Ferrari detail. Ferrari Owners' Club
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Ferrari Happenings
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Is it a Car...? ...or just a Self-Propelled Sculpture?
by Jesse Snyder
11.12.03

This Article was published
in Automotive News Europe, and might well have relevance
to the world of Super-Ferraris

I watch the increasing preoccupation of automakers with super-performance with some apprehension. Manufacturers want the title of most prestigious, and they are trotting out one increasingly stupendous vehicle after another to obtain it.

It's not just bigger price tags to contain all the digits, or that writers are running out of adjectives * super, ultra, hyper, mega, extreme * to attach to "performance." The auto industry is increasingly distracted by the quest for best. I have heard all the "halo effect" arguments justifying the effort and expense. I don't buy them.

Don't get me wrong. I love performance cars. I adore helmets-and-hot-laps days at a racetrack. But like most people, I spend far more time driving on public roads and that's where I want the cars I buy to perform. There's a difference between a passenger car and an exotic supercar. Automakers are trying to blur that distinction, but at some point a vehicle stops being a car and becomes merely investment-grade self-propelled sculpture.

Here is my guideline for whether a vehicle is in the auto business or the entertainment industry.

It isn't a car if:

  • You can't park it on the street without a paid protector to prevent theft or vandalism.
  • Using it causes illness. For example, reviewers say the McLaren SLR induces nausea at both full acceleration and full braking.
  • Taking a trip doesn't involve finding the car keys, but finding a bonded transporter to move the car without affecting the odometer.
  • You can't pull out of a driveway without scraping €10,000 worth of paint off the airdam.
  • Actually driving the car ruins its desirability for collectors.

It's like the people who collect children's toys and demand dolls in original unopened packaging. Children's toys are made to be played with and real cars are made to be driven. It's sad when they are not. But how these big-boy toys are played with is a side issue. More important is whether the horsepower and performance race actually helps the automakers involved. I see three potential snags:

  1. The risk of product liability costs. Tobacco companies and firearms manufacturers are being sued for products that work as designed. Even fast-food companies changed their menus after lawsuits charging them with causing obesity. Yet automakers keep coming up with business plans that assume that all customers who think it's OK to drive 400kph on a public road after several bottles of wine also think it's wrong to blame the automaker for an accident. And every trial attorney for a victim hurt by a supercar will blame only the driver and not the automaker.

  2. Hyper-performance cars drain limited company resources and distract executives. This is a fierce industry with enormous competitive demands. How much attention can any automaker devote to developing super performance cars without hurting other product programs?

  3. Supercars project the wrong image. Super-fast cars antagonize environmentalists. This is simply the wrong image for companies trying to head off even more stringent fuel economy and safety regulation. European automakers are trying to wriggle out of their voluntary commitment to meet
    lower CO2 emissions. But saying "We can't meet such low CO2 levels" is a weak argument for someone introducing a 1,000hp supercar.
Some executives are clearly obsessed with building what a few hundred buyers can afford. But their home markets are being targeted by other automakers already focused on the mass market. It's time to call off the hyper-performance wars and pay more attention to the real car business than to the toys.
 

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