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Don't panic! The future might be electric, but Lambos will still be Lambos

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In an automotive landscape littered with radical concept cars and vapourware that’ll never see the light of day, it would be easy to dismiss the Lamborghini Terzo Millennio as an irrelevant flight of fancy. The fact that the specification includes a yet-to-be-invented supercapacitor, energy storage in the carbon fibre through the use of nanotechnology, self-healing bodywork and propulsion by in-wheel motors doesn’t help make it feel any more realistic. But dig below the headlines and there’s method in the madness. Lamborghini has a problem. The future, whichever way you look at it, is going to be electrified, and, for a supercar manufacturer whose heritage lies in vocal V12s, there’s work to do to preserve the brand for the next generation.

While the arrival of the Urus has helped give the V10 and V12 a stay of execution (it’s been confirmed that both will live on in hybrid form in the Huracán and Aventador replacements), the future vision for Lamborghini needs to be defined for the brand to remain relevant in an EV world.

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Seeking this definition, TG headed to Lambo HQ for exclusive access to the Terzo Millennio and the team who commissioned it. While the project is being driven out of Lamborghini’s home in Sant’Agata, the team has enlisted the help of some people with seriously large foreheads to help think beyond the current understanding of automotive performance. Rather than take centre stage at a motor show, the car was revealed at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) on 6 November 2017, and the relationship with MIT’s department of oversized crania is at the core of some of the more radical thinking. We head deep into the bowels of Centro Stile, Lamborghini’s Area 51. The first thing that strikes me as I approach the Terzo is its proportions.

The super-aggressive cab-forward stance, which tapers towards the rear, has a pugnaciousness that would give a Ford GT an inferiority complex. Then it’s the height, or lack of it, that intrigues. Clearly, the ridiculous track-focused ride height and arch-cramming tyres help the Terzo’s stance, but it looks barely possible to fit two full-sized people in there.

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As you continue to circle it, trying to absorb those hypercar design staples – flying buttresses, the tapered keel, a clever use of negative space – you notice there’s also some familiarity in certain areas that make it a realistic vision of a future generation of Lamborghini. If a key part of the brief was to create a car to occupy the bedroom walls of hypercar fans, as the Countach and Aventador did before, then it’s job done.

You’ll find evidence of this on Mitja Borkert’s (Lambo’s head of design) Instagram account: in images of it being deposited outside a local Bologna school and being mobbed by enthusiastic seven-year-olds. “I brought the car back here and asked if we could do a lap around Sant’Agata. I wanted to photograph it in front of cool places,” says Borkert. “One of the most enjoyable moments ever in my career was when we brought it out in front of the school. All the kids were freaking out… it was super.”

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But this car’s role is about more than shock and awe, it’s a statement of intent to be a tech leader. Given we’re about to deep dive into nanotechnology and I failed my physics GCSE, we need an articulate guide. Fortunately, Lamborghini chief technical officer Maurizio Reggiani is on hand. “The project started from a discussion about electrification in Lamborghini, if Lamborghini could have an electric car.

The specification was clear: we needed to be able to reach 300kph, but also complete three laps of the Nordschleife. That means that you need not only a peak of power, but also an extensive range of high power. Why three laps? Because if you really made three hot laps of the Nordschleife, you’d need to replace the tyres anyway,” he says with a smile. “We started to look at what’s available on the market in terms of batteries, in terms of single cells, in terms of electric engines… and we discovered there was nothing able to fulfil our wishes.

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“So we started to discuss internally, if we had a project starting from scratch, a totally clean sheet of paper, was it possible to have a huge quantity of batteries without penalising the weight or packaging of the car? To restart our way of thinking, we decided to head back to the laboratory, because in the laboratory you are not contaminated by the normal development process.” Current trends see a new EV hypercar arriving every few months that promises to propel its millionaire occupant from 0–96kph faster than the internet eye candy of the previous creation. Look into the spec, and they’re all based around the same basic “skateboard” layout, a development of the technology as we understand it today, deployed in everything from the Tesla Model 3 to the Aspark Owl. Technology that Reggiani describes as “evolutionary, not revolutionary”. The Terzo is designed to leapfrog the current thinking in all aspects. So, with no traditional battery pack, how and where do you store the energy?

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The somewhat technically challenging answer is to use the bodywork. By working with MIT, Lamborghini is exploring ways of using nanotechnology to thread millions of copper anodes and cathodes into the carbon weave, turning every body panel into part of the battery system. The three-year project with MIT is focused on developing this radical new technology.

According to Reggiani, MIT has already tested it successfully, so the task over the remaining 18 months of the deal is to deliver a solution to put it into production. “The laboratory at MIT already proved it can work on a small scale,” Reggiani claims. “The big job now is in what way we can industrialise it. In research, you have to be flexible, to change the scope of the goal. It’s research and innovation, not development.” While it sounds fanciful, if MIT can deliver it, the technology would be transformational. And the wizardry doesn’t stop there. The panels will also have self-healing properties – an idea in development in the aerospace industry, where a combination of nanotechnology and polymer chemistry actively repairs any small structural damage.

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Harnessing the body-panel energy and delivering the target performance will require another huge leap forward in technology. Again, Reggiani’s team is working with MIT to develop a supercapacitor fit for purpose. The main advantages of supercapacitors compared with standard batteries is their ability to store up to 100 times more energy, their capacity to accept and deliver charge much faster and to tolerate many more charge and discharge cycles. In short, they’re lighter, more energy-dense and would meet the criteria set out for the Terzo Millennio’s three-lap max-attack assault on the ’Ring. But use of the technology at this scale is in its infancy in the automotive world, something Reggiani is keen to solve.

“We have this guy that has a brain 10 times bigger than my brain. He’s looking into what exists today in the market and has discovered something exceptional. To give an impression, what we have found with MIT is an element that is able to deliver 4.5V, this means you can have three times more peak energy [than current options] that you can use in every condition,” says Reggiani with a glint in his eye. “I’m confident that this will be possible by the end of this project.”

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If you’re tackling battery technology and weight distribution issues with nanotechnology circuitry, current drivetrain technology must look positively arcane. The Terzo team’s solution was to allow each of the wheels to be driven by an in-wheel motor, allowing for individual torque-vectoring and fly-by-wire steering, braking and acceleration. And there’s an autonomy play too… but with a unique Lamborghini flavour.

Reggiani: “You buy a Lamborghini for yourself. I cannot imagine somebody that buys a Lamborghini leaves a computer to drive the car. What we want to do in a car like this is to create a kind of human or virtual interface that is able to talk with you, to give to you feedback about what you can achieve with the car, how far you are from best performance, and what you need to do in order to improve – a kind of autonomous supporter. This is our idea of autonomous driving.”

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So while others are concentrating on autonomy to get you home from the pub after a night out, Lambo’s virtual assistant will be able to overlay your pitiful efforts around a track with the absolutely optimal lap, then dial up the correct level of assistance to help you find your inner driving god.

While this future-gazing technology pushes every element of our current understanding, possibly the biggest challenge for any current supercar manufacturer grappling with the EV future is how to deliver a soundtrack worthy of the brand with precisely zero cylinders and no exhaust. The Terzo Millennio tackles this head-on. Not content with working on finessing the shaping of the e-motor’s drive gears to deliver a soundtrack (à la I-Pace), the team is currently in the process of signing another soon-to-be announced deal to examine how to harness the airflow across the bodywork, using the form of the Terzo like a musical instrument. To heighten the sound and optimise the aerodynamics, the two air-separator planes on the side of the fuselage move subject to requirements.

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As with most of the Terzo Millennio, the ideas challenge our conventional thinking so dramatically that it’s easy to deride them as pure fiction. But every giant leap in automotive technology has come from radical thinking. Until relatively recently the thought of using a woven fabric of carbon fibre to create bodywork, let alone the whole chassis of a car, was fanciful; now it’s ubiquitous in the hypercar space. As Reggiani says, “I think the credibility of Lamborghini is to look forward, not to look backward.” The Terzo Millennio looks a very long way down the road and, by doing so, by challenging every aspect of current EV thinking, Lamborghini is providing a fascinating insight into the future extremes of EV performance. If Lambo can deliver it, the future of the supercar is in safe hands.

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