Sant'Agata Bolognese, Italy - Automobili Lamborghini was founded in 1963 after Enzo Ferrari told brash young tractor manufacturer Ferrucio Lamborghini that the problems with the clutch of his 250GT were caused by Lamborghini’s hamfisted driving, and that “Up yours!” attitude is still in evidence at the Sant'Agata factory.
One of the results is this concept - the Terzo Millennio (Third Millennium), an electric supercar that examines almost every aspect of powertrain design from a different viewpoint, looking at what electricity does better than combustion power, rather than substituting batteries and brushless motors for fuel-tank and V12 engine.
Some of its features are pure science fiction, admittedly, but so were handheld computers without keyboards, less than a generation ago.
Accepting that batteries as we know them are not going to provide sufficient energy density for the car of the future, Lamborghini’s aim is to develop a supercapacitor that can outperform conventional batteries in terms of energy density, while retaining the capacitor’s characteristic outstanding power delivery.
And rather than build a bulky capacitor pack in place of today’s battery packs, it will use carbon fibre-based structural elements containing millions of nano-capacitors as as a rechargeable energy source.
One side benefit of this is that by monitoring the internal resistance of the car’s carbon-fibre monocoque as power is drawn or recharged, it’s possible to detect minute cracks - too small to see with the naked eye - in the composite structure, caused by accident damage. Process that resistance value through a straightforward computer algorithm and you have a car that can monitor its own structural integrity, and even tell you where it hurts!
Another advantage of an electric drivetrain is that, basically, you don’t need one: electrical energy can be channeled through cables and converted to electric energy right where it’s needed - in the wheels. Lamborghini envisages platter-shaped electric motors built into the rims, delivering all-wheel drive without any shafts, clutches or power-sapping gears.
And by reversing their polarity, they will also function as electric brakes, converting kinetic energy back into electricity to recharge the capacitors.
This is not new; Mitsubishi successfully used in-wheel motors in its MIEV concepts but discarded them due to unacceptable unsprung weight. Lamborghini, however, aims to overcome that by casting the stator magnets into the actual rims and using lightweight rotor coils. Right now that is science fiction, but Lamborghini is betting that it won’t stay that way for long.
With no space needed for engine, drivetrain or battery packs, the designers were free to create the perfect aerodynamic shape for this car of the future, and indeed, their crowning achievement is that it is still recognisably, a Lamborghini. Ferrucio would have loved it.