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The Greenwash Brigade

The ‘fighting bull’ goes green

Heidi Siegelbaum Jun 11, 2009

Fuel economy and low emissions aren’t what Lamborghini, or “Lambo,” owners are typically after. They want (and apparently get) titillating, gut-twisting speed and sinuous turns from the “fighting bull” that make them feel alive — despite a laughable 10 mpg.

Still, Lamborghini has announced it is implementing some new environmental initiatives. The company says it plans to develop hybrid drivetrains and reduce its cars’ carbon dioxide emissions 35 percent by 2015. It also plans to reduce the CO2 emissions of its lone factory in Sant’Agata, Italy, 30 percent by 2010.

Some detractors think an electric engine would deliver better results than hybrid technology. Maybe Lamborghini just doesn’t want to look too much like the $100,000 electric Tesla which has been touted for its speed and acceleration — zero to 60 mph in four seconds.

It’s difficult for me to poke fun at Lamborghini’s plans to install a 56,000-square-foot solar array and other building envelope efficiencies. That’s because the company only has the one factory, it sells only about 2,500 cars a year (compared to the U.S. market of 9 million), and its customers put only an average of 3,100 miles a year on their cars (which probably spend more time getting long, waxy massages or being cloaked in velvet in heavily forested estates). My reticence to criticize may also be based on my love for all things Italian.

Compare the environmental impact of a Lamborghini — despite its horrendous gas mileage — to a typical American-made car. For example, a Ford (take your pick: Excursion, Explorer, F350) will be driven 13,000 miles a year on average, and will be involved in more accidents (we are not particularly skilled in driving big, cumbersome trucks and get too bold as we feel exceptionally powerful in these behemoths).

I’m not letting Lamborghini’s CEO Stephen Winkelmann completely off the hook. Last year he said the company would never, and could never, meet the European Union’s fuel efficiency standards. The funny thing, however, is that the E.U. directive has an exception for manufacturers of “specialty vehicles” (less than 10,000 manufactured a year). European Parliamentarian Guido Sacconi, president of the E.U. Commission on Climate Change, stated the exception was designed “to safeguard the DNA, history and technology of niche car manufacturers on a European level.”

It’s like the sinfulness of eating a runny, mellifluous cheese in France. You just have to enjoy it regardless of its impact.

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