Materials; Ferrari Finds Future in Aluminum

TURIN - The technology leap represented by Ferrari's new 360 Modena isn't restricted only to Maranello's latest wonder car.

Push hard and you'll get Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari Automobili SpA's suave president, to admit that aluminum is the future for Ferrari's other production road cars.

The successors to the two front-engine V-12 models - the 456M GT and 550 Maranello - are currently under development. You can bet they will adopt the same aluminum alloy space-frame construction and body as the new 360 Modena.

The 456 is due to be replaced in 2002 by an all-new 2+2 - but still 2-door - Ferrari coupe. Expect a weight reduction of around 330 lbs. (150 kg), which guarantees, with a still more powerful V-12, even greater performance.

The 550 replacement follows a couple of years later and will be built on a shorter, but fundamentally identical, chassis. Lower weight and an even higher power output ensures this new two-seat Ferrari remains a true sports car.

Composite materials would provide an even greater reduction but the cost, still painfully slow production - one-per-day in the same area that 10 conventional cars could be built. And problems with repairs mean carbon-fiber and Kevlar are still not viable alternatives to aluminum.

By 2003 or 2004, Ferrari will be ready to introduce the heir to today's 360. How do we know? The sums are interesting. Ferrari says it expects to sell "over 10,000 in its life cycle."

Because the 360 represents 65% to 70% of Ferrari's annual production of around 3,600 cars, that's 2,500 units a year. The new car will be a reskin of the current 360, sharing the same basic proportions, much as the F355 was a facelift of the 348.

What about the car's theoretical successor due around 2010?

"It will be lighter, maybe 50 kg (110 lbs.)," says Maurizio Manfredi, the project leader for the 360. "Yet it will have more equipment. The dimensions and proportions will be about the same, no bigger. I still think it will be powered by a V-8, maybe with 450 hp but around 4L and able to produce the same rpm."

Such a car, Manfredi says, should be capable of zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.3 seconds - a 0.2-second improvement over the 360 - and around 12.2 seconds for the standing quarter mile, down 0.3 seconds.

He doesn't talk economy, though one unsung benefit of the new 360's lower weight and improved efficiency is a significant reduction in fuel consumption.

The F355 struggled to stretch a tank to 250 miles (400 km). The 360 brings a 3.4-gal. (13L) bigger tank, now 15 gal. (95L), but also a massive improvement in fuel consumption. Through the combined cycle, the 360 returns 15.8 mpg (14.9L/100 km), 2.2 mpg (2.4L/100 km) better than the F355, suggesting a range of close to 320 miles (512 km).

The 360 returns 23.5 mpg (10L/100 km) through the extra-urban cycle, compared to the F355's 20.9 mpg (11.2L/100 km), while its 10 mpg (23.5L/100 km) in the urban cycle is a 1.5 mpg (4.1L/100 km) improvement. Think of it in percentage terms before you laugh.
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