No. 942
April 18, 2018
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Tuesday
Mar122013

Add lightness.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. Last week a $3.9 million Lamborghini Veneno (one of three) appeared at the Geneva Motor Show, as did a million-dollar, almost 1,000-horsepower Ferrari, with the ridiculous name of “La Ferrari” (if this is THE Ferrari, what comes next?), and a $900,000 McLaren P1 with 900+ horsepower. Supercars with 0-60mph times of three seconds, or less. Top speeds comfortably over 200 mph. And these vehicles represent just the tip of the suddenly flush global supercar segment.

Part of me says that more horsepower and more speed is a good thing and for those who can afford to indulge, then so be it. Exotic supercars bristle with advanced technological developments in materials, aerodynamics, hybrid systems, powertrains, suspension, brakes, tires, lighting, etc., many of which eventually end up finding their way into our mainstream cars in some way, shape or form down the road.

So from that perspective manufacturers pushing the envelope with these fantastic machines are not just engaging in a vanity exercise, they’re exploring next technologies in demonstrative ways.

But then again part of me is extremely disappointed with what’s going on.

We are now entering a Twilight Zone of million-dollar, 1,000HP machines that are able to deliver speed and performance far beyond the capabilities of 99 percent of the drivers who end up owning them. And for what, exactly? So they can have a memorable arrival at Prime One Twelve in Miami Beach? Sadly, that’s exactly what most of these machines end up being used for, as supercar show ponies for the more-money-than-sense crowd.

That said I think it’s time for a new idea. I believe that the manufacturers should be pushing the supercar envelope in a more futuristic direction, because the fact of the matter is that any manufacturer can throw money at a supercar program and dial up a jaw-dropping performer. If a manufacturer has a target retail price of $850,000 to $2 million, it can put ingredients into a hopper and come up with a 1,000HP monster that would rearrange a driver’s facial structure every time he or she put their foot in it.

But is it the smart thing to do?

At this juncture I would argue, no, because I believe manufacturers need to resolve the high-performance equation in a different way. In short, I’m calling for a redefinition of what a supercar should be.

As I said, manufacturers are perfectly capable of throwing vast quantities of money around to develop a supercar. But what if, instead of the coterie of $1 million supercars we’re seeing now, we had a new wave of supercars designed around the elegant simplicity of an advantageous power-to-weight ratio?

“Simplify, then add lightness,” famed Lotus designer Colin Chapman once said. Known for his visionary racing and street car designs, Chapman exploited the concept of an advantageous power-to-weight ratio time and time again, often resulting in brilliantly innovative – and winning - solutions that made history.

A supercar based on the concept of exploiting an advantageous power-to-weight ratio would do wonders to advance the cause of our future mainstream automobiles. And even though the current supercar manufacturers can point to the strides made in reducing the weight of these new high-performance machines – especially McLaren – the fact remains that redefining the concept entirely would result in even more gains.

Let’s take power, for instance. Instead of the usual gamut of V6s, V8s and V12s, I’d like to see these next wave ultra-high-performance machines powered by smaller displacement 3- and 4-cylinder engines of no more than 2.0-liters delivering 300-350HP. With that – and thanks to their lightweight (2100 lbs.) specification target - these machines could deliver blistering performance close to the current stable of ultimate supercars, while using demonstrably less fuel.

Redefining the supercar equation would allow auto manufacturers to translate lessons learned from these radical next-think supercars to the vehicles we will eventually drive too. Imagine the average 4,000-lb. luxury sedan weighing in at 3,000 lbs. Or a crossover that formerly weighed 5,000 lbs., tilting the scales at just 3,500 lbs.

Ask any automotive engineer of any stripe and he or she will tell you that exploiting an advantageous power-to-weight ratio will be the key to meeting the aggressive future fuel mileage standards as established by the EPA, while maintaining a modicum of acceptable performance. That last phrase is key by the way because it’s one thing to meet future mileage standards, but it’s quite another to deliver machines that are actually fun to drive while doing so. High-mileage cars that meet the new standards but that can’t get out of their own way will never be the answer. Consumers won’t buy them, period.

What could manufacturers do while aiming to do an ultra-light supercar? Let’s take Honda, for instance. Much has been made of the new Acura NSX sports car coming in 2015 but I can only imagine what that car would have been like had Honda really gone for it and had made an even more radical statement in terms of pursuing an ultra-lightweight architecture. Don’t get me wrong, because the new NSX certainly looks to be a worthy effort, but I expected Honda to push more and to deliver more, so a more radical, super lightweight NSX would have been just what the company needed to underline its stated and ongoing mission of recapturing its mojo.

And how intriguing would a next-think Corvette supercar from GM be with a radically lightweight architecture? Or how about a super lightweight take on a new Ford GT by Ford? As a matter of fact the two remaining domestic manufacturers would be ideal candidates to redefine the supercar concept, and they have just as legitimate an opportunity to do so as any other manufacturer.

But that would not only take real vision, it would take the guts to execute to that vision and, of course, the cash investment to pull it off. Then again there’s more to it than that. There has to be an ingrained philosophy within a company that truly rewards pushing the envelope. An environment that is comfortable in going where others fear to go. To zig while the others zag.

And it requires more than just the True Believers in a company in order to do those things. It requires a fundamental understanding and desire at the very top of the company in order to compete, especially when it comes to the business of building radical, lightweight supercars.

(I will say one thing about the current manufacturers of supercars that deserves applause, and that is that their corporate philosophies clearly recognize that pushing the envelope doesn’t pertain to an occasional product program, but to the way they conduct business on a daily basis. That remains a fundamental difference between the auto companies that are switched on, and everyone else.)

In saying that, I’m reminded that once upon a time in this nation the pursuit of speed was a noble quest. Whether it was soaring into cobalt blue skies to record-breaking heights or racing through the 200-mph barrier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, America was on an upward trajectory and the notion of going faster, higher and longer filled a need for a nation hungry to push the envelope and to well… just go for it.

We were a nation of blue-sky dreamers where “no limits” and “everything all the time” was part of the deal. And it fit the American spirit perfectly.

And then things got weird.

We collectively headed down the slippery slope of average in just about everything. The idea of pushing the envelope, taking it to the limit and striving for excellence was too often abandoned in favor of a pathetic lament of “well, at least you tried” – resulting in a numbing cadence of underachievement that stifled and shrouded the once-exuberant American spirit in a dense fog of mediocrity.

Especially when it came to building cars.

And it has taken the U.S. automobile industry years to right itself and get back on track after decades of mediocrity (punctuated by a few shining beacons of hope along the way, of course).

So why couldn’t now be a perfect time for the two remaining American-owned car companies to enter an arena dazzled by million-dollar, 1,000HP, 200mph+ wonder sleds with a brand-new idea for a lightweight supercar that redefines the notion of what a supercar is and can be once and for all?

Light, razor sharp, fast and efficient supercars bristling with bright ideas and new perspectives. In short, concepts that push the boundaries of thought and take the idea of a “supercar” in an entirely new and radical direction.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see one of The Last Two just go for it and shake up the supercar world once and for all?

Add lightness indeed.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

 

Editor-in-Chief's Note: Re-imagining the supercar? James Glickenhaus is doing it right now. The man behind the modern day Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina sent the following note to us (see below). We can't wait to see the finished product. - PMD

Our next road car adventure has begun. Our next one-off will be along the lines you talk about.

Our goals are 1600lb, Twin-Turbo V6 with about 500HP, much simpler and a very beautiful "Three Wing" design where the three wings are integrated into the shape. The cockpit and door's operation will be a bit like the Modulo (concept car).

This one will be a lot smaller; about the size of a Dino Competizione vs. the Ferrari P 4/5 by Pininfarina.

Carbon fiber chassis and body.

SCG (Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus) will be the constructor and its name is P 33.

We plan to unveil it at Geneva in 2015.


James Glickenhaus
New York, New York