Bugatti president Stephan Winkelmann on what's next for supercars

Damien Reid talks to Bugatti president, Stephan Winkelmann, about the future of the luxury car brand

Bugatti president Stephan Winkelmann. Courtesy Dominic Fraser
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Stephan Winkelmann says the time has finally come for Bugatti to add a second model to its range. 

The new car could be an SUV and will almost certainly run on electricity. "Electrification is a big challenge but we have to decide what to do next," the brand's president tells The National. "It's not important for us to be the first or the last but it is important to be there at the right time when people are not only ready for the technology but also when the technology is ready for Bugatti," he adds.

Electrification is a big challenge but we have to decide what to do next. It's not important for us to be the first or the last but it is important to be there at the right time.

Winkelmann was visiting Dubai on the first stop of the company's 110th anniversary tour with the €16.7 million (Dh52.1m) La Voiture Noire, showcased in Geneva in March. He says the next Bugatti must be more broadly focused than the 500-build run of the Dh12m Chiron.

"We have to see down the road what is giving us the USP of the future and we are looking into every opportunity," he says. "It could be hybridisation, it could be full electrification, different body styles, but it must be something which gives us a future beyond Chiron."

During his time as president of Lamborghini, Winkelmann supported the introduction of the Urus, saying that SUV entered a segment that represented the highest potential for Lamborghini. He says that is something Bugatti needs to consider as well.

"Bugatti is ready for a second model, we need to see if this is something we can achieve in terms of investments and development costs, which is not an easy task," Winkelmann says. "You have to increase your team, your production, and within the VW Group you have to see what their highest priority is, so we are constantly trying our best to be in that mix."

If Bugatti were to go down the road of designing an SUV, the marque would not follow other VW Group members by borrowing the same MLB platform that underpins the Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga, Audi Q7 and Q8, VW Touareg and the Urus.

"We would not share platforms as I see our next car as a stand-alone car. While this is good for our customers and for the future of the brand, it's also more expensive.

“We would need to expand our factory because every Bugatti will continue to be built at Molsheim [in France]. That’s our heritage and part of the ownership experience is to take delivery at the Chateau.”

But when it comes to hybrid options, don't expect a stopgap solution that would allow the company to slip under the environmental radar. "If you simply want a booster that's only for acceleration, then you cannot drive it as an electric vehicle," he says. "It's important that we achieve all the homologation and emission rules. It's about social responsibility.

"As for keeping volume low enough to avoid carbon dioxide limits, that depends on which market we are talking about and whether that market sees us as part of the VW Group or a standalone manufacturer. Hybridisation is good for the time being, but it adds 250 kilograms and returns a range of just 50 kilometres. You have to remove a lot of weight from a car that is already as light as you can make it and then find space for the battery. This is not a long-term solution."

Winkelmann led the way during Lamborghini's forays into carbon fibre development and its focus on weight reduction. He sees it as Bugatti's role within the VW Group to develop and share such innovations among its sister brands. "We offer the VW Group the expertise of lightweight materials because we are so extreme in the development of our own car," he says.

Global legislation is forcing supercar manufacturers to offset their outrageous models, such as Bugatti's Chiron, with more sensible vehicles that meet emission regulations. This is where Bugatti's second model will operate. "If congestion charges are on the single car owner and not on the VW Group, or if it's unlawful to enter the city, that tells us that we have to diversify to survive," he says.

As a company that plays on its heritage, it's also worth noting Bugatti's original mandate was to provide whatever a customer with enough money demanded.

With all the talk of speed limiters and China's EV-only policy for certain cities, be prepared to see a very different Bugatti in the future.