How many Tesla owners take their Model S or X out for a Sunday morning drive, one just for the pure pleasure of feeling the machine do its thing?
That question had been going through my mind for a number of weeks prior to perusing the November 6 issue of Automotive News, where a good portion of the entire magazine was devoted to the major theme, “Redesigning the Industry.” Inside was page upon page where a number of automotive luminaries offered intriguing and at times frightening predictions, a great many of them revolving around the death of the internal combustion engine in the not-too-distant future, and how autonomous cars will be running rampant within the next decade or two.
I’m dubious on the immediacy and direness of some of the prophesies and do hope they prove incorrect, for the whole discussion of electrification and autonomy had me recalling a most interesting conversation with former Iso Rivolta CEO Piero Rivolta. From the early 1960s into the mid-1970s, his gran turismos mixed it up quite well with better-known competitors Ferrari, Maserati, and that other new kid on the block, Lamborghini. Rivolta was reflecting on how, in his factory, the same men worked on the same production lines using the same components to make the same models, yet certain cars were just faster, more responsive, and livelier than the others. The reason, a number of his workers firmly believed, was cars had souls, and that was the soul of the car coming forth.
Whether one buys into that theory or not, it does bring up an interesting observation: can an electric car can have a “soul.” After all, what are the attributes that give a car a distinct personality, and thus, in a way, its soul?
Much of it starts with the engine, which is realistically the heart of the car. The best engines have their own unique mechanical symphonies and characteristics that, under use, are akin to engaging in an intricate dance and an ongoing, scintillating conversation at the same time. For instance, does the engine come on cam, how much torque is down low, how smoothly and quickly do the revs rise, how does the orchestra change when you really put your foot in it, and so much more…
No electric motor can replicate such nuances, let alone do it in a way where it “feels” quite different from every other electric motor. Indeed, an engine’s character reflects a constructor’s identity, and often the best engines give further insight into a marque with enticing visuals. How many times have you opened the hood, bonnet or whatever you wish to call it, just to see what the motor (and everything else) looked like? And what about examining all the ancillaries that go with that engine (exhaust, tach, dash, etc.)?
At some point in the future, will anyone get the same type of (excuse the pun) charge from viewing a bunch of batteries? Is there any way an electric motor or battery pack can compare to the coolness of seeing the black crinkle finish on Maserati’s in-line 6 and its dual plug heads or a Ferrari V12, the machining on said valve covers, and the way they are complemented by a fabulous assemblage of dual throat Webers? Or the trio of carbs and differing color finishes on the mighty GTO mill built on the west side of the Atlantic…
Thankfully, it’s not just classics that have outstanding visuals under the hood. Pagani likely has the best build quality of any motorcar made today, and Horacio’s impeccable eye for detail extends to the engine compartment, and the lovely mélange of colors, shapes and textures. Ferrari is pretty good at making tasty looking powerplants too—from the magnificent FXX we looked at four weeks ago, to the modern California—particularly when the color and finishes play off of Ferraris of old…
No electric motor or battery technology seduces the eyes like this, and thankfully, it looks like “analog” is making a comeback. In the intriguing book “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter,” award-winning author David Sax writes, “Surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric. We want to interact with goods and services with all our senses, and many of us are willing to pay a premium to do so, even if it is more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalent.”
The Future of Driving
So for all those naysayers, maybe things won’t change so fast after all. It’s hard to think of anything more “tactile” that engages “all our senses” than taking your favorite steed out for a brisk drive, and feeling the engine (and the rest of the car) doing its thing.
What are your thoughts on autonomous driving, and the supposed “death” of internal combustion? And do you think a car (IC or electric) can have a soul?