Geneva Motor Show: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls, & More

By Mark Gillies, Automotive Design & Production Columnist Editor’s note.

By Mark Gillies, Automotive Design & Production Columnist

Editor’s note. Long-time automotive journalist Mark Gillies, who is now a columnist for Automotive Design & Production, attended the 81st International Motor Show in Geneva last week for us. Here are some of the key developments that caught his attention.

There was renewed confidence at this year's Geneva Auto Show, illustrated by the rash of new models and concepts on display. Any auto show where there's a new Ferrari and a new Lamborghini on display is an event—and both the Ferrari FF and the Lamborghini Aventador were as notable for what lies under their shapely panel work as the statement they made on the show floor.

A

Actually, I was more excited by the Lamborghini's technology than its shape, which looked like a mélange of the outgoing Murcielago and the limited-edition Reventon. It was very professional and well executed, but it didn’t move the brand forward like the Countach, Diablo, and Gallardo did. Underpinning the car, however, is a carbon-fiber monocoque that helps reduce the weight by 198 lb. compared with the Murcielago. (The body-in-white weighs 181 lb. less than the old one.) The torsional strength is improved by 150% according to Lamborghini. The monocoque itself is composed of traditional hand-laid pre-preg components, resin transfer molded dry fiber, and braided fiber, with foam injected in places to reduce noise and increase strength.

L

Tubular aluminum front and rear frames take the suspension and the running gear and form crash structures. The V-12 engine has the same 6.5-liter displacement as before, but has a bigger 95-mm bore and shorter 76.4-mm stroke as well as a dry-sump oil system that allows it to be sited 2.4 in. lower in the frame. It makes 691 hp, up from the Murcielago SV’s 661 hp. An all-new automated manual transmission is mounted ahead of the engine and takes drive to all four wheels. The Aventador uses race-car-style pushrods and rockers to actuate horizontally mounted springs and shocks: these reduce unsprung weight and soften the spring rates for better ride comfort.

L

Unlike the $380,000 mid-engined two-place Lambo coupe, the Ferrari is a four-place front-engined hatchback. Yes, you read that correctly. The FF is a wagon. Like the Lambo, it has a V-12 engine that displaces 6.3 liters and makes 651 hp, driving all four wheels.

The Ferrari is interesting for a couple of reasons. The styling, which looks ho-hum in photos, is amazing in the flesh: it’s muscular and very striking, a complete contrast to the rather nondescript 612 Scaglietti. The other reason is that its all-wheel-drive system demonstrates some truly innovative thinking. An all-wheel-drive system usually adds around 180 lb., but the Ferrari's weight penalty is less than 90 lb. according to Roberto Fedeli, Ferrari's product development chief. (Even with all-wheel-drive, he says the FF actually weighs 110 lb. less than the Scaglietti.) Moreover, a conventional all-wheel-drive system presents packaging challenges.

F

There are two secrets to this all-wheel-drive system. The first is the realization that you need direct only a relatively small proportion of the car's torque to the front wheels for traction. The second is that the V-12 engine is set so far back in the chassis that there is space ahead of it for a second gearbox, made by supplier Carraro. The FF thus has a gearbox mounted off the nose of the crankshaft driving the front wheels and a rear transaxle that drives the back wheels.

The front gearbox is a small two-speed and reverse geartrain that incorporates a pair of hydraulic wet-multi-plate carbon-fiber clutches, one for each wheel. The clutches have a cooling system to keep the oil temperature down when they are being slipped. There's a 6% overdrive ratio between first gear in the front transmission and first and second out back and between second up front and third and fourth in the rear transaxle. When the car is in fifth gear and above, it always runs with 100% of its torque at the rear wheels. Gears in the front transmission are shifted electrically.

In normal driving, the FF acts as a rear-wheel-drive vehicle because "We try to get the maximum amount of torque at the rear wheels that we can," says Fedeli. When slip is detected, the clutches for the front wheels are engaged and up to 20% of the torque is transferred. Torque can also be varied side to side up front to get maximum traction. Fedeli says that Ferrari regards the all-wheel-drive system in the FF "as an evolution of traction control.'"

So Lamborghini outdid Ferrari on the materials side, but the Maranello maker's neat riposte was to introduce a simpler, lighter all-wheel-drive system that addresses traction issues but doesn't corrupt the purity of a rear-wheel-drive car's steering and handling. Et tu, Lamborghini.

V

The Ferrari and Lamborghini weren't the only cars that caught everyone's attention. The Volkswagen Bulli concept is a modern take on the classic Kombi/Transporter, only scaled down to mini-minivan size. Those of us with long memories saw more than a bit of inspiration from the fabulous 2001 Microbus concept that was shown at Detroit but never made it into production. The Bulli concept is based off VW Polo components and features a fashionable electric drivetrain, but expect this one to move to Golf-size architecture with conventional gas and diesel engines when it goes into production. There’s a chance it will come to the U.S., although VW might want to do something about the name.

A

The Alfa Romeo 4C concept is utterly beguiling, a scaled-down 8C Competizione using a mid-mounted 200-hp four-cylinder engine in a carbon fiber chassis that had been lifted from a KTM X-Bow. This car was a surprise, especially since we were given to believe that Alfa and Dodge were working on a small front-engine, rear-drive platform. Alfa says this one is going into production in 2012, priced between $50,000 and $60,000.

Over on the Lancia stand, the first fruits of the Fiat/Chrysler merger were apparent: the Lancia Thema, which is a rebadged 300, and the Voyager, which is a reworked Town and Country. The Chrysler 200 sedan and convertible were shown as Lancia Flavia concepts, which didn't seem right to us. Mind you, the Lancia brand is in such dire straits that Fiat will try anything to get cars into its showrooms and the Flavia is one of the most homely of Lancia’s classic products.

Everywhere at Geneva, you couldn't help but bump into hybrid and electric car concepts and production vehicles. But the prize for the most outrageous electric car at the show was the Rolls-Royce 102EX, a Phantom with an all-electric drivetrain. (The fact that Renault’s Twizy is going into production ran a close second to outrageous news, however.)

E

According to Rolls’s David Hall, Manager, Electrical/Electronic Development, this was a pure research vehicle that Rolls wants to take to customers to see what they think. "Our customers like the power, smoothness, and quietness of the Phantom," he said, "and an electric powertrain offers all those qualities." He went on to explain that range anxiety is not an issue for many Phantom owners, who use their cars for very specific purposes because they have plenty of other machinery in the garage.

The Rolls has a truly massive 1,141-lb. lithium-nickel-cobalt-manganese-oxide battery that uses 96 Kokam cells for an output of 71 kwH. It’s mounted under hood in the space where the Phantom's V-12 engine and transmission would normally reside. There are three 3-kW chargers mounted atop the batteries for single- and three-phase electric supply, as well as an induction charger for wireless replenishment. Two rear-mounted synchronous brushless electrical AC motors provide 389 hp for acceleration with a continuous output of 228 hp: torque peaks at 590 pound feet. Each motor has its own DC to AC inverter. A single-speed gearbox and a differential are mounted above the electric motors. The wiring as well as the cooling circuit for the electric motors run up what is normally the Phantom’s driveshaft tunnel.

Hall says that Rolls initiated the program independently of owner BMW, taking the best available components from suppliers around the world. UQM in the U.S. provided the motors, for example, while the batteries came from Scottish company Axeon. In ideal circumstances, Hall said that the car has a range of 124 miles, although that is reduced to around 100 miles if there is load on the batteries from running the lights, air conditioning, stereo, and so on. The car will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just under 8.0 seconds, about 2.5 seconds shy of the gasoline-engined car. The electric Phantom weighs about 400 lb. more than the regular car, according to Hall, which means it scales in at around a porky 6,200 lb.

We would be very surprised to see this one get built, but if there are enough owners who feel that driving an electric Phantom to the opera or their Wall Street offices gives them some green credibility, you never know.