By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Maranello, Italy
Apuan alpine roads have inspired Italian car makers for decades
The drive across Italy's spectacular Apuan Alps in a cheap and cheerful Fiat brings about an almost intuitive understanding of the evolution of the Italian sportscar.
The climb through hairpin bends, up and beyond the picturesque villages that cling to the steep hillsides, creates a desire for a car with a bit more oomph. Would it not be nice to have an engine that rumbled rather than whined?
Coming down the other side of the mountain, the sound of squealing tyres drowns out the sound of muttered prayers for carbon brakes and a stiffer suspension.
Eventually, the hills slope down onto the plains of Italy's industrial heartland, where such driving emotion has been merged with gritty engineering and a dash of flamboyant Italian design.
Forget the charms of Tuscany or the hustle and bustle of Rome. This is where the world's car enthusiasts flock to live out their dreams.
Slow growth, fast cars
The Emilia-Romagna region is home to an impressive array of some of the world's most coveted marques: De Tomaso and Pagani, Bugatti and Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrari.
Yet enter the industrial town of Maranello, where Ferrari builds cars, and there is nothing ostentatious about the main piazza.
Bored youths lean back in their chairs outside the local pizzeria, sipping espressos under the patio heaters. Inside, a couple of workers are quietly tucking into their pasta dishes, tired after a day's work in the factory.
But there is no doubt that Ferrari's workers are proud of their jobs. Union representative Renzo Ferri describes the company as "a national asset", and the company has been voted the best place to work in Europe year after year.
For decades, the cars have been rolling off the assembly line at a leisurely, almost soothing, pace that has long belied the company's true potential. A decade ago, Ferrari produced no more than 4,000 cars per year and its desire for exclusivity meant it had little desire to pick up the pace.
In 1999, Ferrari's president, Luca di Montezemolo, promised never to raise production above the 5,000 mark, as part of a strategic decision to boost the cars' desirability by maintaining long waiting lists.
The problem is, the strategy has worked a bit too well. At the moment customers have to wait 15 months before they get their car, or two years for some of the latest models.
In short, demand has shot up, fuelled in part by an ever-wider array of models that are both more reliable and more comfortable than Ferraris of the past.
"In a modern Ferrari, you can drive all day," grins spokeswoman Mariella Mengozzi, during a tour of the factory.
Yet the main expansion of Ferrari's customer base has been geographical. Soaring demand from China and other Asian countries, from the Middle East and from Russia has forced the company to respond by dramatically raising production levels.
"To keep our market share we need to increase volume," explains Ms Mengozzi.
So during the last five years, Ferrari sales have been growing hugely. By the end of 2007 more than 6,000 cars will have been sold - representing a rise of some 50% since 2002
Nevertheless, stresses Ms Mengozzi, "our market share is still the same, if not lower, as the market has increased". Besides, the numbers are still sufficiently low to prevent Ferraris from being common sights on the road.
Being common, or even worse being dull, are Ferrari's greatest fears.
Mollifying such fears at a time when carmakers everywhere are facing stricter environmental and safety regulation is becoming trickier.
Ferrari's wind tunnel helps make its cars more streamlined
In essence, Ferrari has three categories of customers. There are the petrol-heads who are passionate about performance and racing, the flamboyant ones who love the cars' head-turning design, and the collectors who often enjoy both.
All the categories overlap to some extent, of course, so the erosion of any of Ferrari's core values could drive them all away.
Nevertheless, Ferrari has decided to have a go at meeting the mounting challenges posed by global warming.
"Five years from now," exclaims Ferrari's managing director, Amedo Felisa, "Ferraris will emit 30% less carbon dioxide than they do today."
Key to this goal is Ferrari's wind tunnel, which curves proudly into the air at the edge of its Maranello site, here to enhance performance and improve efficiency.
It is a clear hint at the way Ferrari's managers are changing their philosophy. Another sign is that the bosses recently gave the green light to the Ferrari 599, a car that has been designed with a keen eye on emissions and fuel consumption.
"We want to keep the exclusivity and the characteristics of our cars, which is driving performance, but we also want to follow this global mega trend," explains Mr Felisa.
Obviously, much improvement will come from wizardry by Ferrari's clever engineers and designers. And yet, sharp cuts in carbon emissions rarely come without some form of sacrifice, so Ferrari has pumped up its marketing machine to soften the blow.
Raising production levels is not without risks
Firstly, it is putting great emphasis on the way it delivers variety.
Its cars come in 16 standard colours, not just red, and customers can chose between different coloured seats and between different types of brakes.
There is even a range of Ferrari badges on offer depending on tastes and allegiances.
This year the company launched a financial services division that assists customers who want to buy its cars with loans and insurance arrangements.
"This is a real marketing tool, a customer relations tool," says Ms Mengozzi. "We can sit down with them and understand what they are willing to do."
Ferrari is also working to maintain the cars' second-hand value. It is closely involved with owners' clubs around the world and constantly tries to welcome new Ferrari owners into "the family".
Moreover, last year it launched its classic car department in Maranello, where cars are restored and certified, thus helping to ensure Ferraris stay on the road for many years. Some 90,000 of the 120,000 cars made since Ferrari was founded 60 years ago are still on the road.
The company hopes that today's second-hand Ferrari owner will be ordering new Ferraris in the future.
"Often their next car will be a new car", Ms Mengozzi points out.