The Future of Supercars, the environment and ICE

A source of soul - The Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)

When thinking about what makes a Supercar, or indeed why we love Supercars, there are many factors that both consciously and subconsciously combine to colour our judgement and preferences. The importance we each place upon those factors can vary widely, but an enduring and consistent allure is whether the car has ‘Soul’. The degree to which a car possesses this, and from what it is derived is a subject for another day, but one vital ingredient is the power plant; the very heart of the car, and hitherto, the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). For enthusiasts the way a machine sounds, vibrates, smells and breathes imbue it with personality. Starting the engine is an event, and even at idle it hints at what is to come. My other passion and day job is aviation, and here again, how many times are the engines referenced when dewy eyed enthusiasts wax lyrical over their favourite aircraft (think Rolls Royce Merlin for example). It is universally felt and understood.

Environmental New Car Legislation intervenes

So where does this leave us in light of the recent announcement by the U.K. Government that from 2030 the sale of New petrol and diesel engines cars will be banned? What will this mean for Supercars, their development, their soul, indeed their very existence. These are very important questions for enthusiasts, prospective Supercar purchasers and for us here at Kingsberg.

The U.K. has placed itself as a world leader and certainly fastest of the G7 in its aim to achieve decarbonisation. It proposes a two-step process:

  • Step 1: Phase-out of all new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030.
  • Step 2: All new cars to have zero emissions at the tailpipe by 2035.

To clarify, this means that from 2030 cars must be at least hybrid (plug-in or full), and from 2035, fully electric or another source of zero emission power. On the face of it the Government seem committed, and have pledged billions to support the infrastructure and creation of jobs in the electric vehicle industry. Of course the winds of change blow strong in politics, but assuming a continued enthusiasm, is it achievable?

Hybrid Supercar; Ferrari SF90 Stradale. Courtesy of Ferrari Media.

ICE on the rocks. Is it the end of the Internal Combustion Engine?

Even pre-COVID it is indeed ambitious. In the U.K. we don’t even replace 10% of our cars yearly, so a complete transition could take more than 15 years, even without consideration being given to people’s ability to afford what will initially be more expensive technology. Post COVID finances may dictate an extension of step 1, whilst the ‘second step hybrid buffer’ of five years offers government further ability to extend and be flexible.

The upshot therefore is that the Internal Combustion engine, (albeit very often likely to be attached to an electric motor system) will be around for many decades yet. Allied to pre-legislation pure ICE vehicles existing under some ‘Classic’ status we will see soulful petrol Supercars around for some decades to come. So should you still consider buying a full ICE Supercar right now? Most certainly yes.

V12 Petrol Power Lamborghini Aventador SVJ. Courtesy of Lamborghini Media.

Of course, the 2030 phase-out plan also relies on manufacturers either being in a position to offer a fully hybrid/electric product range, or indeed choosing to. Bentley has boldly stated it will abandon ICE by 2030, however many manufacturers have yet to be convinced that ultimately all-electric vehicles are the future. This may not surprise coming from a Supercar manufacturer, but even more mainstream companies such as Honda share this view. They believe ‘efficiency’ should be our goal, and that all-electric does not offer this as yet, remaining a false goal. Given that petrol is over 10 times more energy dense than our current batteries, the inclusion of ICE in a hybrid set up would support this.

Hybrid Supercar - Best of both worlds?

How then does this translate into a ‘performance car’ setting, and where does this leave our ‘soulful’ Supercar? In fact hybrid Supercars have been around since 2013, with superb initial offerings from McLaren (P1), Porsche (918), and Ferrari (La Ferrari) amongst others. Let’s start at what is perhaps an obvious measure, Ferrari.

The crucible that is Maranello, are steadfast in their support of ICE, as you might expect. CEO Louis Camilleri has expressed that 100% electric is “pushing things” and that he really doesn’t “see Ferrari ever being at 100 percent EV (electric vehicle), and certainly not in my lifetime will reach even 50 percent.” So this is good news for the ICE brigade, but do not confuse it with an old school mentality. With the La Ferrari the legendary manufacturer demonstrated that in looking forward they still remained true to their ethos and DNA. Futuristic F1 technology was blended with traditional values, and similarly this has remained so with the SF90 Stradale, the current hybrid offering.

Vehicle batteries, a weighty issue

Performance of the SF90 is shattering, handling is scalpel sharp. Stefano Varisco, Head of Dynamics enthuses that “you don’t feel the complexity”, and this illustrates that the ‘goal of soul’ has not been cast aside in the pursuit of technological one-upmanship. That said, despite the car being a complete triumph in its blend of technological eras (it truly is), there is an undeniable layer between the man and machine.

Part of this hybrid conundrum is weight, although surely this will improve over time. The SF90 battery for example weighs 72kg, to which motors and associated components are added, bringing the dry weight alone up to 1680kg, a full 250kg more than an F8 Tributo.

As Lotus founder Colin Chapman said, “adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” It is this dynamic ability where the raw car connection can be lost.

The All-Electric (EV) Supercar

What then would Mr Chapman make of his company’s latest 1700kg showstopper, the Evija. This car heralds the arrival of the full-electric Supercar, nay... Hypercar. A statement of real intent, this car puts Lotus firmly centre stage and is truly groundbreaking. It possesses performance worthy of the military; or fiction. An electric motor at each wheel yields a combined 2000 horsepower, and of course, with electric power, the distribution of horses can be finely balanced, even aiding directional change. Lotus is another manufacturer proud of, and connected to, their heritage, and being known for some of the finest ‘drivers’ cars, it is sure to handle like no other.

Electric Hypercar; Lotus Evija. Courtesy of @sammooresphoto via Lotus Media.

But the question is; will it have soul. Technically it is phenomenal, but we will have to wait to later this year to learn more. It looks every inch the Supercar, but won’t sound like it. Herein lies the most obvious of sensory connection ... noise. Noise is fundamental to the feel of a machine, sometimes deliberately tuned and engineered, sometimes created by pure chance, but a fundamental part of the experience nonetheless. Some may swoon over the burble of an idling big-block V8, whilst others lust over the raw staccato of a Lamborghini SVJ Aventador V12 bouncing off the Rev-limiter. Can this be engineered into a full EV? Ferrari’s Chief Technology Officer Michael Hugo Leiters thinks it is ‘unthinkable’ for a ‘prancing horse’, and certainly knowing that it is piped would undermine ones connection. I for one am already a huge fan of the Lotus Evija, and look forward immensely to learning more about it. Exciting? And some. Soulful? Let’s see. Would I buy one? Tomorrow!

A final thought on the future of Supercars

Ultimately, times change, and despite being a relatively small contributor to the environmental problems we face, Supercars will be affected by legislation and the downward pressure to reduce emissions. ICE will be around for a good while yet, but ultimately will blend into hybrid. Thankfully it is a resourceful sector, employing some of the brightest brains, and most passionate enthusiasts. This means we will always have the pleasure of experiencing the excitement and beauty of these machines, and as an entity they have a bright future.

So here’s the thing. Maybe ‘soul’ can exist in a slightly different way. Or maybe it is not the ‘be all and end all’ of a Supercar. Rather it is what we impress upon a car, and what the car gives back to us. As long as a Supercar excites in such a way that it reaches your heart and triggers that undefinable connection, then it will always live on in whatever guise.

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