MARANELLO, Italy - Since its founding 51 years ago, Ferrari S.p.A. has been one of the most secretive auto companies in the world when it comes to future products.
But in a marked change of strategy, Ferrari recently invited selected journalists to its headquarters here in northern Italy to explain some of its future innovations.
The luxury sports car niche is getting increasingly crowded, said Ferrari technical director Amedeo Felisa. Pressure is mounting from niche rivals, such as Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Mercedes-Benz and BMW also are showing interest in Ferrari territory with their Vision SLR and Z9 gran turismo supercars.
'Technical innovation is written in the Ferrari DNA,' Felisa said. 'We want to show that our company won't survive purely on its name, historical heritage and racing legend. It also has to maintain its leading technological edge.'
With this in mind, Ferrari staged a full-day seminar that focused on various areas of Ferrari's engineering operations.
'Whoever enters this niche, wanting to find his own space, has to push on the innovation side,' Felisa said.
Ferrari hopes the move to aluminum spaceframes and body panels on all of its mainstream models will help it stay ahead in the race to cut weight.
The recently launched 360 Modena Coupe uses an aluminum spaceframe rather than a tubular steel frame. It is 32 percent lighter and 44 percent more rigid than the 355 GTB.
For limited-production cars - such as the future F60 - Ferrari will continue to use a full carbon fiber chassis.
Ferrari also is working on a pre-catalyst with a bypass valve to maintain performance while meeting new emissions regulations. The pre-catalyst functions for the first 100 seconds after engine start. Engines pollute the most during the warm-up phase. After that, the bypass valve opens, cutting off the gas passage through the pre-catalyst. The pre-catalyst absorbs almost 4 percent of power, or around 8 hp.
formula one technology
Ferrari is planning to heavily draw on Formula One technology to maintain the cutting-edge performance and handling of its road cars.
Future Ferrari production engines will be closer than ever before to Formula One units. They will use variable inlet manifolds, a single throttle per cylinder commanded by drive-by-wire and twin fuel injectors.
In future production Ferraris, a pneumatic valve recall is expected to replace the hydraulic variable valve timing system. A Formula One-style gearbox will offer sensations closer to a racing car by more than halving the gear-change response time.
Regarding aerodynamics, Ferrari is working to reduce underbody depression at speeds exceeding 124 mph by the use of variable flaps. The Ferrari 360 Modena was the first 186 mph-plus car to be launched without any visible spoiler.
Ferrari also is working to improve the flow of air underneath the body through a revised double-wishbone suspension. Although there are no plans to introduce active suspension, a stability control system will be offered to customers when it has satisfied Ferrari's own test drivers.
On the layout side, Ferrari engineers have modified a 550 Maranello to help meet stringent emission requirements. The 550 features a wheelbase lengthened by 8 inches, allowing bigger catalytic converters to be installed closer to the engine.
EXHAUST PIPES TO THE SIDE
In this prototype, the exhaust pipes have been moved to the sides of the car, as with the Dodge Viper. This solution permits a smaller front section thanks to a thinner central tunnel that carries only the transmission shaft.
Ferrari is experimenting with a fully adaptive seat. Thanks to electronically controlled pneumatic cushions, the seat can change in size and rigidity according to self-adjustable damper settings.
Ferrari expects it to weigh just 17.5 ounces more than a conventional seat.
Sensors within the adaptive seat will be used to give information about the occupant's size and weight to the smart airbags.