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Autonomous era: What about sports cars?

2015-01-12 08:33

MOST POWERFUL FERRARI YET: Not concerned by self-driving cars, Ferrari has focused on driving enjoyment with its most powerful supercar yet - the FXX K. Image: Ferrari

NEW YORK - Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Bugatti... each a prestige automaker that embodies performance and luxury but with the advent of autonomous cars are they fated to be locked away in auto-stables as were the horses they replaced a century earlier?

Not so fast, responds Ferrari. The automaker idolised by drivers everywhere is still putting out high-performance cars that need human hands on the wheel.

In fact it's just introduced its newest supercar, the Sergio, and is working on another more powerful than any yet produced.


That one is the FXX K, with an electric motor that will boost the 645kW of the V12 petrol engine to an astounding 770kW.

Maserati, as Ferrari part of the Fiat Chrysler stable, is promising a new Alfieri coupe in 2016 and the next version of the GranTurismo will be unveiled at the end of 2017 but will the Italian thoroughbreds and their German counterparts be able to resist the looming turn of the industry towards cars that don't need a driver at all.

Karl Brauer, an industry analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says the industry's march away from humans controlling cars towards more technology would not stop.


"It is inevitable," Brauer told AFP and it would leave sports cars and supercars in the hands of wealthy speed fans and hobbyists dedicated to having, in fact, their own hands in control.

Increasingly, said Martin Zimmerman, a professor at the University of Michigan and a former economist at Ford. they would be confined to tracks and private roads as autonomous vehicles attracted the broader public. Some who buy performance sports cars for social status - read most - could, he added, even turn away from them for other ostentatious signs of success.

Zimmerman said, there would always be fans who valued traditional sports cars: "I suspect there will always be a demand for sitting in a nice-looking sports car and being able to control it yourself."

Eventually, the sports car could become confined to a small niche of passionate fans, revving their engines and testing their speed on dedicated circuits.

It is up to the top automakers around the world, together with tech leaders, to produce autonomous, driverless, cars for public use and the day they enter general use will arrive soon, perhaps to eliminate the main cause of road accidents: driver error.


The first driverless cars could hit the market in 2018, according to manufacturers, though the legal and ethical questions are many - for instance, who's to blame (and pay) after a crash or collision? Wheels24: Computers fail, it has to happen.

Road tests of self-driving cars are already well advanced - especially of the Google Car, the pioneer in the market. It has, Google says, travelled hundreds of thousands of kilometres without incident on Californian roads.

The war on speeding in developed countries; changes in human interests with a new generation more focused on
electronic gadgets; more eco-friendly thinking. Each will be an obstacle for performance sports-car fans.

One course for the future, according to analysts, would be balance between technologies that make vehicles safer and the craved sensations delivered by high speed and engine power.


Deloitte, suggested: "There will be a demand for sports cars that allow individuals to control and drive them but the technology being developed in these autonomous vehicles will make it driving them more fun - and safer."

Alan Baum, head of consultant Baum and Associates, said makers of top-end cars in the sports and luxury segments must keep coming up with new things and adopt the most advanced technologies to continue to attract buyers.

Baum said: "When that product starts to age then the consumer goes to the next new thing."

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