astronaugt on the moon
NASA

Anyone who follows the curving arc of technology knows a little about Moore’s law. In its simplest form, this oft-cited doctrine (not a “law” by any standard), named after semiconductor maker and Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, states that the power of the microchip will increase by about 40 percent every two years. This, in essence, is the driving force behind every investment made in Silicon Valley. Growth is good; growth is inevitable. Let’s all get rich.

This story originally appeared in Volume 14 of Road & Track.

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Even Moore knows this type of growth cannot be sustained forever. But we’re acclimatized to expect it—in iPhones, with their gradual march to complete domination; in internet-connected appliances in our kitchens. And of course, in our cars, which seem to get smarter, faster, and more sophisticated with each successive generation. The first electric cigarette lighter a century ago has gradually led us to the dizzying interface of huge finger-grease-smeared 14-inch dash screens.

But the really interesting aspects of technology are the automotive moonshots, the big leaps forward. These are what interest us in the Breakthrough issue, Vol. 14. Inspired by another of our nerd loves, President Kennedy’s call to spend what amounted to 2.5 percent of the GDP to bring man to the moon in the Apollo program, Road & Track went looking for the true breakthroughs pushing designers to cross a sort of technological rubicon—and the noble attempts that fell short.

Drivers are being asked to go electric, but that’s not an incremental move. The closer you get to the transformation, the more critical the big breakthrough becomes. We can build all the top-shelf EVs we want, but without a reliable charging infrastructure, what’s the point? Ask anyone who owned a Model S in Florida when Hurricane Ian bricked their EV what it feels like to live without juice. There are promises to add a half million chargers in the U.S., but these machines are prone to failure at troublingly high rates.

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That’s why, despite all the reasons to dislike Elon Musk and his cheap hucksterism, we really have to give him credit for the Supercharger network, Tesla's signature innovation. It works, it’s ubiquitous, and it will be studied as a brilliant marriage of innovation and the power of a well-integrated vertical company. Lawrence Ulrich investigates in “Elon Musk’s Biggest Coup Ain’t Rockets."

We look at breakthroughs from many angles. Editor-at-large A.J. Baime talked to five racing drivers about defining moments in their careers. One of our newest contributing editors, Mike Spinelli, watched the fan car in person this year at Goodwood—and, like everyone else in attendance, was stunned by the uncanny speeds it reached. So for this issue, he went deep on vacuum cars over the years and why this radical tech never caught on.

Not every breakthrough lands a man on the moon, but car enthusiasts desire heroic acts and big thinking. Leave the slow march to the iPhone.

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