'Little town' of Ferrari unlike any auto plant

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Maranello, Italy — Surrounded by heavy agricultural areas of crops and grape vineyards in northern central Italy sits an industrial complex that locals call Cittadella Ferrari.

Some of the most exotic cars in history have been produced by hand here since 1947. While the entrance is modest, the nearly 500,000-square-foot campus (excluding a new Formula 1 facility, test track and other racing facilities located nearby) is the home, or "little town," of Ferrari.

A 950-horsepower LaFerrari hybrid sits in the Ferrari showroom inside the famed Italian company’s complex in Maranello, Italy.

To describe the complex as a production plant doesn't do it justice. It is a little slice of exotic performance-car heaven for the 16,000 or so lucky Ferrari owners, company partners and sponsors, and others who get to visit the facility each year.

"When you see this plant, you think you've seen all the Ferraris because all the Ferraris are made here," Stefano Lai, Ferrari senior vice president of communications, said Friday in his office overlooking the complex. "Ferrari is like wine, you cannot build the Ferrari if you move the plant to another place."

The complex is unlike any factory in Detroit. The complexity, cleanliness and heritage makes it a unique place to visit and work for its roughly 3,000 employees, including 700 people in racing. The workers all wear matching Ferrari-red uniforms with the Italian flag and Ferrari crest on their chest.

And the facilities themselves — from a 1970s-era engine assembly building to the all-new racing division facility completed earlier this year — appear clean as surgical suites, with natural light coming in all building. Plants and trees in grow in buildings and on private patios.

"It's really really nice," said Daniela Levoni, a Ferrari spokeswoman, standing on a private garden on the second floor of an assembly plant, one of a dozen or so structures on Ferrari's main campus. "It doesn't look like a factory."

The greenery, spotless conditions, rotating work stations and high-end cafeteria are all part of Ferrari's plan to keep those who work for the famed Italian racing brand motivated.

Enzo Ferrari drove his first car, a 1947 Ferrari 125S, out of this gate.

Ferrari isn't just about exotic street cars and Formula 1 race cars, which the company sells for millions to customers after the cars are retired from racing. Near Cittadella Ferrari there are Ferrari-themed restaurants, including Ristorante Cavallino that Enzo Ferrari once owned. There's an official Ferrari store and Ferrari-red spotlights and Ferrari-red sidewalks.

"Everything goes around Ferrari," Levoni said. "Everything is related to Ferrari."

A Ferrari museum nearby houses dozens of special cars mostly on loan from owners; it attracts roughly 300,000 people annually. A priest in Maranello, a city of 17,000 people, rings the church bells when Ferrari wins a Grand Prix.

The automaker has a full line of clothing and accessories, and even bikes, all sporting the Ferrari horse.

Ferrari company, will see historic change later this year with an expected initial public offering announced by Fiat Chrysler CEO and Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne in October.

Turning Ferrari into its own company is an effort to keep the brand "pure" and help raise capital for Fiat Chrysler, which currently owns 90 percent of Ferrari. Piero Lardi Ferrari, a son of company founder Enzo Ferrari, owns the other 10 percent.

"I think we are doing the right thing by giving Ferrari a proper, unique place in the capital markets to be evaluated and valued as a luxury automaker," Marchionne said in a conference call after announcing the spinoff. "This was an act of purification on our side."

Ferrari limits production to about 7,000 a year to retain exclusivity. Quoting brokers last year, Marchionne said Ferrari is valued between 3.3 billion euros ($3.75 billion) and 5.4 billion ($6.13 billion).

After Ferrari spins off from Fiat Chrysler, Lai doesn't expect much change at Cittadella Ferrari.

"We are very much a company focused on product," he said. "As long as we keep doing products we love and are passionate (it will be fine)."