San Francisco: The menacing orange wedge parked at the curb might look like a car, but it’s really a mobile showcase for the latest in automotive technology.
“McLaren makes sports cars, but we really consider ourselves an engineering firm that happens to make automobiles,” says John Paolo Canton, spokesman for the British company that has long roots in the ultra high-tech realm of Formula One auto racing. “Technology really allows us to push cars to the next level.”
Canton is talking specifically about the $US280,000 2015 McLaren 650S, but he might as well be speaking generally about how tech continues to evolve our favorite motorised contraption from four-tires-and-an-engine to rolling computer.
How far things have come and where they’re going will be on full display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas beginning January 5, where the gamut of top global automakers will be showcasing their latest tech.
While the big unveils remain under wraps, there are already hints of what CES will reveal about the state of the automobile.
For example, BMW is keen to show off something called Remote Valet Parking Assistant, which allows drivers to exit their cars and, using a smartwatch-based app, remotely guide their empty car to a parking spot in a multi-story garage using an array on on-board lasers and sensors.
Audi’s tech chiefs will be unveiling details about the future of in-car infotainment systems and lighting design, while Ford and Mercedes-Benz — whose CEOs will be making keynote addresses — will be spotlighting, respectively, a Mustang with sophisticated collision warning and a secret prototype packed with semi-autonomous driving aides.
CES also promises the latest developments in driver monitoring systems anchored to facial-recognition cameras that can detect and alert with increasing accuracy a driver who is getting drowsy at the wheel.
But falling asleep while driving a McLaren 650S isn’t likely. This supercar — whose twin-turbo V8 rocks the car to 96km per hour in less than 3 seconds — requires total driver focus, which it rewards with driving dynamics normally found only in racing cars.
Tech plays a huge role in making the 650S so responsive. The car feels glued to the road thanks to a sophisticated hydraulic suspension system that continuously adjusts depending on the road conditions and car’s position. It slows from triple-digit speeds thanks to an Airbrake, a giant wing that rises and tilts when it senses the need.
And the shockingly impressive fuel economy — around 8.5km per litre on the highway — is due largely to lightness derived from the all-carbon-fibre passenger cell that offers bank vault solidity in case of an accident.
“A lot of people interested in our cars appreciate the technology, but there’s also the fact that that tech simply makes it easier and more pleasurable to drive the car every day,” says Canton.