Many years ago, back when tires were skinny and race drivers were fat, I found myself sitting at a rather expensive first dinner with a young woman who felt compelled to describe her most recent date before me. “He told me he had a Porsche,” she said, pronouncing it to rhyme with the way rural Ohioans pronounce wash, “but when he showed up it was really a Porsh 944.” I took immediate exception to this ridiculous statement and proceeded to lecture her about the virtues of flared-fender, front-engined VW-Porsche-Audi joint projects. Needless to say, I quickly joined Mister Fake Porsh in this lady’s list of date-night disappointments.
I often wonder how often that scenario repeats itself nowadays, only with the “Porsh” in question being one of Zuffenhausen’s admittedly hyper-competent but (for me, at least) strangely unlovable crossover-SUV-thingys. Probably less and less, because even the most car-ignorant person out there has probably gotten the message about Porsche’s transition from manufacturer of the world’s finest and most thoroughly engineered grand-touring coupes to a mere “brand” covering a diverse umbrella of products. I cannot argue with the business reasons for doing so, but neither am I capable of making the automatic correlation between "profitable" and "right" that seems second nature for the average American citizen in an era where they blare financial news in the airport and run stock tickers under everything on television.
They say that the Cayenne rescued Porsche, but they also say that the Taurus rescued Ford when it was really trucks that did the job. Whether Porsche even needed rescuing is a matter for the financial experts. I can tell you, however, about a company that could not be any farther away from needing rescue. That company is Ferrari.
Forget the long-ago days of coachbuilt coupes or the slightly more recent era of Schumacher supremacy. Ferrari’s Golden Age is happening right now, even if it has the occasional appearance of a gilded one. The firm easily sells every car it makes, at utterly breathtaking prices, to satisfied dealers who then turn around and mark the product up until even Russian oil barons have to blink twice. If you want to purchase something like a 488GTB nowadays, you have to start by “establishing a relationship” with a dealer and maybe buying some used Ferraris at outrageous prices. Imagine if Corvette Z06 ownership required you to put a couple of old Malibus in your garage for 50 grand each before being permitted to hand over a six-figure markup just to get in line for your new Vette, and you can get a sense of the fundamental absurdity involved here.
The current lineup of Ferraris is transcendentally good. I’m partial to the F12 and its successors myself, but you can’t buy a bad Ferrari now. Even the California has been made respectable by some additional power and visual aggression. My experience with the current range suggests that pretty much every Ferrari made at the present moment pairs stunning performance with tremendous everyday usability. If you can afford the price, as the man said, I recommend it.
This combination of natural brilliance and artificial scarcity has burnished Ferrari’s brand to the point where it can be seen from space. The last thing the company needs is to reduce the merit of its products or the luster of that badge. And yet, there's a recently-revived rumor that Ferrari is looking to build a vehicle that will surely do just that—a crossover. It doesn’t matter what they name it, and it doesn’t matter . At some point in the future, somebody is going to pull up to a first date in a Ferrari and, for the first time since the early Mondials, their new friend is going to be severely disappointed.
I can’t see a reason for this new model. Ferrari doesn’t need the volume or the profit. Incidentally, the same is true for Lamborghini, but that firm probably planned the Urus SUV before it knew the Huracan and its variants would be a marketplace grand slam. Ferrari has no such excuse. The automaker has a waiting list that stretches for years. It seems unlikely in this age of ghastly economic inequality that the rich will ever stop wanting to pay top dollar for Ferrari sports cars. Why build a crossover or SUV at all?
My old pal Alex Roy says that Ferrari is gift-wrapping the prestige-sportscar market and handing it over to Pagani, Koenigsegg, and anybody else with the will and capital to start a new supercar company. He’s absolutely correct. Right now, all of those firms struggle with the fact that Ferrari carries greater global recognition and brand image than they do. They’re like IWC facing up against Rolex. I’m very fond of IWC watches and I have a few of them, but most people have no idea what an IWC is. Rolex, on the other hand, carries global weight. That’s why you can sell your lightly-worn Rolex for close to retail while owners of IWC and other top-tier Swiss watches have to offer a substantial discount to the next purchaser.
In a world where Ferrari makes a crossover, though, the business case for the Paganis of the world becomes much stronger. They become known as pure supercar makers in comparison to Ferrari. It can only help them, and diminish Ferrari’s image, in the long run.
Surely it’s not too late for Ferrari to nip this crossover business in the bud and stick to the absurdly profitable and hugely rewarding business of exclusively selling supercars. There’s no risk in doing so. If the market for those products ever seriously contracts, they can do what some other well-respected brands did: put their badge on a German crossover platform, print billions of dollars for almost no investment, and call it a day. It would take 18 months or less given the speed of today’s CAD iterations, and it’s a golden parachute that Ferrari could pop at any time.
Maybe I shouldn’t care so much. I decided long ago that any Ferrari money I ever acquired, even used-Ferrari money, would be better spent racing crappy little cars around rural road courses. Just as importantly, I’m married again, thus calling a halt to any potential first dates and sparing me the need for something to drive to them. All the dogs in this fight belong to wealthier people. Still. In an era where many of my favorite brands have been over-extended to cover everything from trucks to dollar-store USB power adapters, there is something admirable, even majestic, about the purity of the Ferrari nameplate. It deserves to stay that way. Ask my former 944-driving rival, if you can find him: it pays to be on message, even if it doesn’t always pay in cash.