Stephan Winkelmann is the new CEO and his decade running Lamborghini was the perfect training ground.
Stephan Winkelmann is the perfect ultra-premium European automaker CEO. His suits are beautifully tailored, he’s tall, has long hair, and speaks multiple languages. He also understands what it takes to build proper, ultra-high performance cars. In short, he’s ideally suited to take charge of Bugatti after long-time CEO Wolfgang Durheimer retired late last year. Winkelmann is also exactly what Bugatti needs in the years ahead, especially now that the Chiron has launched. What will it do next? An SUV? A sedan? Something else entirely?
Who knows, but Winkelmann brilliantly led Lamborghini for a decade, and the Urus SUV was originally his idea. Bugatti has told us on more than one occasion it does not intend to follow the same Veyron variant map for the Chiron. For example, don’t expect a Chiron Grand Sport. Instead, Bugatti, under Winkelmann, seemingly wants to evolve the Chiron. The just unveiled Chiron Sport fits this plan. It’s still a coupe and aside from “Italian Red” exterior paint, it looks pretty much the same as all other Chirons. But underneath that slick body are a number of relevant upgrades with the ultimate goal being a more focused, track-like driving experience.
It features a new handling package, new wheel rims and exhaust, and even the first-ever carbon fiber windscreen wiper. Reducing weight was essential, but output remained unchanged. How come? Our best guess is this: Winkelmann only had a few months to get something new prepared to show at Geneva. It would not be good to come empty handed to his first major international auto show as CEO of Bugatti. So Winkelmann worked with the tools he had at his disposal. Major engine upgrades typically cannot be done in such a short period of time, but finding and applying ways to reduce weight and adding a “Sport” logo are certainly doable.
Remember, under Winkelmann’s watch at Lamborghini, the Aventador, Aventador SV, and Aventador S, and the Huracan was his doing. Before them, he brought the Murcielago era to a glorious finale with the Super Veloce, turned the Gallardo into the Superleggera, and was responsible for concepts like the Sesto Elemento. The Reventon? That was him too. The totally crazy yet still built for production Veneno? Ditto. You get the idea. Bugatti needed someone with a grand vision and based on what Winkelmann did at Lamborghini from 2005 until early 2016, expect very interesting times ahead. It comes as little surprise Winkelmann only worked as Audi Sport CEO for just over a year before he was tapped to lead Bugatti. He had a higher calling.
Someone with the ability to effectively manage and consistently launch exciting and profitable variants without bullshit special editions belongs behind the desk at one of the world’s most exclusive ultra-high performance and luxury brands. Bugatti needs to break out without diluting its value and image, and Winkelmann’s years of experience have prepared him perfectly. Oh, and the Chiron Sport’s sexy Italian Red paintwork has Winkelmann’s fingerprints all over it (not literally but the color falls in line with his preferred style). He’s from Lamborghini, after all.