Not content with sculpting its own monuments to wickedness, Lamborghini has turned to the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to help deliver the Terzo Millennio concept car.
Italian for “Third Millennium”, the Terzo Millennio saw the firm working with two MIT laboratories on a car widely believed to point the way towards the V12 Aventador’s successor.
Lamborghini will only say the all-electric concept car is a “possible future Lamborghini” but insists it addresses the “visceral” emotions found in today’s cars, which is difficult to imagine without the V12 soundtrack.
The hypercar concept will use its carbon fibre body as a battery to store energy for its all-electric powertrain, aiming to revolutionise hypercars by making them environmentally ethical.
For this reason, the co-operation with Prof John Hart will investigate the new manufacturing routes for carbon fibre materials constituting the bodyshell of the concept, which will also act as an accumulator for energy storage and enable the complete body of the car to be used as a storage system.
There are no performance claims for the hypercar concept, but each carbon fibre wheel will house its own electric motor, delivering all-wheel drive and cutting out the middle systems to harvest energy.
There will be no gearbox, with all four motors fully reversible and the eradication of large, fixed structures has given a freer hand to Lamborghini’s designers and aerodynamicists.
It also has a Piloted Driving element, but not in the way being pushed by its direct parent, Audi, and its A8 limousine. Instead, the Terzo Millennio will be able to whip around racetracks like Imola or Monza to show drivers the correct lines and braking points, before handing over control and acting like a video game’s “ghost” car.
It has been developed in a similar vein to the 2010 Sesto Elemento concept car, which was not designed to be put into production, but forced Lamborghini to push its engineering to extremes.
Like Aston Martin, Lamborghini has come under fire for being the only significant stop-out on electrification of the powertrain, with Ferrari’s LaFerrari, McLaren’s P1 and Porsche’s 918 Spider all showing the hypercar way.
Now the Terzo Millennio will skip beyond both lithium-ion and solid-state battery packs to investigate supercapacitors, which Toyota has used to lose the Le Mans 24 Hour race for three consecutive years.
It has been overtaken in electrification by new hypercar players, such as the megawatt Nio EP9 from China’s Formula E frontrunner NextEV, which whipped around the Nurburgring in just 7:05.120 late in 2016.
Lamborghini’s goal with the concept was to attack five heavily debated areas of future supercars, including the powertrain, the materials used to build it, the battery pack, the design and the vexed question of how to put into an inherently quiet power system.
It turned to Prof Mircea Dinca’s, Dinca Research Lab at MIT’s chemistry department and its department of mechanical engineering’s mechanosynthesis group, led by Hart.
Funded by Lamborghini, the collaboration is intended to find a way to deliver traditional Lamborghini emotions into a zero-emission hypercar.
Its parent company, the Volkswagen Group, is already developing solid-state batteries for production through its joint venture with Stanford University spinoff, QuantumScape, in California. Lamborghini has gone all the way east to the other US coast to sign on with MIT, which may explain why VW brand boss Herbert Diess in October insisted the group was “hedged for solid-state development”.
It’s also far from the first time Lamborghini’s research and development team has hooked up with a US university programme, with the Aventador’s three different carbon fibre manufacturing techniques emerging from a University of Washington State collaboration.
“Exactly one year ago we signed an agreement with the MIT-Italy Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which marked the start of a collaboration between two outstanding entities for the creation of a project that intends to write an important page in the future of super sports cars for the third millennium,” Lamborghini chairman and CEO Stefano Domenicali says.
“Collaborating with MIT for our R&D department is an exceptional opportunity to do what Lamborghini has always been very good at: rewriting the rules on super sports cars. Now we are presenting an exciting and progressive concept car. We are inspired by embracing what is impossible today to craft the realities of tomorrow: Lamborghini must always create the dreams of the next generation.”
Using smaller, lighter supercapacitors instead of heavyweight batteries is a key part of that development and Lamborghini began using them in a nearly trivial way on the Aventador five years ago. The advantage of supercapacitors is their high energy discharge rates compared to batteries, allowing higher power peaks and higher rates of regeneration.
They also resist “cycling” memory better than conventional batteries and regenerate energy at the same rate it can punch it out, though they don’t carry the same energy density.
“The new collaboration allows us to be ambitious and think outside the box in designing new materials that answer energy storage challenges for the demands of an electric sport vehicle,” Dinca says.
SHAPE THE FUTURE
“We are thrilled to combine our expertise in advanced materials and manufacturing with the vision and support of Automobili Lamborghini and to realise concepts that will shape the future of transportation,” Hart says.
It will also embed the bodywork and the underbody structure with visible and invisible methods to monitor the integrity of the carbon fibre, which it insists will be able to “self-heal”.
Hart’s team has further developed Lamborghini’s own ideas on monitoring and detecting micro damage to the carbon fibre from accidents, then heals them via trick chemistry. The concept, if applicable in production, would allow broader use of lightweight carbon fibre components without the risk of fatal cracking or fatigue.
It is a combination that Lamborghini’s aerodynamicists have used to get the upper hand over the Lamborghini Centro Stile designers.