The long and diversifying road

Josh Sims explores the detour Italian car manufacturers are taking through brand licensing


It has 1TB of solid state storage, the largest for a laptop on the market so far. It has a speed key to turbo-boost its CPU performance. And, being a computer, it performs in a way that would put an Italian sports car’s acceleration to shame. But then, there is a bit of the Italian in it. The VX5 laptop, launched this year, is made by Asus in a somehow unlikely brand collaboration with Lamborghini.

Unlikely perhaps, but no longer unusual for the more prestigious Italian car-makers. Last year saw the launch of a £10,000 platinumcoated aluminium fountain pen with a pioneering mechanical double closure system, made by the Italian pen company Ferrari da Varese not for its namesake but for Bugatti.

As for Ferrari itself, it has led the way in turning its brand into a business for non-auto products - from coffee machines to carbon chess sets - worth some £37 million profit last year, with a global programme of shop openings under way.

Perhaps some of the German car giants might be able to pull off such impressive “brand stretch” as it is known in marketing circles: last year Audi became the first car-maker to show at the International Toy Fair, with a kids’ 1:2 scale version of its Silver Arrow racing car.

But the appeal of the Italian star names is such that a whole side industry is growing up around them to cater with licensed and unlicensed products alike both to those with small chance of ever owning one of their cars, but also to those with the income to indulge in their romance.

“Italian car brands not only seem to inspire a love that means people want to buy around the core product, they are now luxury brands in their own right,” says Ivan Ferrari, who developed the pen for Bugatti. “They have the same kind of aura that appeals to other luxury brands too.”

And, it seems, the same kind of reach into the diverse corners of our lives. Look beneath the rear of a go-getting executive and there you might find a seat from Racechairs, a company that makes £5,000 executive chairs from the authentic seating parts of Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Maseratis.

Look to his wall and you may see some original artwork from Cultwork, a company that puts together impressive oils celebrating Alfa Romeo and Ducati. Look to a shirt-sleeve and there you might find a trinket from new company GTO London, whose cuff-links are made from what it calls RFM, or Real Ferrari Metal, each link made from parts salvaged from a vintage Ferrari.

Each, as GTO London founder Victoria Lyon puts it, reflects the fact that the Italian car companies have become “global household names, with demand to match”, but also the unique attitude that has allowed those names to become so powerful in the first place. “Italians are simply passionate about their car brands in a way other nations aren’t about their own,” she says. “Italy is a car culture and sees that as part of its history as a producer of crafted luxury goods.”

We could drink to that, ironically perhaps, given that excess limoncello and the autostrada are not recommended. To help start the celebrations, we might turn to Italian winemakers Scrimaglio. After all, they make special edition tasty whites and reds for the likes of Alfa Romeo, Lancia and latterly Maserati, each presented in collectable bottles shaped like their signature grilles.