Lamborghini has long held a reputation for creating abstract and flamboyant supercars capable of stunning passers-by wherever they go. It was therefore a bit of a shock when the supercar manufacturer announced that it was going to introduce a super SUV to its lineup. What were executives thinking? What would Ferruccio think?
The Lamborghini Urus, first seen in concept form at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show, is not the first car that Lamborghini has tried to enter into the lucrative SUV market. Cast your mind back to the late ’80s, and you will possibly remember the LM002, Lamborghini’s first ever production SUV. Based upon a failed attempt to build a military vehicle called the Cheetah for the U.S. government, it used the beastly V-12 engine from the iconic Countach and was in production through 1993.
Although the Urus concept initially divided opinion, Lamborghini decided to press ahead with a major shakeup of its lineup—and an even bigger change to its manufacturing plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese. We went along to take a peek at the brand new factory and, of course, its new SUV.
The world premiere of the Urus was a big event for Lamborghini and for Italy as a whole. As I sat among the Italian prime minister and other dignitaries in the new Urus factory, the lights dimmed and an impressive light show commenced. Not just any light show but an amalgamation of people dancing with tube lights and robot arms spinning TV screens. It was all a bit avant garde, but hey, it was a Lamborghini launch. As the light show drew to an end, a strong odour of burning oil and raw gasoline filled the auditorium. Then a striking silhouette emerged from a screen of smoke. It was an LM002.
From a side profile, it is incredibly bulky. Almost as if it were designed with only right angles in mind. It’s masculine and purposeful, designed as such because of its origins as a military vehicle.
It was no shock then—when the Urus emerged from the fog in close succession—that I could make out some tell-tale LM002 features and even some Aventador characteristics. This is intentional, of course. The head of design for the Urus told me with great passion that the car is designed with the LM002 in mind, and the trademark Lamborghini “three lines” that are at the heart of each Lamborghini produced. The hood has two creases down the length of it in typical raging bull fashion, and the nose contains the symbolic pointed tip above the shield.
Compare the side profiles of the LM002 and the Urus, and you immediately see the wheel arches share the same inspiration. The use of plastics for the arch mouldings is unconventional for a high price SUV, but it seems to work.
Grasp the door handle of the Urus and nothing special happens. The iconic scissor doors are reserved for V-12 Lambos only. However, when inside you will see shapes similarly found on the flagship Aventador. The air vents use the same outline of the Aventador’s exhaust tip, and the repeated epsilon pattern synonymous with all new Lamborghini is used throughout.
One standout interior feature is the new Tamburo system. This is the drive-select system that gives you the option to scale through various terrain response maps. The standard Lamborghini Strada, Sport, and Corsa modes are joined by Neve (snow) and Terra (off-road). The way you select these is by using switches that are inspired by a commercial airliner’s engine controls. The Tamburo switches and the fighter pilot-inspired engine start button certainly give you the feel of being in a cockpit.
The new Urus factory is a remarkably fascinating place. The new building uses the same production line strategies as the old Huracán and Aventador facilities, but with today’s most advanced manufacturing technologies. Throughout the evening, Lamborghini was keen to get across that its new production facility is designed to make the most of a harmonious marriage of robot and man working in unison. Is this just marketing spiel, or does it actually work? I was keen to find out.
The 4.5-acre compound has doubled Lamborghini’s size and is currently set up to output 23 Urus per day, but sources in the factory told me they could ramp this up quite easily if needed. There are two shifts of workers, each equipped with a personal RFID wrist band to log into each system and who work in pairs at 23 separate stations.
An Urus begins life as a freshly painted chassis brought in to the factory from an external supplier. This bare-frame chassis rolls on to the new line atop a fully autonomous mobile platform called an AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle). Each of the 32 AGVs can move in all six axes and are aware of their location in the factory by using LIDAR sensors in each four corners, visually mapping its surroundings using robot eyes. The AGVs carry chassis to each assembly station where two Lamborghini workers append parts to the car in strict 35-minute windows.
Not only do Lamborghini’s autonomous robots transport the car around to each assembly station, they actually work alongside them. At the station responsible for lowering the body on to a pre-assembled rolling powertrain, another autonomous robot circles the freshly arrived AGV, touching the chassis in a number of areas. This is enough information for the robot to know where it is and where the chassis is to millimeter accuracy. It then scoots around the chassis and tightens each chassis bolt to precise torque levels, all the while mapping the location of the squishy Lamborghini workers to avoid any collisions.
Skip forward four stations and you find TireBot, which wouldn’t look out of place on a NASA mission. This robot carries wheels from a storage rack to each corner of the car. It then lifts and aligns the wheel with the bolt holes, putting it in position for the human worker to finish by tightening with an impact wrench. When we consider that the Urus can be specified to have huge 23-inch rims, this will save the worker a lot of backache over a working day.
Once the car arrives at the final assembly station, it can roll off its AGV robot companion and the 4.0-liter V-8 engine can be fired into life. The now-complete Urus is then transferred to the final line in the new building, where every imaginable quality test is undertaken.
The first test station is responsible for wheel alignment and calibration of the wealth of on-board driver assistance systems, from radar to camera components. The Urus is then wheeled on to a chassis dynamometer, where the car is driven through a test cycle that takes the car up to precisely 87 mph, performing braking tests at regular intervals.
All of these processes are vastly dissimilar to the existing Huracán and Aventador production lines. Although they use the same philosophy of a moving production line and strict windows to install parts, the old factory has no autonomous or even mobile robots. The few robots that are in use are bolted to the floor and have very specific degrees of freedom. The autonomous nature of the Urus line lends itself nicely to a more flexible working environment and easier production.
Once the Urus has completed all of the indoor quality tests, it is then sent out on a road test for final verification.
Although looks are completely subjective, I think that it’s safe to say that the Urus certainly stands out from the likes of the Bentley Bentayga and Range Rover. The jagged lines and typical Lamborghini flare make for an SUV with the presence of a supercar, the performance to match, and the everyday usability of a conventional SUV. You can’t argue with the facts, either—the Urus is the lowest SUV on the market, offers the lowest seating position, and is the fastest. For those facts alone it gets my seal of approval.
Lamborghini strongly pushed their new manufacturing processes, talking of the harmonization of human and robot interaction, and although it sounds like marketing spiel on paper, having meandered through the factory observing the manufacturing line, it actually works. The unity of man and machine is tangible, and the advanced robotics such as TireBot and AGVs are amazing to observe in action. Will any of this autonomous tech end up in a production Lamborghini? Probably not, that’s not what they are all about.
Let’s hope that the additional cash flow realized from the inevitable full order book for Urus models will feed into the development of the next hypercar from one of our favorite car manufacturers.