Automotive style icons struggle to go electric. Ferrari and Lamborghini seek to inspire devotion to battery-operated models.

STUDENTS spilling out of a grade school in an Italian village went silent as the Lamborghini approached, its throaty 12-cylinder engine trumpeting its presence.

Then, as the wedge-shaped beast rumbled by the schoolyard, they broke into cheers, pumping their fists and leaping into the air.

It was a spontaneous expression of the emotion that the Italian sports car maker inspires and that motivates those who can afford to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases millions, to get one.

But Lamborghini, Ferrari and a handful of other companies that make so called supercars - a loosely defined category of vehicles that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and offer race-car level performance - face an existential threat.

The auto industry is moving inexorably toward battery power, a trend that these carmakers cannot escape, They are now wrestling with how to design electric sports cars that will inspire the same passion and command the same prices.

TESLA has already challenged Ferraris and Lamborghini's claims of being at the cutting edge of automotive design. Tesla pioneered electric vehicles, and its model S Plaid can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in just over two seconds, faster than any Ferrari or Lamborghini, according to testers at Motor Trend.

''For the supercar makers, the question is will they be able to also be in leading the world in electrification?'' said Karl-Thomas Neumann, a former chief executive of the German carmaker Opel who is on the board of OneD Battery Sciences, a California supplier of technology for electric cars.

''If you are just building a supercar and putting a Ferrari logo on it, that's not enough,'' Mr. Neumann said. And the company is ''very late'' to the electric car game, he added.

Ferrari has offered a plug-in hybrid, the Stradale, since 2019 but won't introduce a fully electric car until 2025. 

The company based in Maranello, Italy, elaborated on its plans in an event for investors this month, saying it will build electric motors and other key components itself, in keeping with its tradition of craftsmanship and exclusivity.

''An electric Ferrari will be a true Ferrari,'' Beneetto Vigna, the chief executive said in an interview ahead of the presentation.

Ferrari also said that, in line with tradition, it would borrow technology from its formidable racing team. But the company does not compete in Formula E, the answer to Formula 1 for electric cars. Mr. Vigna declined to say whether there are any plans to do so.

Lamborghini, which is owned by Volkswagen and based in the village of Sant' Agata Bolognese, will offer its first plug-in hybrid in 2023 and a fully electric car sometime in the second half of the decade.

The mystique of the Italian supercars is deeply intertwined with the sound and power of internal combustion engines.

The renowned Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan was thought to have once said a Ferrari 12-cylinder engine achieved ''a harmony no maestro could play.''

Electric motors are inherently sotto voce.

The World Students Society thanks author Jack Ewing.


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