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Electric Ferraris will need to growl, but gasoline models here to stay – CEO

Italian sports-car maker Ferrari NV on Nov. 3 said it is working hard to develop a seductive sound from future battery-electric models as its research shows the throaty roar of its engines is a feature that customers are reluctant to forgo in the shift to cleaner vehicles.

While its low sales volumes enable it to avoid tighter emissions targets that have been a strain for mass-market manufacturers in the EU, Ferrari is researching the concept of battery-powered, zero-emission luxury vehicles. Rivals such as Volkswagen AG's Porsche brand have achieved rapid sales success in this area.

CEO Louis Camilleri on a call with analysts dismissed concerns that a move to simpler battery-and-motor sportscars would mean sacrificing much of the conventional models' technological distinction.

"To retain the Ferrari DNA, the EV will actually be significantly more complex than you are assuming," Camilleri said in response to an analyst's question. "And that's clearly something that we're working on. But just to have a standard EV and put the cavallino [horse emblem] on it is not what we're all about. It will be a pretty complex machine."

"My own sense is that to sort of say '100% electric,' that's pushing things. I really don't see Ferrari ever being at 100% EV. And certainly not in my lifetime will it reach even 50%," Camilleri said.

The executive would not divulge details on Ferrari's work on EV acoustics, for competitive reasons, but said he was confident the company would be able to deliver customer-pleasing results regarding the issue.

"It's really the depth of the sound and the gradation of the sound that's key. ... Sound is, in terms of all the consumer research we have, one of the key elements. And clearly, it is a big priority. We've done a lot of work on that, and we feel comfortable that that is certainly one of the aspects that we can address," Camilleri said.

The company this year launched a hybrid SF90 Stradale. Camilleri said he is keen to find out whether this had increased the brand's appeal to younger customers, which is an objective of growing importance to the company, as well as clinching more sales to women, who represent a small proportion of its buyers.

Ferrari earlier on Nov. 3 reported third-quarter earnings that beat analysts' expectations, and full-year performance was likely to be toward the top end of its guidance. Deliveries are expected to be strong in the fourth quarter after several model changeovers caused some drag earlier in the year, Camilleri said.

About 80% of European dealerships remain open, but that number could fall as more countries return to lockdowns. While the company has expanded online interaction with prospective customers, it is difficult to substitute the showroom experience in terms of turning interest into a sale, Camilleri said.

Restrictions on spectator sports this year have hit Ferrari's sponsorship income from Formula 1 racing, but the CEO said it was "a fair assumption" that the company would make salary savings from German driver Sebastian Vettel's departure to Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings PLC's team. Vettel had done a "phenomenal job" representing Ferrari and would "always be part of the family," Camilleri said.

Ferrari's Milan-listed shares closed Nov. 3 up 7.1% at 168.30. Its NYSE-listed stock was up 8% $197.72 just after midday in New York.