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The car of the future: Made in Italy, technology, competition

Guest speaker: Andrea Pontremoli, Managing Director, Dallara Automobili
Varano de' Melegari (PR), 02/07/2019, Meeting for The Aspen Junior Fellows

The automobile industry is riding the crest of a major innovative wave involving the digitalization of products and processes, the science of materials and solutions for sustainable mobility. This automotive evolution concerns automobiles produced for “mobility” and vehicles for “fun”. Indeed, these two broad categories are becoming increasingly divergent and often have antithetic specifications.

A major mobility issue concerns fueling. The electric vehicle is emerging and, in some countries such as Denmark, has gained a considerable share of the market. Nevertheless, there are some reservations about the sustainability, at the level of overall system consumption, of the electric as opposed to the traditional fossil fuel engine.

The other important evolution lies in the actual operation of vehicles for mobility, as the concept of single ownership gives way to an economically motivated preference for sharing. The number of automobiles in circulation therefore diminishes, while the use of a single vehicle increases, which leads to the issue of parts availability and the growing role of maintenance. Finally, the use of vehicles for mobility opens some revolutionary prospects: the moment is nearing when automobiles will carry us to our destination without the use of a driver.

Vehicles for fun is a less dynamic sector, where the experience of driving and speed, coupled with the vehicle’s attractiveness, have a more important role than energy efficiency or ecological impact.

Italy maintains a competitive position in various segments of this rapidly evolving automotive sector. The response of an enterprise to the need not to be “swallowed up” by competitors is to maintain innovative leadership of the process or of production. The first response to the need for innovation is to form consortia and make the most of a network of productive districts located mainly outside urban areas. Individual firms must continue to be competitive in terms of market, but cooperative when it comes to skills. The district best known as “Motor Valley”, in the region of Emilia, is home to 10 top automotive brands (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati, Toro Rosso, Dallara, Pagani, Magneti Marelli, HPE COXA and HaasF1Team). The MUNER foundation, along with four local universities, has launched six university masters programs that combine to offer the skills required to build an automobile. Indeed, an essential aspect of innovation is to make the most of interdisciplinarity and the encounter between knowledge and a variety of languages. The challenge is to understand and be understood, and to make diverse skills work together, evolving from specialized knowledge (perception) to sharing (comprehension).

The second response to the need for innovation is to be unique, at least in your respective niche. In order to be innovative you have to be in a position to declare that you are unique, recognizable and the best at a certain activity – to be able to say “I alone” not “Me too” when it comes to a certain process or product.

The third response is to be able to minimize the cost of mistakes. Innovation is necessarily experimentation, trial and error. It is not a question of technology (which remains a resource), but of people and attitudes toward change – you cannot be innovative without making mistakes. An example of innovative leadership in the racing car sector involves the efficiency and savings associated with the application of supercomputer simulation models to perform crash tests on certain materials (carbon fiber), computational fluidodynamics and vehicle dynamics: a driver “pilots” a car that has never been designed or built but is merely a mathematical model.