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Why MIT is teaming up with Lamborghini: to create even better supercars

Lamborghini and MIT are partnering to develop technology and products that should make future Lambos faster, lighter, less expensive (maybe), and possibly more crash-resistant. Even though Lamborghini is part of the huge Volkswagen family, supercar companies need to continuously improve if they intend to survive and prosper.

This week, Lamborghini and Massachusetts of Technology announced a three-year partnership to underwrite 50 students studying abroad in Italy, working with Lamborghini on research and development. Much of the work is expected to be in developing composites that make the car lighter and stronger.

Lamborghini Huracan

Just last fall (2015), MIT entered a partnership with Toyota to further develop self-driving cars. It’s part of a $1 billion program that includes Stanford as well. The two coastal cities, along with Carnegie Mellon, are among the university leaders in autonomous driving research.

With MIT, much of the work will be in Cambridge, along with the year-abroad program for students. Italy is already a popular junior-year-abroad destination for American students, especially for art history majors who often minor in espresso and smoking-to-stay-skinny.

MIT also compares its Lamborghini-Italy program to one formed a decade ago between Boeing and the University of Washington which helped Boeing devise a faster method of creating carbon-fiber parts. Normally it’s a painstaking, multi-step process, far slower than stamping a piece of metal in a press.

Lamborghini LF 3-4 red

The company says it wants to explore better and more cost-effective composite parts. Supercars already have some carbon fiber parts, whether roof, hood, and trunk panels to save weight and lower the car’s center of gravity, or tubs (the chassis) that are ultra crash-resistant. There are already carbon fiber panels on Lamborghini’s Aventador.

Carbon fiber wheels would be a worthwhile project, since the greatest performance gains come from reducing unsprung weight, meaning the tires, wheels, and brakes. But it’s hard to monitor carbon fiber wheels for hidden damage and it’s likely CF road wheels would first be a club racing or track days option.

The company also needs to work on hybrid designs where the electric motors act as turbochargers, even if the car has physical turbochargers as well. Electric motors provide torque instantly and at low rpm, while turbos need several tenths of a second to spool up.

Lamborghini, like all automakers, is aware that Germany’s legislature voted to push that country, and possibly the entire EU (which often follows Germany’s lead on things automotive) to move beyond combustion engines by 2030. Which means even more R&D work on EVs, or hydrogen fuel cells that drive electric motors.

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