My three-year-old nephew was watching me look through photographs from the recent Geneva Motor Show when the new Ferrari LaFerrari struck him wide eyed.
“Red car! Mine nicer!” he yelled excitedly before running off into his room to pull out a drawing he had drawn a few days ago of his dad’s red Mitsubishi Lancer.
Granted the crayon drawing was no work of Pininfarina art but the scarlet red boxy profile of his dad’s Lancer was no Rorschach Inkblot either.
Boy we’ve got an artist in the family, I thought. And no sooner had that happened when it struck me that my nephew would be part of a new generation of kids that would grow up with an entirely different paradigm of what makes a supercar.
Amidst my nephew’s passionate explanation of various design elements on his car, I realised that this Geneva Motor Show, its 83rd edition, marks the beginning of a new epoch in automotive history – the dawn of the Hybrid Hypercar.
With Ferrari rolling out its Enzo successor, the LaFerrari and Mclaren rolling out its F1 successor, the P1, both join Porsche’s 918 Spyder as clean and green heralds of the new age.
“Vrooom… vroom,” he said, sounding like an angry vacuum cleaner as he pointed at the P1 on my screen.
I laugh. But then again this is a kid who may probably grow up never knowing the roar of a V12 engine or know that once, in the not so distant past, cars did not have hybrid technology and ran only on petrol power.
This is a kid who might grow up and get the keys to his father’s ageing Lancer exclaiming while looking under the hood: “Is there all that’s under here?”
As supercar manufacturers up the definition ante of what makes a supercar by cramming more performance between four tires than most people know how to use, they face placing themselves in a position between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The apparent problem to players in the industry is balancing increasingly strict emissions regulations and performance. In the elite circle of supercar makers, performance is legacy; performance is what draws the crowd and what sells cars.
With that, they have a particularly difficult challenge ahead of them compared to volume manufacturers.
In a field where hypercars knock off 0 to 60mph times in once motorbike-only territory of sub 3 seconds, the difficulties of eking out increased performance while staying within emissions regulations is getting exponentially harder.
Consider this fun fact tidbit: An object in free fall, without air resistance, does 0 to 60mph in 2.73 seconds or to 100kph in 2.83 seconds.
For what it is worth, it will be interesting to watch how and if hybrid technology developed for performance and reliability in such an extreme application trickle down the value chain to more plebian usage. Despite most supercar brands belonging under larger corporate brand umbrellas, the question of sharing technology is still a sensitive topic.
Yet, for all the heaving and turning in the automobile world, what concerns me most is that the designs of these exclusive cars seems to be shifting from subtle beauty to ostentatious aggressive styling that seem to shout “Look at me and my expensive car”.
It is not so much the direction of the design that worries me but more the inkling that the design is turning more into a proclamation of wealth than it is to push the boundaries of art and engineering.
It is worrying because these cars don’t seem to be designed for the average kid today to aspire to own if and when they make it big one day. And if that happens, they risk losing relevance with the adults of tomorrow.
Come to think of it, that drawing that my nephew made looks more like an Evo X.