Why Ferrari has chosen Vigna…

Ferrari’s new CEO Benedetto Vigna is not “a car guy”. He’s a boffin, and obviously a very clever one. But how does that fit with a supercar company like Ferrari?

To understand the thinking behind the move one needs to look at the way in which the automotive industry is developing. The future, so we are told, is for the world to be filled with smart battery-powered cars, which offer automated driving and are linked to networks. They will have a new level of on-board digital entertainment and shared-mobility features, all under the control of a central computer that will oversee all aspects of the vehicle. The software in these “brains” will be updated by 5G mobile networks.

This will effecively mean that automobile manufacturers will become software manufacturers. It is predicted that in time there will be only a couple of viable operating systems and these will then b used by all the car manufacturers around the world. There is a race in the industry to create such systems, as those who get there first will be able to reap huge profits by supplying their software to others.

That is the theory. Ferrari would obvioulsy like to be one of the winners in this game. To give you an idea the operating systems used in smart phones are Android 47.5 percent and iOS 42 percent. One day there will be similar operating systems in cars.

So Vigna is perhaps the man who will lead the charge towards this vision of the future.

So who is he and what has he achieved?

He was born in the south of Italy, in the city of Potenza in the Basilicata region, to the east of Naples. He then studied at the University of Pisa, graduating with honours in subnuclear physics. He moved on to do research into lasers at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble and then at the Max Planck Institute in Germany before being recruited to join the STMicroelectronics research and development laboratory in Castelletto, near Milan, where he began working with laser-fabrication micromachining techniques. He would spend a couple of year as an industrial fellow and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, investigating sensors and actuators.

He returned to ST in 1996 to become become the director of the company’s micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) division.

ST might not be very well known to the public but it is Europe’s largest manufacturer of semiconductor chips. It dates back to 1987 when two government-owned semiconductor companies,  France’s Thomson Semiconducteurs and SGS Microelettronica of Italy were merged to form a company called SGS-Thomson. The company was later floated and Thomson sold its shareholding and so the firm became ST Micoelectronics in 1998. It is headquartered in Geneva and has research facilities and manufacturing units all over the world. The organisation even has its own university, located near Aix en Provence, in France, where ST employees are able to reinforce and update their capabilities. Vigna studied for an MBA there in the course of his later career.

Vigna and his team at MEMS began to develop a tiny gyroscopic sensor capable of detecting motion in three dimensions. Today these are present in most of our day-to-day electronic devices from our smart phones to our game controllers. In 2007, Vigna’s unit was transformed into a product division and took on a range of new development work for OEM and mass market use, including work on microphones, e-compasses, touch-screen controllers, environmental sensors, micro-actuators, industrial and automotive sensors, imaging techniques and low-power radios for Internet of Things applications. Vigna holds hundreds of patents in micromachining techniques. As a result of these achievements he became a member of the ST Executive Committee in 2018. He is a man with ideas and one who knows the technology available and what it is possible to produce.

So, don’t expect a swashbuckling automotive buccaneer like Sergio Marchionne but rather a boffin on a mission to lead the automotive world…

What this means for Formula 1 remains to be seen.

13 thoughts on “Why Ferrari has chosen Vigna…

  1. While “smart battery-powered cars, which offer automated driving and are linked to networks” may, or may not, be the future of the automobile industry, that future is most certainly not relevant to specialty supercar manufacturers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc. Very few buyers with Ferrari in their consideration-set are going to buy a silent, battery-powered Ferrari that drives itself; it’s the antithesis of what the Ferrari brand stands for.

    As an aside, if this future vision of the mass-volume (e.g., Renault) and volume-luxury (e.g., Mercedes) automobile industry is correct, then F1 needs to stop basing its strategy and its business model, i.e. its dependence, on the automobile OEMs. This future vision, if followed to its conclusion, would lead to a dreadful F1 “product”, that would be of zero interest to most all fans present and future.

    1. Nailed it!
      Ferraris niche is very small. They are not a technology driver in the industry for neither SW nor computing., nor autonomous driving….

      Who would buy a Ferrari because of its ‘5g’ capabilities?. Not even Vigna.

    2. “not relevant to specialty supercar manufacturers” is rather strong, I wouldn’t be so affirmative

    3. I wouldn’t be so positive / definitive on the idea that “smart battery-powered cars, which offer automated driving…..(will not be) relevant to specialty supercar manufacturers…”

  2. “To give you an idea the operating systems used in smart phones are Android 47.5 percent and iOS 42 percent.”

    That seems like US-specific data. (and old data, at that) Worldwide, Android is by far the dominant platform, powering roughly 3 in 4 mobile phones.

  3. Processors will soon comprise 40% of a car’s cost – dashboard, comms, app, recharging, drivetrain electronics, suspension, security, driving aids etc – and provide the main product differentiation.

    Ferrari has plenty of engineers and luxe-branding guys but now they need techies. A most enlightened hiring.

    1. Processors are not that expensive…unless you are talking about high end server CPU’s. Automotive CPU’s are further designed for function so they minimise silicon area & hence cost of manufacture, and maximise efficiency (ie they do just what they need to do and no more).
      Power semiconductors for the electric driveline are likewise very cost conscious products. That is not to say the modules will not cost a lot, but the silicon content, not so much, except maybe a couple of specialist areas like AI CPU’s.

  4. Marchionne swaggered on about no EV Ferraris, but after his death Ferrari announced a BEV Ferrari is coming. Ferrari needs someone who can lead its fossil fuel-free product transformation and it believes Vigna is the right man for that job. Good luck, Vigna!

  5. Seems like Ferrari are finally thinking to the future and putting the management structure in place.

  6. Hi Joe
    Who really picks the new person? The family that owns Fait, Ferrari, and others? Just asking.

  7. The prancing horse is currently something of a one trick pony. For some time I have not been convinced that supercar makers like Ferrari, Aston, McLaren etc have a bright future unless they diversify into more mainstream and cheaper products. They may have to eat crow and start competing with Hyundai et al. Is Vigna the man to transform the company to a post ICE powerhouse. I guess only time will tell.

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