramaciotti on Maserati weight loss!

Lorenzo Ramaciotti has overseen the design of some of the most beautiful cars in the world from the Ferrari 456GT to the Maserati Quattroporte and Peugeot 406 Coupe during his 30-plus year career at Italian design house Pininfarina. Coaxed out of retirement in 2007 at the age of 59 to become design director for the Fiat Group, he now oversees design for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Maserati.  Guy Bird caught up with him briefly at the Paris show to talk about Maserati’s lighter future, Lamborghini’s Sesto Elemento compact curiosity and why eco car design is tricky.

GCD : The new race-inspired GranTurismo Stradale road car is 110kg lighter than the GranTurismo S. Can those lightweight lessons be replicated on future production Maseratis?

Ramaciotti : Some of the components on the Stradale are lighter due to lightweight materials and of course there are no rear seats but we can’t apply so radical an approach to regular production cars. But it’s a useful exercise for engineers, as when you ‘lighten’ a car you should do it on every single piece. If you look at a 1950s racecar the pedals are drilled, there are holes everywhere, and as every hole saves grams, it all adds up to kilos.

GCD: What is your role in communicating sustainability within Maserati’s brand image? Should they look and/or be lighter?

Ramaciotti : Weight is an important point for any mainstream manufacturer as it relates to consumption and CO2. One way of increasing performance is increasing power, but today that’s not that easy. The other way is reducing weight, and that’s becoming of paramount importance for sportscar makers.

GCD : Are you being tasked with making your cars look smaller and lighter?

Ramaciotti : The Stradale is about five metres, but we’ve made it much more rounded and tapered so in the three-quarter view it doesn’t look so big. The problem is that cars have grown huge. One way is to make them look visually smaller than they really are, but that’s a way of cheating. That’s not the direction. The direction should be to make cars really smaller.

GCD : So will that happen on future Maseratis?

Ramaciotti : They will be lighter for sure. Regarding size that’s more related to the inner space and comfort you want and that’s more in the hands of engineers. Unfortunately that is not the direction for high-end cars. Today’s new generation of high-end cars are getting bigger. With most models the new one gets bigger than the last as customers expect more space and features, but at the moment they are increasing so much you need a smaller model to fit underneath so we will see a smaller car coming in the future.

GCD : the lightweight 1000kg Lamborghini Sesto Elemento concept at the 2010 Paris show…?

Ramaciotti : The Lamborghini concept is interesting. I don’t comment on the design as it is their approach, but the car is visually very compact and gives the feeling of compactness in a way previous Lamborghinis did not.

GCD : Turning to the Fiat brand, is there anything like the Ecobasic concept or original Panda in the product plans, very light, functional and ‘stripped out’?

Ramaciotti : We are prepared to make a car like that, but we are not sure if the market is prepared for it.

GCD : Maybe the market is there if you design it right – very clean, honest and hard wearing?

Ramaciotti : We have to be sure what we think is good as designers is also understood by the customer buying these kind of cars. You can make cheap cars this way – making them very design-oriented and quite cultural – or there is the Dacia approach: to make a car that is visually rich and substantially more poor, but that doesn’t impact so much on the final owner that can afford that car. It is cheaper but still looks like a standard rich car when you park it. It’s a complex issue; it’s not that easy.