Valentino Balboni Reflects on EVs and the Future of Cars
Valentino Balboni has been the main test driver for Lamborghini for 33 years, testing everything from the Lamborghini Countach to the Gallardo. For fans of the brand, its name is synonymous with driving 12-cylinder cars at almost 200 mph on public roads (legally). Lamborghini even built a special Balboni Gallardo edition after his retirement from the company. However, when we did meet him, he was conducting driving tests and advice on a very different type of performance car: an electric vehicle called the Drako GTE.
MotorTrend: I think it will surprise many people because you are so well known for your time with Lamborghini, and it is very, very different from what Lamborghini does. The question people will ask themselves is: why are you interested in electric vehicles?
Valentino Balboni: Good question. I am here because I like to live every day. I want a little something. I always want to learn something. I never said, “OK, now I don’t care [about] anything. “I read. I am updated. I drive. I enjoy. Everything that makes the car part of my life. I have to update myself. I have to follow the line. Of course, I understand that c strange for me to be a Lamborghini nut and to be a Lamborghini for life [employee]. Being here today may seem strange. It is possible, but it is part of my nature. It’s part of my character. Learn and be updated with my world, which was thus and which is now thus. Just be there.
I said, “Why not? I am still in love with cars and always in love with my work. I am still working on cars”, so I continue to live my passion and my love. Why not discover new things? Why not? I am respectful of this future and I left [Lamborghini] on the best [terms].
It is a very positive experience. Meet people. Learn, because it’s new to me. When I listen to the technician explain it to me, it makes sense. It’s related to the car. Electric or not, but it’s a car we’re talking about. I find it good. It’s a new world; we have to understand that there is a new world. Lamborghini is currently developing a limited number of cars which I think will be 10 or 12 cars [run] with a 12-cylinder engine but with additional electric motors. It brings the power from 780 to 800 hp. This is the direction. We have to learn.
There are still points where they need to be improved. Weight, batteries. It is a weakness. This is a point where there is a lot to do, but let’s say that even a car from 100 years ago was not a car compared to the modern car. It’s that kind of progress, we have to pay for it and take it.
The pleasure of driving an electric car: it’s a pleasure. Driving another car with a carburetor or with fuel injection, same power, less power, is a car. Is a nice feeling. Different feeling, different situation, but it’s always a pleasure. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself correctly, but a car is a car. It’s electric and I’m an old-fashioned guy, but I respect and agree with the future. I respect that.
MT: Does that sound like the future for you?
VB: It must be the future. You see, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari, they always keep the petrol engine as long as possible, whatever, but on the side, they develop [electrics]. They are now increasing each other. Lamborghini with the Sian: 800 horsepower, 700 petrol engine and 100 more horsepower with an additional electric motor. With electric vehicles, we are completely opposed. We have no compromises. It’s a way of seeing, going with a certain progression or going from zero to boom, EV.
MT: Do you think it will be difficult for companies like Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini to make this change when they have so much history and so much passion for the gasoline engine?
VB: You are right. This is another good question. Well, it will be difficult. It will probably be more difficult to change the mindset of users, but I am sure that the new generation, fortunately, is not so aware of the past. They will take it more easily. The transition is more difficult for us. Even if you are very young, you have lived what it was and you live what it will be. It’s always about finding the right balance, the right way to approach this kind of modern situation.
MT: Do you think young people in the future can have the same passion, the same kind of emotions for their cars that we had in the past for our gasoline cars?
VB: It is even more difficult to answer. I think the passion for automotive culture will always remain. I think that over the years, but many years to come, it will probably balance out, but at the beginning it is difficult. Too much contrast, too much culture. You know, time always helps to recover from previous injuries.
It’s a good question. I really do not know. I mean, from my point of view, I will always say, “Damn, I had the best time of my life.” I’m very lucky, but I’m sure people will also have fun driving this type of car, they will show a different way of approaching or seeing this situation. It’s a good question.
MT: Do you think it’s the same for racing?
VB: Races? For example, Formula 1 from the 50s and 60s. Wheels like that [skinny]. 200 miles per hour. Compared to a Formula 1 yesterday, I don’t mean today. Say yesterday. Whole wings, IT, electronics, we still love it. We still love Formula 1. We still love what it was 50, 60 years ago because you, I, are passionate about it. We are confident, say. New generation, when they finally see a movie or a video of a Formula 1 car with the guy in the glasses flying with driving, do they accept it or not? Do they think it’s a Formula 1?
We are the luckiest of this time of life because we know what we had and we respect what is coming. I think like that. Fortunately to have experienced this best of my life. I never thought I would be here to speak or judge or give an impression of electric vehicles. I thought about it a lot before taking this kind of engagement today, “Damn it, am I doing the right way? Am I saying the right things”, because I’m so respectful of that that I have done on my life and my consideration, but this is the future. Such is the future. If you see the scenes in a correct and correct way, this is the future. Lamborghini does the same. Ferrari does the same. Here we have an extreme. We have a total car, but history is history.
MT: Can you feel the same feelings about electric vehicles as petrol cars?
VB: You have to adapt to each car, to each different car, to its specific objective. Our attitude today is, driving as a professional, must match the car. Must immediately go into symbiosis to appreciate it. I have never found a car in my life where I say, “Oh, I will never drive this car again.” Each car makes you, gives you different feelings. I love it. I can’t say it’s bad or not. As long as you feel the push and the braking, it’s nice. The sound, well … Today, I mean, the concept is the same. The car is the same. What changes is the relationship we have to have with the sound, which is there or not. I don’t think it matters. I don’t think it matters. You feel the power. You are comfortable. You feel the wind. Okay, you don’t feel an engine, 8,000 rpm or 12,000 rpm, but ok, but you have other positive reactions.
MT: Many car enthusiasts complain that computers interfere with the driving experience. Let it break the connection between you and the car. Do you feel it?
VB: No no. I am always against this kind of opinion or feeling. Computer applications, we have ABS today. Let’s say it’s the simplest ABS electronic stability program. More than the same. We can avoid this. We can avoid these devices, but they are important.
MT: Do you like having so many commands to change the car or would you prefer the car to be configured in one direction and without rotary buttons, without playing with the buttons?
VB: Well, you know, being grown up with none of these things, I still love it, but I understand that with this kind of power, it can be useful for a normal driver to have this kind of opportunity to feel More relaxed. I think they are good in terms of, I don’t know if it’s okay to say, normal driver, but putting people at ease.
MT: There is another common complaint against electric power steering, as opposed to hydraulic power steering, that the electric system does not have the same feeling as the hydraulic system.
VB: Not really with me. Not really with me. I have driven many modern cars with electric power steering. Other cars with hydraulic power steering. Honestly, I think it’s more marketing and advertising than really affected. Trade and marketing are important. For me, electric or hydraulic makes no difference. I mean, the feeling behind the wheel, I never felt it … I can tell you that it’s electric and it’s hydraulic? Honestly not.
MT: What is your philosophy for evaluating cars? What are you looking for when you first get into a car? What is the test for you, whether it is a good car or not?
VB: Well, when I sit in a car for the first time, I’m always a little scared because I expect something different from [before], wait for a new experience and each time is something new. It’s something motivating to see, to feel different reactions or to feel different. I’m a little scared, I would say respectful.
I respect the car because I don’t know it. It’s completely the opposite of growing up with a business, growing up with a prototype, developing prototypes so that you know step by step. It’s easier. When I sit in a new car, it’s new technology. It’s not intimidating, but it’s something I want to learn. I am respectful of the car first and then slowly, slowly you appreciate and get on the car, which is good.
MT: Is there some behavior that you hope a car will have, something that you expect from a good car?
VB: I think my attitude is to familiarize myself and appreciate what the car does, what the car gives. Because each car has its temperament and its character. I don’t know which car is the best in the world, but that’s because I appreciate each car and its character. I think about it a lot.