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Ferrari looks to electric future by poaching new boss from chipmaker

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Ferrari SF90 Stradale - Newspress
Ferrari SF90 Stradale - Newspress

Ferrari has poached its new chief executive from a chip producer as the Italian sports car maker tries to adapt for the electric age.

It has hired Benedetto Vigna from STMicroelectronics, where he leads its analogue sensor group - the company's most profitable division. He helped develop the technology that allows iPhones to sense when they are tilted sideways.

The 52-year-old will replace John Elkann, Ferrari’s chairman who has been interim chief executive following the December resignation of Louis Camilleri.

Ferrari has been slow to adapt to growing demand for electric cars and its sales have sunk during the pandemic, with a 77pc plunge in China and a 29pc decline in the US.

Maranello-based Ferrari revealed its first plug-in hybrid car in 2019, but has largely fallen behind rivals.

In April, Mr Elkann committed the company to switching its supercars to electric models, but a first version is not expected until 2025. Previous executives had played down the promise of electric vehicles as true supercars.

In November, Mr Camilleri told shareholders that he did not imagine “Ferrari ever being at 100pc [electric] and certainly not in my lifetime even reaching 50pc”.

Benedetto Vigna - REUTERS
Benedetto Vigna - REUTERS

Mr Vigna’s appointment is notable as car makers rarely recruit from outside their own industry and comes as they struggle to find enough semiconductors for their vehicles amid a global shortage.

He starts on September 1 after a lengthy stint at STMicro, where he helped pioneer screen technology used in the iPhone 4. The Geneva-based company was formed in 1987 by merging a French and an Italian company.

The appointment of the chip executive signals a wider change of direction at Ferrari.

Philippe Houchois, an analyst at Jefferies, said it was “highly unexpected and, in our view, reflects the need to ‘reinvent’ Ferrari”.

Tom Narayan at RBC Capital Markets added: “Appointing someone relatively young and from the technology field sets the tone for where Ferrari is headed. The biggest issues this company will face in our view over the next decade will be adapting to the changing auto technology landscape as a luxury brand.”

Mr Elkann said Mr Vigna’s “deep understanding of the technologies driving much of the change in our industry, and his proven innovation, business-building and leadership skills, will further strengthen Ferrari and its unique story of passion and performance in the exciting era ahead”.

The new chief executive will also be responsible for launching the Purosangue, Ferrari’s first SUV.

Founded in 1939 and the owner of the world’s most successful Formula 1 racing team, Ferrari floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015 at about $48 per share, and prices have risen steadily since then to close at $218 on Tuesday.

The biggest shareholder remains the powerful Agnelli family, the founders of Fiat. Mr Elkann is also president of Stellantis, formed by the recent merger of Fiat Chrysler and PSA, the French owner of Peugeot, Citroen and Opel.