Horacio Pagani © E. Kieckens

“No customer or dealer has ever asked us to make a hybrid or electric car,” says Horacio Pagani. He is the man behind and the namesake of one of the world’s most exclusive supercars (starting at €3.5 million, excluding VAT). “But developments are moving fast. That’s why we’ve launched a project that should lead to an all-electric car. We think we can present the first model in 2025. But we have time,” Pagani told us during our visit to Pagani’s headquarters near Modena in central Italy.

Modena is in the center of an area of the province of Emilia-Romagna called “Motor Valley,” home of the most important supercars in the world. Here Ferrari was born, here are the roots of Lamborghini, here is the cradle of Maserati. Ducati, the Ferrari of the motorcycle, also comes from Motor Valley. We at Innovation Origins made a pilgrimage to this holy site to hear and see if and how the producers of supercars and super motorcycles are preparing for the ecological transition.

“The electrification of vehicles is an established trend,” says Francesco Leali, professor of Advanced Automotive Engineering” at the Motor Vehicle University of Emilia-Romagna. But that doesn’t mean there is only one path that can be followed. “Batteries don’t currently perform well enough to make a real leap forward. The electric infrastructure is not yet in place to consolidate this trend, either. We are in a transition phase.”

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More electric vehicles on the road is great, but it will take time before the effect is measurable, Leali believes. “You get real environmental impact by tackling the existing fleet. In my opinion, the problem of sustainability is much more complex than driving electric vehicles. There will be a need for a mix of energy sources.”

Italiaanse supercar
© E. Kieckens

Consciously or not, he echoes the words of Italian Minister Roberto Cingolani. “In the short term, there is no ready-made solution for decarbonizing the transport sector. On the contrary, different technologies must be utilized,” the Minister of Ecological Transition said at the beginning of this year. The reason is well known: there are still too few sustainable energy sources available and (outside small countries like the Netherlands) the distribution network leaves much to be desired.

A hybrid gasoline engine

“I see the future in hybrid in the coming years,” says Franco Iorio of CPC, a company that makes carbon fiber engines and components for almost all supercar manufacturers (read more about this super supplier in the world of racing). “Until the industry is 100 percent electric or another way is found to become carbon-neutral, we will have to deal with a long interim period. During that time, it will revolve around hybrid models. In any case, a hybrid gasoline engine cuts emissions by about 50 percent.”

Ducati rider Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia during the 2021 MotoGP at Assen © Ducati

Ducati (part of Volkswagen, which spearheads the conversion to all-electric) is also in no hurry to electrify its models. The size and weight of the batteries needed to achieve a range comparable to that of an internal combustion engine are, in its own words, the main obstacles. Ducati’s sales manager went so far as to state earlier this year that Ducati will not be coming out with an electric model for the time being (Ducati e-scooters and e-steps are being built under license, by the way). Instead, he was thinking of synthetic fuel as a solution to the emissions problem.

The supercar sound

Back to four wheels. Maserati will indeed come out with an electric car next year. It will be the first electric GranTurismo (a public road racing car) in history. It will be the first in a new line to be called Folgore (“Lightning”). “Fuel engines are not going away for now. We see electrification as a gradual process. It’s an evolution, not a disruptive revolution,” said Davide Danesin, head of development for the GranTurismo in an online meeting in early July at the annual Motor Valley Fest.

The problem for the creators, riders and supporters (Formula 1, MotoGP) of supercars and super motorcycles is not just that batteries do not yet provide enough power. After all, sports cars with unprecedented power (i.e., supercars) are not just about speed and aesthetics. The experience of driving a supercar often lies in its engine and its sound.

An electric supercar is hardly inferior to a traditional one in maximum speed and acceleration. The chassis is not much different either. But it does lack the engine sound, that typical roar. Maserati says it has found something to preserve the typical sound of a supercar. “The sound is an important part of our cars. The sound creates the experience of a supercar. It is a characteristic element of all Maseratis.” Danesin would not say what sound we should think of, but an idea might be gleaned from this video clip:

That the supercar has to do without a “sound” (or with an artificially created sound) is one problem they don’t have at Energica. Energica is the purveyor of the E-Moto World Championship (the electric version of the MotorGP). They acquired this position thanks to more than 10 years of experience in electric motorcycle development. Energica’s flagship bike is not inferior to a Ducati. The Ego model takes 2.6 seconds to travel 100 meters from the position of standstill. “Our customers don’t miss the distinctive engine sound,” says Livia Cevolini, founder and CEO of Modena-based Energica (read more about Energica, the standard in electric superbikes). Energica’s customers are generally a bit younger than traditional motorcycle enthusiasts. Cevolini says that young people don’t mind going without a lot of motorcycle hum.

The electric motorcycle is barely distinguishable from one powered by a fuel engine. The shape is identical. “This is just the shape – you have two wheels, the handlebars, the line of the chassis that follows the body,” she says. Even if the batteries are smaller and take up the same amount of space in the future, this is still the shape,” says Cevolini. The typical racing colors have also remained. Energica’s first motorcycles were part green, but when that color didn’t do well, Energica decided to go on the road anyway with only the traditional engine colors: black, red and gray.

Ego of Energica, producer of electric motorcycles only © Marcello Mannoni

Another pioneer of electric driving is Giampaolo Dallara. He is the founder and namesake of Dallara, a producer of mainly race cars such as those in Formula 1 and Indycar. Dallara has supplied the chassis of all the cars since the birth of the Formula E (electric Formula 1) class in 2014. Whatever the carbon-neutral solutions will be, according to Dallara, one thing is clear. “It’s not to say that in the future we will necessarily be in battery-powered cars, but we will certainly not be in cars with internal combustion engines.”

Dallara produces all of Formula E’s track cars © E. Kieckens

What is a foregone conclusion for some (end of the internal combustion engine), is not a foregone conclusion for others. There seems to be a dichotomy in Motor Valley. Some are pioneers of electric driving while others are traditional producers of supercars (and superbikes) who are cautious and seem to be waiting.

Competition

Whether this is a good idea remains an open question. The luxury German brands, Porsche and the class below it, support electrification 100%. And then there are new brands that can take Motor Valley by storm. Not so much the almost ordinary Tesla, but electric supercars from the Croatian Rimac, for example. Then there are automakers focusing on other forms of energy. In June, Symbio, backed by Michelin, among others, presented its hydrogen-powered race car.

Despite such threats, Motor Valley’s position remains strong. The area is attracting major investments, especially in the electric and autonomous vehicle sector. For example, last May it was announced that Silk-FAW, the joint venture between the American Silk EV and the Chinese automaker FAW, will build the production of the supercar Hongqi S9 in Reggio Emilia. The supercar (1400hp) has an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine and an electric motor good for 40 kilometers without recharging. A hybrid supercar, in other words.

Perhaps Motor Valley is not so far off with its skepticism about the electric performance of supercars.

Read also about how composites have a future in electric mobility

Read about the secret behind the electric superbike (and its female CEO)

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About the author

Author profile picture Ewout Kieckens is a Dutch journalist in Rome who writes about Italian lifestyle and culture. He has written books on diverse subjects such as the Vatican and Italian design. He is very interested in innovations, especially Italian contributions to progress.