By Hershey Pascual
Ralph Debbas is a bit of an enigma. He was raised in Lebanon, from a family of industrialists. At a very young age, he grew up around entrepreneurship and family businesses, so perhaps creating a business for himself felt very natural to him. He’s been nominated as one the top 10 most successful entrepreneurs in the Gulf area. He’s the founder of W Motors S.A.L, launched in 2012. He’s the man that designed the first Lebanese supercar worth US $3.4 million and he introduced it to the world as the Lykan HyperSport, back in 2013. And to think, the first car he owned was a Smart car, which shows his humble and practical sensibilities. His ‘baby,’ the Lykan HyperSport, was in fact the first Arabian high performance luxury sports car that has ever existed. A true pioneer project in the region; and to make it even more majestic, he launched it in his mid-20s.
Now, at 28 years old, he is the chairman and CEO of W Motors Holding. It took him eight years to build the company. He’s clearly a man with direction and foresight, determination and strength. When I asked him what’s the biggest lesson he’s ever learnt, he replied: “Never give up, that is the most important thing and always follow your dreams.”
I wasn’t surprised to see an impeccably refined man, sophisticated in appearance. Debbas oozed natural confidence and self-assurance but he was quiet in many ways, yet very informative. It was as if he was a great observer and listener. Perhaps that is what makes him a good innovator in design and technology; he observes and listens carefully, then creates. He is finely tuned (like his cars), intelligent, polite, articulate, fast-thinking, charming, aware and alert. So much so that he could even see who was touching his display cars at the show, whilst being interviewed, at the corner of his eye. It’s not often I meet men that can multitask. He obviously can. The world would be a better place if all men could. No wonder he is on top of his game. I can’t help but feel it all stems from his passion, which I’ve learnt is the key to success.
Before I even meet Debbas, I was curious to know who he really was – in all levels. I naturally wanted to dig deep in his mind to figure out how smart and intelligent he is to be such a pioneer; but I also wanted to touch on his great way of thinking, his inspirations, to understand his persona and to figure out if there was more to him than meets the eye.
Our meeting lasted barely thirty minutes (as the man was in so much demand during our interview) at The Dubai International Motor Show, with several Royal Emirati families and Sheikhs all wanting a piece of him at the same time as I did. The dude could hardly cut himself in two. After the stifled interview because of the Royal Emirati’s, the people around us wanting to speak to him and the stopping and the starting of my record button, I probably only gathered at least 10 per cent of the knowledge I wanted to accumulate from the man himself.
When I asked him what struggles he has faced as a CEO to a new company, he replied: “I’m young so people might think we are messing around but my role as a CEO of a company has become internationally recognised; it is a very important role and people respect it. They have seen the vision that it has become and what I have achieved so far, so I think it speaks for itself.” His eyes smile, and he laughs coyly to himself, as if visions of his struggle and success flash before his eyes as he chuckles. This man has done a lot in the automotive industry – in just a few years. He has achieved a great deal and his hard work speaks volumes. Age is nothing when it comes to wisdom and experience.
How did you get to where you are today? Is this the dream job that you’ve always wanted?
Of course, yes it is my dream to be doing what I am doing. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was young kid. I studied this in England where I studied automotive design and engineering and I took it from there. So it has come from a dream to a reality with eight years of development setting up the whole company. I’ve always known what I wanted to do since I was a kid; so making it happen, living a dream is exactly what I am doing right now.
I studied economics then pursued a degree in design at the Lebanese American University and I continued higher education in England studying automotive design at Coventry University School of Art and Design. I took this passion and turned the design part into the business side and I built this incredible company that it is today. It took eight years to build this.
Approximately, in 2006 we started the development of this company, the brand and making the cars. In 2013, we launched the first car the Lykan HyperSport prototype and by the end of 2014 we finalised the first production series of the Lykan HyperSport. Today we just launched the second model the new Fenyr SuperSport, so we are growing the company very fast.
Do you have a personal favourite car and why is it so special to you?
The Lykan HyperSport is my favourite car. It’s my first baby so I can consider it part of the family. Having this car here today (even though many cars are around and even though we might be creating even more beautiful cars in the future) means a lot. The Lykan HyperSport will always be very special to us, as the family that worked on it, and all the people who have put their expertise towards building and making this model, which is over 100 people. It took years and years to make this happen, through very difficult times, through matters of funding, engineering and development; and at the end we all did it. We put it together so this car will always be very special to me.
How many cars do you have now and which one do you drive regularly?
I have a few cars. The one I drive regularly is an Audi A8 which I find very comfortable for my daily use and I drive the Lykan HyperSport during the weekends which is my fun car to drive.
Ralph, you are the man behind the Furious 7 cars. How many were made?
They were all different but we made 10 just for the movie alone but they were not commercialised and not officialised. From the Lykan HyperSport there are seven cars only made in the world. Six were sold globally and there’s only one left that is still available and also the zero model, which you see here, at The Dubai International Motor Show is the company car that is not for sale.
There are only seven Lyken HyperSport which is why we produced the Fenyr SuperSport which costs US $1.8 million. We have produced 25 per year so we are talking about 100 cars in the next four to five years compared to seven of the Lykan’s only made in history.
What special features do the cars have? What makes the cars unique from a design and technology stand point?
The Lykan HyperSport 2013 comes with a 750 horsepower engine. It can reach a top speed of 390 kph and can accelerate from 0 to 100 kph in just 2.8 seconds. It comes equipped with diamond-encrusted LED lights, a reverse door opening system, a state-of-the-art 3D Virtual Holographic Display with Tactile Interaction, an innovative ID4Motion Interactive Dashboard, and gold-stitched interior leather.
It’s based on exclusivity and luxury. It’s a collectors item. It’s a masterpiece. You can see the way the doors open from the back, it’s the first car in the world to ever have that. It’s got a connected concierge service too. It is a unique piece of lifestyle and a unique machine for collectors.
The new Fenyr SuperSport is the latest addition to the W Motors line of models focusing purely on performance, power and speed. The performance is super powerful even faster than the Lykan but you don’t have all the luxury items and exclusivity that you find in the Lykan. However, the Fenyr powered by a specially made RUF engine, will deliver 1,000 HP plus with incredible performances and capabilities. The carbon fibre masterpiece perfectly balances advanced aerodynamics engineering with the aggressive W Motors aesthetics conceived by the W Motors internal design team.
It’s powered by a custom made flat six cylinder, 4.0L twin turbo, mid-rear engine produced by RUF Automobile in Germany, along with a 7 speed double clutch gearbox, delivering from 900 hp and 1200 NM of torque for extreme performances achieving 0 to 100km/h in less than 2.7 seconds and a top speed exceeding 400km/h. Also contributing to performance improvements, the whole car-body is crafted out of carbon fibre and complimented by a tubular light-weight aluminium chassis. It was brought to life in collaboration with a plethora of renowned international technical partners including notorious engineering firms Magna Steyr Italy and RUF Automobile Germany. It’s produced at a much bigger number than the Lykan and the price is lower. Fenyr SuperSport orders have been starting since today. I think it will do very well. It’s beautiful and lots of attention has been coming to it so hopefully it will do better than we expected.
How long did it take to design from start to finish?
To design a car takes about four to six years because there’s a lot of evolution to make sure it is worthy to be produced in real life.
What has been the reception to a new supercar from a start up with no history in the business?
People were sceptical in the beginning. People criticised yet the more you prove yourself the more they follow you. Thankfully today, W Motors is a young company but not so young anymore. We proved many times over what we have done. We have past many milestones and people now look up to us and what we have done, especially the region here; they are proud of the achievement and internationally people know what we are capable of doing, and the journey keeps on going. We’ve officially become an international company which is really important and we have many more cars to come in the future.
What made you choose to take on such a risky and expensive project?
It’s a passion and it’s a dream. If you don’t have any risks to take then life is not worth living. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do and as long you do it with passion then it’s always going to succeed.
Did you encounter any significant issues in development and getting the car into production?
Building such a car is always going to be difficult. You are talking about regulation, to make it road legal, to make sure that such a level of car is not only a small kit car but on an international level. There were many obstacles; however, we are working with many big multinational companies that have helped us to make this happen. They gave us credibility and made sure that the process was as smooth as possible.
Where are your cars produced?
Our factory is based in Torino Italy, for the past 8 years now. We are actually in the process of moving the factory from Italy to Dubai which will be ready by next year in Jebel Ali. This will be the first production facility in the Middle East to produce such cars. We are expanding the company locally with the construction of a new production and assembly facility thereby creating a new industry with new job opportunities.
Who would you say is the typical buyer of a Fenyr SuperSport?
Mostly car collectors and businessmen. Maybe they are young but not too young. Perhaps they are in their late 30s or 40s. They are well established people; always a number one or two of each country that know what to do with their money and appreciate cars, of course. They aren’t buying it for the image but they are buying it to drive the cars.
Do you think, generally, customers in the Middle East are more into cars compared to others globally?
That’s not true. The US is the biggest importer of luxury cars in the world. China is one of the top markets and Japan too. People are focused on the Middle East because they think people have money and are spending money here but that’s not true. People love spending money on flashy cars; however people are educated when it comes to cars so they know what they are buying. But the biggest markets are North America and Asia.
Customers in the Middle East have always been important customers for supercar brands. Do you think that they are an important customer for the success of a homegrown supercar brand or are you also focusing on American, Asian and European customers?
We are looking at all customers. We have our dealership in Miami, China, Africa, North and Latin America, We are all around the world. Our target is to have this brand as a global brand. Even though we are based in the Middle East it doesn’t mean it’s our biggest market but we have to be based here to show the people what we are doing then we are expanding from here. But I’m certain the SuperSport will have a big market in the Middle East, for sure.
Were you influenced by any of the classic supercar marques?
Yes and no. Our biggest inspiration comes from the Gandini generation of automotive design house Gruppo Bertone, including his design of the Lamborghini Countach and Lamborghini’s Miura. Our designers and myself were always inspired by this generation of the ‘70s and the beginning of the ‘80s and hopefully we will be the reference of the future cars to come.
Why are cars so important to you?
Everyone has their own passion. My babies here are mine and I want to keep on pushing not only the cars but the whole industry for the region. I want to bring something new and something different and I think we are on the right track for that.
What have been the highlights in your career?
Achieving what we have achieved. Making a success of the Lykan HyperSport, gathering international recognition and exposure. Showcasing at international events and motor shows in Pebble Beach California, Miami, Shanghai, Dubai, Kuwait, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Monaco, China and USA. And launching a second car today is the biggest achievement. This is a big step for things to come.
Do you think you’ll ever design flying cars?
No. Maybe in 50 years but not as close as we think. Flying cars need more study in matters of infrastructure, engineering and implementing cost and price. Today cars will always role on four wheels for at least the next 20 to 30 years, for sure. People want the thrill to drive not the thrill to fly a car. We will always have driving cars.
What’s in the pipeline for the future? What are the plans for the company?
We are expanding our production line from two cars (seen here at The Dubai International Motor Show) to a third, coming out next year. They will be SUVs and a hundred cars will be produced per year with a price tag lower than a million AED. That’s US $300,000. We are in the process of building our own production company here in Dubai. We are moving everything from Torino in Italy to Dubai in the UAE which will be the first supercar manufacturing company in history based in the Middle East. Then we are expanding it into an educational centre. The W academy of art will teach people how to design and how to build supercars from start to finish.