There. I said it. Supercars, though incredibly engineered, beautiful, and amazing to drive, are fundamentally stupid. It’s not really their fault; it’s how they’re used. The way most supercars are used is like using a Cray XK7 to check email. They probably have the worst ratio of capability to actual use of anything on the planet.
As a motor journalist, I’m pretty much supposed to love supercars. And, of course, on some level I do; it’s hard not to appreciate the staggering amount of engineering, design, and craftsmanship that goes into something like, say, a Pagani Huayra. But as soon as you really stop and think how these 200 MPH-capable cars will actually be used, everything starts to seem pretty inane.
The percent of supercars sold that are ever actually tracked or pushed to anything approaching their limits is just about insignificant. Sure, a few of them become press cars and many auto journalists like myself get to take them on tracks and then write the same stories again and again about how fantastic they are, or tape the same video segment where we’re driving, and we stomp the accelerator and feel the incredible surge of power and speed and grin like idiots and scream in rapture at the windshield. We get it, it’s amazing.
The problem is, none of that matters. By far the majority of these cars will be bought because it’s an easier way to tell everyone who sees you how much money you have than it would be to have a bunch of billboards showing your net worth. These cars are driven slowly in wealthy cities, and carefully piloted over speed bumps at 1/100th of their maximum speed.
So, they’re nothing but sleek packages of massively underused potential that are too expensive to have any real fun in. There’s plenty of cars of far poorer quality that will give you vastly more fun because they actually get used, in a real way.
And, of course, hardly any of us will ever get to drive one, and even getting near one probably hurts their eventual auction value.
So, as it stands today, we have two basic types of supercar: the luxury performance car, which is designed for astounding performance far beyond their buyer’s abilities or needs. Think Bugatti Veyron. The other type is the unashamed luxury type, designed to both convey massive wealth and provide decadent levels of comfort to the occupants. Cars like Rolls-Royce and the defunct Maybach fill this role.
I think what supercars need to actually become relevant again is a broader definition. Any car that really pushes the envelope in any particular category deserves to be called a supercar.
Take the Tata Nano, for example. It’s a supercar, in the arena of extreme economy. Making a viable car for $2500 is easily as impressive an achievement as making a 1001-HP monster like a Veyron. The Nano pushed the expected limits of its class to new extremes — that’s a supercar.
The Volkswagen XL1 is another good example of a supercar — a fuel economy supercar. It almost never gets called a supercar, but let’s face it, that’s what it is. And it’s a great template for what supercars could be — no limits exercises in pushing the boundaries of the technology of cars.
There should be supercars, acting as beacons of hope, symbols to strive for, of every major trait of automobiles. Like supercars of durability and longevity, wildly overbuilt and rugged cars made of the absolute best, corrosion-resistant materials, using the absolute best craftsmanship, with modular, replaceable electronics, and a simple, absurdly well-built engine. A longevity supercar would be designed to last 300 years, minimum. They’d have names like estates that get passed down within families. Wills would be read where you’d hear “and I leave The Rolling Thunderhippo to my son, Albemarle Fitznumbnutz III.”
The could be practicality supercars that push the limits of design and engineering to be able to reconfigure themselves to carry a pair of mating moose on one trip, and then be small enough to park into a compact spot on the way back. There’d be supercars designed for wealthy families that were exotic-looking minivans that could seat 6 and still be fun to drive. Sure, many of these would be as expensive as current supercars, but why limit their goals to the same, unused power and performance potential?
For those who want real track cars, they of course would still be there. But why build an amazing track car with incredibly expensive parts and luxury interiors when they’re never, ever going to be really used?
There could be supercars for lightness, for handling, for utility, for flexibility, for fun — supercars should be available for almost every possible niche, and should do more than just showing everyone how rich you are.
Supercars as we know them will always have their place for rich gearheads. But all the dizzyingly wealthy people that are buying Ferraris and Lambos and Veyrons now, most of them don’t know or care about what to do with a car that really performs. So let’s open up the idea of a supercar. They’ll still be absurd for the most part, but at least there can be some variety to the absurdity.