Auto insiders get candid about the industry's biggest trends
"We will never have autonomous driving," one auto executive declared.
What do some of the smartest people in the automotive industry think about the future of driving? From electric vehicles and self-driving technology to the next generation of SUVs, ABC News sat down with industry leaders in Geneva, Switzerland, to get their take on the most-pressing issues facing consumers and automakers alike.
Here’s what they had to say.
Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborgini’s chief technical officer
A self-driving Lamborghini? Reggiani recoiled at the mention of it.
“We will never have autonomous driving. You buy a Lamborghini because you want to drive a Lamborghini,” he said.
He also disputed that Lamborghini's Urus sport-utility vehicle lost the world’s fastest SUV title to the Bentley Bentayga, the previous record holder.
The Bentayga Speed, the latest iteration of Bentley’s top-selling SUV that goes on sale later this year, can reportedly hit 190 mph. Lamborghini says the top speed of the Urus is 189.5 mph.
“I still think [the Urus] is the fastest,” Reggiani argued. “Put them both on a track and we’ll see. What’s more important is the velocity of the car. The fact that the [Bentayga Speed] is 1 kilometer, more or less, faster in terms of max speed is nothing.”
What about an all-electric Lambo?
“Lamborghini will be one of the last ones to join the EV pool,” he said. “The new generation of [Lamborghinis] will be hybrid. But hybrids are still a big challenge for a super sports car.”
Chris Cole, product line director at Bentley Motors
Cole said the Bentayga SUV has transformed the 100-year-old British luxury automaker into a modern trendsetter.
“The Bentayga brought a lot of new people to the brand — people who would have never considered Bentley before,” he said. “It’s the best-selling vehicle for Bentley. I think SUVs are essential in [an automaker’s] lineup. Customers don’t necessarily want the off-roading capability. It’s more about the overall driving experience.”
Can a high performance SUV like the Bentayga Speed be viewed as a sports car?
“Compare it to sports cars of 10, 15 years ago. It performs as well in terms of handling,” Cole said. “The center of gravity is very important in vehicle dynamics. We did a great job of getting that balance right.”
And yes, SUVs with a top speed of 200 mph and 210 mph are on the horizon, he noted.
Jolyon Nash, executive director of global sales at McLaren
Nash insisted that a global economic slowdown would not dramatically impact the automaker’s Track 25 business plan, which mandates 18 new cars or derivatives by 2024.
“We have no influence on what the economy is going to do. Right now we are reasonably confident of our plan,” he said. “We probably have three to four years of stable growth. Our focus is making sure we present our cars as effectively as we can to our customers and prospective customers and hope they feel economically inclined to spend some money.”
Nash also defended McLaren’s decision to cap annual production at 6,000 vehicles by 2024. Ferrari, by comparison, delivered 9,251 cars in 2018.
“We don’t need to chase more volume to generate increasing returns for our shareholders,” he said. “We’re privately owned. We’re not answering to the stock exchange. Our customers want exclusivity.”
Etienne Salome, Bugatti designer
Salome was the star of the Geneva Motor Show when the French luxury sports car maker presented the “La Voiture Noire” — the most expensive new car ever built — that Salome himself designed.
The best thing about this car?
“There’s only one,” he said.
Did he know he was designing a $19 million car?
“The aim was not to have the most expensive car in the world — that was not the reason the customer bought it either. The aim was to do Bugatti,” he said.
What would an all-electric Bugatti look like?
“That is a very good question! There are many challenges where I do not have yet the answers,” he said.
Miles Nurnberger, director of design at Aston Martin
The storied company will introduce its DBX SUV this fall. Anticipation is high.
“It’s not really a discussion point – customers want SUVs,” Nurnberger said. “We’re seeing a gentrification for the SUV. They’re becoming more luxurious and sporty every year. Remember, they started as a work vehicle.”
The Lagonda All-Terrain concept, one of three new Aston Martin vehicles shown in Geneva, was immediately hailed as a showstopper.
Its floating, spinning key comes adorned with Swarovski crystals and the seats, modeled on ones found in corporate jets, are swathed in cashmere.
Nurnberger described the all-electric luxury concept as “modern, disruptive, provocative, avant-garde.” What may be most impressive about the vehicle is how its occupants “react to its technology,” he teased.
Alex Innes, Rolls-Royce designer
The famed British carmaker continues to elevate the definition of luxury. Bespoke colors and commissioned artwork in the vehicle’s dashboard only skims the surface of what’s possible with a Rolls.
“The future of luxury is personal,” Innes said. “Every year the brand is moving the bar with what we can do.”
What’s the ultimate goal as a designer?
“We are creating the car in the image of the owner,” he said.
Can customers expect an all-electric Rolls-Royce?
“The brand will begin electrification in the next decade,” he said. “It’s a natural fit. We’re already there – low RPM (revolutions per minute), huge torque, silent motoring. But there can be no compromise to the customer.”
Robert Irlinger, senior vice president of BMW's i Division
Americans may still be skeptical of electric cars but globally BMW’s i3 sedan has been selling well. With an improved battery life, Irlinger expects more deliveries of the i3 this year. But the car's unique styling has detractors.
“Some people love it, some people don’t,” he acknowledged. “The i3 is going to stay as it is.”
According to Irlinger, the i3 pioneered the concept of one-pedal driving.
“The regen braking is very strong,” he said.
Americans prefer hybrids and plug-in hybrids like BMW's 530e iPerformance sedan. Norwegians, however, can’t get enough of the i3.
“The i3 is not the typical car in the U.S.,” Irlinger said.
Though a vocal proponent of EVs, Irlinger knows that the Bavarian automaker, which plans on offering 12 fully electric vehicles by 2025, cannot relegate gasoline engines to the scrapyard.
“There has to be flexibility to produce what the market demands,” he said. “At the end the customer decides.”
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