Speed, manoeuvrability and performance are three words you’d normally associate with sports cars, but we can say the same of the way Ferrari operates as a business, enabling it to not just survive but thrive during challenging times such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dieter Knechtel, Ferrari’s president of Far East and Middle East, recalls: “The situation in Italy was severe in March and April 2020. The factory had to be closed for seven weeks. It gave us time to reset and reconsider our priorities. The company implemented a network-wide programme called Back On Track throughout our offices and dealerships to protect our employees, their families and our clients. In the end, we saw a reduction in production numbers and a little dip in sales in 2020, but nothing too dramatic.”
A seasoned car veteran, Knechtel has been in the automobile industry for a quarter of a century. He has lived and worked in Asia for almost 20 years, arriving first in Tokyo in 2003 as APAC marketing manager for French car manufacturer Renault. Then, he went to China to head Porsche’s dealer group before joining Ferrari in 2015.
I love that feeling of freedom, of admiring beautiful old shophouses, seeing people sitting around amidst colourful scenery and showing off the car. It’s a Ferrari. It has to be shown!Dieter Knechtel
Despite the global and unprecedented nature of the pandemic, along with the accompanying changes in the way we work, play and live, Ferrari’s new product launches proceeded strictly according to schedule, first with rollouts of the 812 GTS and the F8 Tributo. These two models are the very last non-hybrid Ferrari models and will be discontinued in line with the company’s goals to present the first full electric battery car in 2025, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
Next came the Portofino M — Knechtel notes that more than half were first-time Ferrari buyers and tended to be young — and most recently, the 296 GTB, Ferrari’s first V6 hybrid.
“It’s going to be one of our primary models in the years to come and has received positive feedback in terms of performance, engine sound and being fun to drive,” he adds.
Unfazed by heavy lockdowns in the Philippines, Australia and Indonesia, Ferrari tweaked its customer interaction process.
“Before, we would present a new model to a group of 300, and our dealers would follow up with our clients. Covid-19 forced us to do digital presentations. Then we followed up with clients in tiny groups or one on one. Our workload was massive because of this approach,” he admits. “But our clients appreciated this personal touch.”
As Japan did not face strict lockdowns, the focus was on organising intimate driving programmes for small groups of customers. This led to the runaway success of the Ferrari Roma there, which was “positioned differently from the normal Ferrari and was more about understated luxury rather than a road-worthy race car”.
The Roma drew so many first-time Ferrari buyers that Japan became the brand’s second largest market after the USA, with Germany in third place.
“We adjusted quickly and going personal benefitted our business. The year 2021 was the best on record in our 75-year history. Going into 2022 and beyond, the trend remains positive,” Knechtel says.
Even the used market segment, which has seen strong numbers for several years now, is on the uptick. “There’s a massive demand for our pre-owned cars, especially vintage cars with restricted numbers. Prices are not just holding strong but getting more expensive. This is one proof that what we are producing holds its value,” he shares.
“Upcoming new technology, such as electrification, also drives more interest in traditional cars. There is always a spike in demand for the remaining traditional technology right before it changes. We have seen this phenomenon several times in the past, like with the naturally aspirated 458 just before turbo engines came along. It probably explains the success of our F8 range and the GTS, which are Ferrari’s last non-hybrid sports cars,” he explains.
Most people would expect him to live life in the fast lane, but Knechtel prefers to take things slow. His favourite driving spots in Singapore are neither highways nor expressways.
“There are so many places to cruise for fun in Singapore on the weekends between Sentosa, Dempsey and Orchard. Recently, I took a Portofino M down Little India at 7.30am when the streets were still empty. When you kick the pedal, the engine sound reverberates back from the shophouses. I also enjoy driving slowly through Chinatown, Tanjong Pagar and Duxton. I love that feeling of freedom, of admiring beautiful old shophouses, seeing people sitting around amidst colourful scenery and showing off the car. It’s a Ferrari. It has to be shown!” he says.
Knechtel also has some tips for those going on a pilgrimage to Maranello, the birthplace of Ferrari. First, call your dealer beforehand to book yourself a test drive or some track time right across the factory. Then, book a stay at the Ferrari-themed Hotel Maranello Palace. When you’re there, Knechtel recommends Ristorante Cavallino, the late Enzo Ferrari’s favourite eatery.
“It’s filled with memorabilia and the back room he used to eat at has been preserved in his honour,” says Knechtel. If it’s fully booked, Knechtel suggests Ristorante Montana near the Fiorano racetrack. It’s frequented by F1 drivers and VIPs.
“Above all, make time for simple meals in the small restaurants in Modena and Bologna. The Emilia-Romagna region boasts some of the best cuisine in Italy,” he says.