Inside the secretive Lamborghini Urus factory

1 year after the Italian brand debuted the US$200,000 SUV, we toured the specially built space that has doubled the 56-year-old brand’s output

by HANNAH ELLIOTT/ pic by BLOOMBERG

IT is difficult to overstate the impact that the Urus, Automobili Lamborghini SpA’s US$200,000 (RM832,430) SUV, has had on the legendary Italian car maker.

In 2017, the 56-year-old company produced fewer than 3,900 cars globally. (For years before that, total volume had hovered near 2,000.) This year, thanks to the Urus, it expects distribution to reach 8,000.

It’s an easy car to love: With seven drive modes and seating for five, the Urus packs a zero to 60mph sprint time of 3.6 seconds. Its 4-litre V8 engine gets 641hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, the most of any production SUV today. Top speed is 190mph.

But the vehicle’s effect goes beyond a bump in company revenue, according to Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s influential head of research and design.

“Urus changed completely the perception of Lamborghini in Italy,” he said at his office in Sant’Agata Bolognese during an interview on May 21. “Before Urus, Lamborghini was something really only for a small number of people. Exclusive. And if you have a super sports car like Lamborghini, people think you show off too much of yourself. You would be too flashy…too much.”

Even so, stars ranging from Kylie Jenner and Cardi B to Kanye West proudly display their Lamborghini SUVs on social media, and the wait time for an Urus can run to four months or longer.

Proof of tangible results will show after the end of 2019, the first full year of production and sales. But the considerable investment Lamborghini has put into its new, futuristic, Urus only dedicated factory an hour by train southeast of Milan — a space that doubles the total footprint of the company Ferruccio Lamborghini founded — indicate the brand’s expectations.

More than one year after the first models started rolling off the line, we visited the manufacturing plant for an inside look at the process of building Lamborghini’s latest hit.

Ramping Up Production

The all-new, carbon-neutral facility opened in early 2018 after a year and a half of construction. It is located in Sant’Agata Bolognese, the same town the brand has inhabited since its first model, the 350GT.

The facility doubles the company’s total footprint to 160,000 sq m of the former farmland Ferruccio bought in 1963 to build cars that could compete with Ferrari.

The operation includes a new paint shop and a track with 13 surfaces oriented toward testing the Urus for different road and weather conditions.

A Flexible Factory

The Urus factory illustrates a new model of manufacturing for Lamborghini, which Ranieri Niccoli, Lamborghini’s chief manufacturing officer, called “Manifattura Lamborghini”.

The model was developed to provide flexibility in production schedules, allowing workers to adjust the timing of their schedule installing chassis and transmissions. It also allows improved access to information in the factory line, allowing workers to determine the progress of a vehicle along every stop of assembly.

The model also facilitates connectedness among work stations on the factory floor, thanks to centralised clock and timekeeping systems, little helper robots that move parts and tools among stations, and ergonomic lifts.

On the Line

Of the 1,800 workers employed at Lamborghini headquarters northeast of Bologna, 700 of them work on the Urus line. Shifts run twice a day, five days a week, with two or three workers at each assembly station.

The cars on the line receive Nappa leather seats, leather trimming for the doors and interior cabin, and sound system speakers before final quality checks. Some 26 Urus SUVs are completed daily.

Green Machines

The Urus production facility houses rows and rows of bins filled with such components as bolts, screws, rubber seals, pads and steering wheels. The bins above contain seals for car doors, and the cart at centre has computer screens that managers use to keep track of parts and the status of each Urus being built.

Lamborghini has built new offices along the perimeter with LEED Platinum certification, the world’s highest standard for energy and environmental certification in building design and construction. (The entire production facility in Sant’Agata Bolognese maintains a carbon-neutral certification held over from 2015.)

The company has said the site may be used in 2021 for the production of a new model that’s rumoured to be a four-door car similar to the Estoque concept.

Faster Than the Rest

Standard rims come in the 21-inch variety, while 22-inch and 23-inch options are also an option. There are four wheel-style options to choose among, ranging from five spokes to 10.

Brake calipre colours come in six hues (silver, black, yellow, orange, green and red). Pirelli All-Weather, Pirelli PZero Summer or Pirelli PZero Corsa tyres are available, too.

Robotically Inclined

Under the Industry 4.0 model — as the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies is known — robots “collaborate” with workers to improve repetitive operations such as gluing windows, screwing in bolts underneath the vehicle chassis and assembling wheels.

One of the robots used is designed to provide ergonomic assistance for the workers using it, allowing them to perform very little repetitive lifting and bending. A worker oversees the process.

Many, Mini ‘Robotini’

Tiny, mobile robots called “robotini” are part of the futuristic mode of the Urus factory, focused on “helping, not replacing” human workers, according to a young tour guide.

The robotini do such simple chores as transporting components and tools to different work stations and keeping the floor clean.

Pick a Colour, Any Colour

It takes roughly seven cow hides to cover the interior of an Urus SUV.

Customers can choose among dozens of colours or design their own customised piping and stitching on the seats through the separate atelier. The leather cutting and the stitching of details on the seats is done by hand in the factory.

The waiting list for Urus SUVs in the US, its biggest market, runs from three months to more than six, says Reggiani. If you want a custom creation,  the wait is longer.

A New Start

Lamborghini has started a new customer programme called La Prima, which allows customers to pick up their cars directly at the factory.

Some 4,000 units are expected to be produced in 2019. It’s a big goal, though Reggiani, who has been at the company more than 20 years, sounds confident.

“For Lamborghini, in this moment, it is one of our best ever,” Reggiani says. “We came from a (production) number that was ridiculous(ly low) in terms of super sports cars, and now — if you take the addition of the Urus — it is really fundamental for our visibility and presence and our acceptance in our mother country. This has been a game changer.”