Cleveland, Ohio – It’s called an exercise in justification.
Car companies produce high-tech supercars because they’re cool, fun, get designers excited about their work, and because they occasionally get people to pop into showrooms to see the cool, unaffordable car before leaving in a family wagon.
Keep that in mind as Ford executives and engineers make the case that the 2017 GT supercar isn’t a testament to style and engineering ego – it’s a test bed for new technologies.
“When we began work on the all-new Ford GT in 2013, the team had three goals,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president of Product Development and chief technical officer. “The first was to use it as a training ground for our engineers as we develop future engine technology and stretch our understanding of aerodynamics. Then, to push the boundaries of advanced material usage, such as lightweight carbon fiber. Finally, we set out to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, referred to by many as the ultimate test of endurance and efficiency.”
If you’ve ever listened to General Motors’ designers who work on the Chevrolet Corvette, you’ve heard a similar argument. Sure, the Corvette is a low-volume specialty vehicle, but it drives the technology into the rest of Chevy’s lineup. The fact that the Corvette’s copious use of fiber-reinforced plastics hasn’t moved out of the performance space since its launch in 1953 shouldn’t dim the idea that supercars are test beds for daily drivers.
So, according to Ford, technologies developed for the GT that influence the mass-market include:
- Aluminum construction – The 2005 GT featured an aluminum alloy body to reduce weight and improve performance. So clearly, the experience won producing a $200,000 supercar translated into the $27,000 F-150.
- Carbon fiber construction – The 2017 GT, like almost all supercars, sticks to carbon-fiber reinforced plastics for most of its body work, shedding significant amounts of weight. Engineers say carbon-fiber lightweighting into cars is a “longer-term” possibility, not something to expect in the 2018 model year (see again Corvette – glass-fiber reinforced plastics since 1953).
- Human-machine interface (HMI) – Okay, they’ve got a leg to stand on here. Racecars and supercars have all-digital dashboards, allowing drivers to customize layouts to focus on the data they want (speed, fuel use, oil temperature, etc…). Similar features are increasingly becoming available on Ford’s hybrid cars and sportier vehicles such as the Mustang.
Ford engineers claim the GT’s 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 is another example of racing crossover technology, but that engine has been powering sedans and pickups for nearly a decade. Sure, the race model is tuned to deliver 647hp, but that’s not exactly a useful configuration for an F-150 driver who needs to tow a camper.
“We pushed the engine’s limits beyond what we might consider in traditional development programs, which is important as we continue to advance EcoBoost technology as a centerpiece of the company’s global lineup,” said Bob Fascetti, Ford vice president, powertrain engineering.
Much of the really cool technology on the GT has no practical application for mass-market vehicles. Some examples include:
- Aerodynamics – Sure, passenger cars need to be aerodynamically efficient, but Ford doesn’t need to worry about the average Fusion driver losing traction at 200mph. Engineers developed a wing that changes the shape of the airfoil depending on conditions. Flaps open and close depending on whether GT’s wing is up or down, so the car remains aerodynamically balanced from front to back at all speeds. Don’t expect the next Focus, even the RS, to need that kind of air control.
- Body shapes – Ford’s mass-market cars are constrained by economic realities. Designers can come up with really cool, highly efficient shapes that are nearly impossible to produce. Ask any stamping-plant manager to produce the curves and deep cavities in the GT’s body, and you might find yourself getting an inside look at a press. Plastics offer more design freedom, so the GT’s carbon-fiber construction allows shapes that wouldn’t be possible in metal.
- Engine modifications – Ford’s mainstream turbocharged vehicles use that technology to boost fuel economy. Replacing a V-8 with a turbo V-6 cuts weight and improves efficiency in most situations. The anti-lag turbo technology developed for the GT has nothing to do with increasing miles per gallon. The system keeps the throttle open when the driver is not stepping on the gas pedal. Fuel injectors are off but turbo speed and boost are maintained for faster engine response and acceleration as soon as the driver hits the gas.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.