Luca di Montezemolo held court with journalists at the Paris motor show following the debut of Ferrari's newest model, the California. Speaking from behind a dark blue California in the upstairs lounge of the Ferrari stand, di Montezemolo spoke for about 20 minutes and then took a few questions. Here are some highlights:
Di Montezemolo has been Ferrari president (he's also the head of Ferrari parent Fiat) since December 1991, and he says he's now the longest-serving head of any car manufacturer still working today.
He began his remarks speaking about the financial crisis that is sweeping the world.
"We will come back from this with a better world," he said. "We still have long waiting lists for our cars. This crisis will change something, I think . . . no more speculation.
"But this next year is a very important year for Ferrari."
A growing market for the Italian sports-car manufacturer is China. "In China, 25 percent of our buyers there are women," he said.
Despite growing appetites for Ferraris in emerging markets such as Russia, Brazil and several Middle Eastern countries, the United States remains strong.
"The California is an important car for us . . . the U.S. is our most important market. Three years ago, we began working on this new car with several goals. First, the new car had to be complementary, but different than the F430. The second goal was there had to be room for luggage, for golf clubs, for skis, whatever you want to take with you. Or, you can use the back seat.
"Third, you can buy the car as you prefer. With the Carrozzeria Scaglietti program, customers can personalize their cars. You can personalize this car 100 percent, except for the body shape and the engine. And the fourth goal was to do a car very innovative," he said.
Di Montezemolo noted that the first two years of production are spoken for.
"I love this car very much. The gearbox, the brakes and the drivability of this car were three things I was not prepared for. They are so good.
"Ferrari have to be like a good-looking woman . . . you have to desire her."
And there's obviously been plenty of desire for the California. "When we released details of California, 1 million viewers on the Internet saw it."
As for the world financial crisis impacting Ferrari's sales, di Montezemolo was quite clear.
"There are 7,000 people in the world [Ferrari customers] who will not be worried about less consumption."
He also was quite clear on another avenue that competitors such as Porsche, Aston Martin and even Lamborghini are heading down.
"As long as I am chairman, we will never do a four-door."
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