The debate over whether Volkswagen or General Motors is the world's largest automaker obscures a number of things we should also consider in which firm outdoes the other. First, VW has never, ever needed any bailout from the state of Lower Saxony (which owns part of it) or Germany itself. This is partly down to the astute management of Ferdinand Piech--a real automotive genius who is none other than the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche (of the eponymous marque and the designer of the VW Beetle). Piech has proven himself to those in the motor trade by, among other things, designing the Le Mans-winning Porsche 917 in his early days. Second, VW's profitability is secured by owning a lot of luxury brands that can command higher margins on the market. The cachet of Audi, Bentley, Porsche and so on is unmatched by anything Goverment Motors offers.
Recently, I've succumbed to an admittedly unproductive diversion I've had growing up which should be familiar to males the world over: reading car magazines. Having not read these darned things in a while despite watching Top Gear fairly regularly, I like many was struck by today's supercar du jour, the Lamborghini Aventador. Just watch that mighty beast in action. To achieve truly astounding performance feats alike accelerating from 0 to 60 MPH in 2.9 seconds, this "Italian" supercar embodies among the most advanced technologies you can find in a production car.
Thus the third point that underscores just how far the once-mighty GM has fallen is the advancement of VW Group designs over their American counterparts. In particular, the carbon frame pictured above of the megabuck Lamborghini Aventador is impressive, combining very low weight with very high strength. The most galling thing for USA #1 cheerleaders--and there are too many out there in the part of the blogosphere I come across--is that this technology comes from the American commercial jetliner maker Boeing. In turn, Boeing gained this technological edge via subsidies from the US government. Don't believe me? Fine. How about a WTO ruling which suggests just that?
Boeing received at least $5.3 billion in improper subsidies from the United States government to develop its 787 Dreamliner and other jet models, giving it an unfair advantage against its European rival, Airbus, the World Trade Organization confirmed...Trade watchers will want to scrutinize the nitty-gritty details of DS 353 - Measures Affecting Trade in Large Civil Aircraft which are available on the WTO website. As for the rest of us, just keep in mind that the Lamborghini Aventador shares the carbon fibre space frame technology found on the 787 Dreamliner. Notably, the Aventador has not only starred in a car show but also an advanced materials show:
In an 850-page report, the Geneva-based trade body accepted a claim by the European Union that research and development grants provided by United States space programs contributed substantially to the technologies used in building the 787, Boeing’s latest flagship aircraft.
Whoever said “beauty is only skin deep” apparently never watched a Lamborghini get built. Thanks to the Italian automaker, those shallow types can head over to the Paris 2011 JEC composite show, and see their latest supercar, sans skin.And here's the Lambo press blurb:
Built with a reinforced carbon fiber composite that was developed in conjunction with Boeing, the Aventador LP700-4’s naked chassis looks right at home in the showcase of materials and technology. And since composites also comprise many of the car’s other components, including wheels, frame and seats, there’s a little more to look at than just a carbon tub.
Automobili Lamborghini's participation in the 2011 edition of the JEC Composite Show in Paris - one of the world's most important exhibitions of composite materials - is intended to emphasize the company's leadership in this highly specialized sector, not only in applying these materials in mass production (as shown by the new Aventador LP 700-4), but also in the investigation and development of new manufacturing technologies and the resulting product spin-offs.The overall point is that the main beneficiary of Boeing's advancements in carbon fibre technology which are partly down to DoD and NASA inputs are not fellow US companies but a German-Italian concern. In other words, what's best for Boeing is not what's best for GM. With their superb application in road cars as exemplified by the Lamborghini Aventador, this knowledge gap between automakers will only become larger. There is a "trickle down" of technologies here, but for the benefit of non-Americans' bottom line. While you can of course argue that GM cannot sell such a premium vehicle, it calls into question why its marketing prowess does not extend to luxury cars. Remembering GM's Saab fiasco gives me shivers.
The use of composite materials reinforced with carbon fiber is becoming increasingly widespread in the automotive sector, as revealed by a study by Lucintel that foresees a growth of 65% over the next 5 years. Many manufacturers are working on developing and applying these technologies so they can build lighter vehicles that make an important contribution to reducing fuel consumption and air pollution, through improvements that include increasing the strength of the vehicle's structures.
Bailouts aside, the world has moved on. Isn't it great that all those US government subsidies that funded Boeing are helping...a German-Italian automaker? VW is rolling on the tarmac laughing all the way to the bank. American industrial policy (whatever that is) is so inept and uncoordinated that they can't even tilt the playing field in the favour of their own companies consistently.
NOTE: Making these carbon fibre thingamajigs is a costly, proprietary process as demonstrated by the even more exclusive (if not higher performance) Lexus LF-A.