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The E-future starts here

Maranello’s new e-building is where the sports cars of tomorrow will be produced. Opening in June 2024 in the presence of the President of the Italian Republic, it marks an important moment in the company’s history, in the name of evolution, the environment and energy
Words: Jason Barlow / Photographs: Luca Girardini

Ferrari’s new e-building is close to completion on the day of our visit, and its new spaces are pristine, polished, and mostly empty. Soon they will hum and vibrate to the sounds of hundreds of employees going about their duties, the most keenly awaited of which will be the manufacture of the hugely anticipated full-electric Ferrari.

The building is currently in the ‘ramp-up’ phase, that slightly curious half-life that major new facilities must endure before being allowed to fulfill their destiny. Complex systems that have been years in the planning are being ‘debugged’, lines of code that support the infrastructure ironed out, the gleaming anthropomorphic robots being prepared to perform new functions.

Above: the new e-building’s state-of-the-art production lines are ready to spring into action

What you can clearly sense, however, is the enormous potential, for this new building is surely one of the key milestones in the 77-year history of Ferrari – and for reasons that go far beyond the imminent arrival of a Maranello-made fully electric model.

“It has become known as the e-building, for different reasons,” Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna explains, “even as the key letter is ‘F’, which stands for ‘flexibility’. The e-building is not just about ‘electric’. It will allow us to put all the pieces of the puzzle together so that the entire research and development and manufacturing process is optimal.”

Above: the building’s design was entrusted to Bologna-based Mario Cucinella Architects

He continues: “We are pursuing a multi-energy strategy, understanding where Ferrari fits into the landscape. Ferrari is faster moving than a traditional automotive company, but slower than a technology company. Ferrari is actually a unique combination of the two. Hi-tech touches the rational side of the brain, luxury speaks to the emotional and involves heritage and storytelling. We are in touch with both dimensions.”

No ordinary automotive company, then, and no ordinary factory. Just don’t refer to the new building as a Year Zero. Ferrari has been making cars since 1947, and whilst fiercely proud of the high degree of craftsmanship that goes into every car made at Maranello, the company has long been a white-hot tech pioneer. So really the new e-building represents the culmination of decades of hard- won expertise, whilst introducing new techniques and laying the foundations for the era to come. About that name... it turns out there is a rationale behind it.

“There are three ‘E’s,” explains Davide Abate, Ferrari Chief Technologies and Infrastructures Officer. “The first stands for ‘evolution’, in terms of the powertrain and the arrival of full electrification at Ferrari. The second relates to ‘environment’. We have expanded our footprint by reclaiming old industrial land, and some 50,000 square metres have been completely redeveloped. Finally, there is ‘energy’. But sustainability isn’t just about the use of energy, it’s first of all about our people and how we treat them in the workplace.”

Above: a giant upper floor window looks out upon the terrace, which hosts a garden. In the background, on the right, part of the production line. The building will also host educational activities and recreational spaces

The new plant thus has a number of functions. Next year will see the birth of the first electric Ferrari, whose concept and form remain carefully under wraps for now. But we know that its high voltage batteries, electric motors, and axles will all be made in the new building, as well as the vehicle itself. As Vigna states so emphatically, though, that’s just one part of a mix that will encompass other Ferrari models and activities. The company has been developing its electric expertise since 2009, and the hybrid V6 that powers the 296 GTB sits happily alongside the dramatic combustion engine that’s core to the new 12Cilindri model and the Purosangue. Putting them together allows for enhanced synergies.

There is also space for an educational centre, as well as designated recreational areas for employees. Interestingly, 30 per cent of the space remains free for future development. Says Ernesto Lasalandra, Ferrari Chief Research & Development Officer, “For the battery and motor, we can design and work in parallel with Davide’s team to optimise design and production. We’re at the boundary of what you can and can’t do. We designed the battery during the first phase but every week we have a meeting to establish what else we can do in the building.”

The project was first mooted in 2019, the basic parameters agreed ahead of sign-off in November 2021. The building’s design was entrusted to Bologna-based Mario Cucinella Architects, chosen for its commitment to sustainability. The e-building thus pays great attention to energy efficiency, and is designed to reach nearly zero energy building (NZEB) performance. Rainwater is stored and re-cycled, irrigating the building’s many green areas, amongst other benefits. Its insulation and thermal properties have been carefully calibrated, to absorb solar radiation in the summer whilst allowing as much natural light to flood the building as possible via specially designed light wells. Opaline and transparent glazed panels encase the building’s exterior, and there’s an eye-catching opal façade ‘lantern’ effect to enliven the structure at night.

None of its energy systems rely on fossil fuels, and its air conditioning uses a fully electric heat pump that relies on renewables to power it. More than 3,000 photovoltaic panels have been installed on the roof, with a peak power output of 1.3MW. This is more of an eco-system than a typical production facility, and it seriously over-delivers in terms of its aesthetic and specification.

Above: when completely operational the new e-building – which hosts over 3,000 photovoltaic panels on its roof – will be able to generate some 1.3MW of peak power output

“It would have been cheaper to build a big box,” says Benedetto Vigna, who has visited more anonymous tech buildings during his storied career than he cares to mention. “But this was an opportunity to build something for our visitors and employees. Balancing beauty with functionality: it’s the same challenge we face as with our cars. Production plants don’t usually offer the flexibility we have here.”

Long-term visitors to the Ferrari HQ may wonder where the space was found to construct a new building with a total footprint across its four floors of 42,500 square metres. Not only does Ferrari continue to put the Emilian town of Maranello on the global stage, it’s also actively improving it. The company bought 39 buildings and has reclaimed unlovely industrial land in order to facilitate this latest expansion. The road network around the site has been improved, some 1,400 new parking spaces will be created, and 1.5 kilometres of cycle lanes have also been constructed. In all, 110,000 square metres have been redeveloped, breathing new life into an area that was previously somewhat overlooked. 

Back inside, one of the robots is moving gracefully around. These will soon be used to overcome production constraints and to provide for quick re-tooling where necessary. The workstations are reconfigurable and highly ergonomic, and use arm hooks that are multi-adjustable. Everywhere you look you can see evidence of the flexibility, not just for the company’s requirements now, tomorrow or next year, but for those likely to transpire over the next two decades.

From left: another view of the e-building's production line; an abundance of windows bring a huge amount of light into the facility; office windows give a view out onto the factory floor

Much of the responsibility for this falls to Silvia Gabrielli, Ferrari Chief Digital & Data Officer. “Working with Davide we tried to understand how this clean sheet of paper could also be a laboratory for what digital technologies can do in a flexible factory environment, where people are at the heart of what we do,” she says. “We did a scouting of all the latest technology that supports this kind of industrial facility, and identified the most promising for the next 20 years.

“So the new building is fitted with ultra wide band (UWB) technology, and that has to be integrated into the building’s infrastructure. It starts with the network and the cabling. Even AI starts with very physical and basic things. So we’ve put the necessary wiring in everywhere, and we’re ready to adopt ultra wide band where and when it makes sense to do so.”

Why UWB? Because it has strong signal penetration, offers high security, and delivers precise positioning accuracy. “There are use cases where you can identify where a very valuable component is,” Gabrielli continues. “It optimises the process, in terms of efficiencies but also safety. Increased digitalisation in some areas helps the people to focus more on their work.”

Above: the e-building is designed to reach ‘nearly zero energy building’ (NZEB) performance. None of its energy systems rely on fossil fuels and rainwater is stored and re-cycled

Its people will always be the Ferrari priority. But so, too, is the long-term well-being of a business that finds itself in the midst of an industry-wide once-in-a-generation upheaval. “Our operating model is a blend of strategic craftsmanship and advanced technology,” Ferrari Chief Manufacturing Officer, Andrea Antichi, explains. “The secret is that our engineers and designers are free to dream of the best possible creations, and we are tasked with finding the alchemy that allows us to transform those dreams into ‘living machines’. This is only possible through the niche skills of our people.”

Ferrari will prevail and prosper, but it takes people with vision and bravery to make the big decisions. The new e-building is nothing less than a magnificent steel and concrete manifesto.

“Each generation should be equal to the challenges with which they are faced,” Benedetto Vigna concludes, by way of summary. “I’m proud of a number of things. We respected the timeline and the financial commitment, in front of our investors and everyone. We stuck to the plan, and this was in part thanks to our suppliers. It was not easy to manage this during the Covid interruptions. The second message is that this is a state-of-the-art facility that allows us to please the client, on the one hand, whilst also respecting the people working in the factory. And the planet. We do what we say. The e-building is a message for the community. A call to action, if you prefer. Open ears, open eyes, four wheels on the ground.”

21 giugno, 2024