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Engadget previews Ferrari's future hypercars at the World Design Contest (video)

Tim Stevens

Ferrari's been one of the most respected car manufacturers in the world since the 1940s, but it hasn't exactly gotten there by being bleeding-edge. In the early '60s, when rear-engined cars were sweeping the charts in Formula One, Il Commendatore -- Enzo Ferrari -- refused to take one racing, famously saying "the horse doesn't push the cart along with its nose." It would take many humiliating defeats before his company would finally put that horse where it belongs. Being an early adopter, obviously, was not a priority. It's only in the past few years, with cars like the Enzo and 458 Italia, that Ferrari has truly embraced modern ideas of whizz-bang tech to make their cars genuinely faster -- not just easier to drive.

That's just the beginning. Automotive technology is finally starting to accelerate the way personal computing devices have for the past few decades. New means of propulsion are combining with ever-greater integrated systems and it's easy to see this as leading us toward a generation of cars faster and still more efficient than anything we've yet seen on the roads. Ferrari calls this four-wheeled singularity the "hypercar," and to get an idea of just what that car of the future might look like it invited 50 teams of designers from major universities around the world to compete. Join us as we look at some of the best creations.

Gallery: Ferrari World Design Contest | 75 Photos

The competition

Ferrari says the hypercar is "extreme car not only in its architecture but also in every other aspect," a machine that will be making its appearance in dealerships around 2030 or 2040. It'll be the sort of thing kids a generation or two from now will be plastering all over their walls in posters -- if indeed OLED wallpaper isn't commonplace by then.

If you look at the car of 20 years ago compared to the car of today it would be easy to think automobiles 20 years from now would be quite familiar to say the least. After all, compare a modern Miata MX5 to the one of the early '90s and you'll see that not a whole heck of a lot has changed.

But, compare today's Droid Bionic to, say, a Motorola StarTAC from 1996 and you'll see the kind of advancement that Ferrari (and others) are hoping will sweep the automotive industry in the coming decades. Optimistic? Sure, but that's far better than planning for another generation of the same 'ol same 'ol.

So the competition is intended to explore some ideas on that front, but it's also an opportunity for students to explore new ways of creating those designs of the future.

Third place - Cavallo Bianco - RCA, London

The third place car, from London's Royal College of Art, was certainly one of the most distinctive models on display at the competition. It was inspired by the need for a Ferrari that would excel in colder climates -- one that's not only drivable on the snow, but is optimized for it. It features four skinny wheels and tires designed to cut through the snow and grip the surface beneath. An electric motor at each corner puts things in motion, while a 1.3 liter turbocharged engine provides the electricity. Also, it's silver -- one of only three cars that weren't red.

Second place - Xezri - IED, Turin

Samir Sadikho from Turin's IED contributed the Xezri, a sleek coupe that uses micro-turbines for power. It features flexible aerodynamics that flow up at higher speeds to cool the engine and also to generate extra downforce. It has a fighter-inspired cockpit with just a single seat making this the perfect dream machine for eternal bachelors.

First place - Eternità - Hongik University, Seoul

The grand prize winner came out of Korea and nobody among the (largely cynical) journalists gathered at the event was surprised. Korea is seen as Ferrari's next big market to capture, and so the company is keenly interested in feeling the pulse of that area. Listening to a bunch of design students is certainly a very good way to do that. Plus, the creators from Seoul seemed to be among the few who not only designed their car in software, but who also produced it using digitally-controlled fabrication. Everybody else we talked to whittled theirs out of clay.

That's not to say the car itself wasn't deserving. It relies on superconductive engines to provide incredible efficiency and power. The electricity comes from a hydrogen fuel cell and the open cockpit design would surely provide a rush at the ridiculous speeds this thing could achieve -- if the tech existed to actually put it in production. This is, like the rest, very much a car of the future.


A hypercar from Ferrari relying on incredible technology? We have mixed feelings about that. It's obvious that young designers around, when freed from the constraints of modern technology, have some ideas about what this sort of exotic automobile should look like. So, the next generation is looking bright -- but the current generation of those in power at the Scuderia are obviously locked in the past.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo told us he "doesn't believe" in electric cars and, while he seems to be the kind of man who will still be kicking (and looking rather dashing) in 20 years time, chances are he'll have long-since retired. Will the next generation of Ferrari leadership, then, be a little more open to the sort of change all these young designers are asking for? He or she had better be.

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