From the circuits of Europe to the hearts and minds of enthusiasts the world over, Ferrari and Porsche have traditionally ranked 1-2.
And now the storied race-bred sports-car makers find themselves locked in a different kind of competition--development of green cars. Both of the companies revealed hybrid concepts to much fanfare at the Geneva motor show in March. Ferrari rolled out the Hy-KERS, a 599 GTB Fiorano enhanced with an electric motor. And Porsche stunned the car world with the 918 Spyder concept that previews its plans for a four-wheel-drive hybrid supercar.
This was not just for show. These projects are firmly planted in the new reality that all carmakers must comply with strict emissions requirements and changing consumer tastes--without sacrificing performance premiums that built their brands and contributed to scores of victories in racing.
Porsche perhaps made the strongest statement at a Geneva show that was filled with green cars from nearly every automaker on display. The German sports-car specialist showed three hybrids that suggest its hybrid strategy is only beginning. In addition to the 918 Spyder, the company showed the Cayenne hybrid packing 380 hp, and the 911 GT3 R hybrid race car.
“Three hybrids, for the road, the racetrack and the future,” Porsche CEO Michael Macht said.
The impressive Swiss display is just the start of things for Porsche, Macht added later.
Foremost for enthusiasts, the 918 Spyder clearly has a solid chance to make it to production in some form. Porsche has (almost) never built a concept and then not accompanied it with a production version. The open-air two-seater uses a mid-mounted 500-hp V8 engine that works with a pair of electric motors adding another 218 ponies. The car can reach a 62 mph in 3.2 seconds and blitz the Nürburgring’s vaunted Nordschleife in a time faster than 7:30. Plus, the speed demon can travel 15.5 miles on pure electricity.
How realistic is all of this?
“The concept is possible,” Macht said.
And so are more hybrids for Porsche, likely with less of a dream-car demeanor. Up to 15 percent of the Cayenne’s global sales could be hybrids, Macht said. In five to 10 years, 30 percent of all Porsche volume could be hybrids. That means new models, perhaps a hybrid Boxster, in less than three years.
That could put an onus on Ferrari to produce something with green ethos in the near future. The Prancing Horse has 16 titles in Formula One--far more than anyone else--and exactly zero hybrids for the street. That’s hardly an indictment of a company that traces its roots directly to racing’s formative years. But the modern green-car movement is sure to shade Ferrari red in some manner.
The Hy-KERS revealed at Geneva was striking in a number of ways. The system uses an electric motor with more than 100 hp coupled to a Formula One-style gearbox, and it recovers energy during braking. The batteries are located below the floor to improve the center of gravity. Coat all of it with a matte-green paint job, and this car clearly represents a new direction for the Italian icon.
“We are ready to work very hard with this hybrid car,” chairman Luca di Montezemolo said.
The company wants to have a hybrid variant for every car in its range in three to four years, and the 458 Italia is rumored as a top candidate for hybrid technology soon. The California is available now with a stop-start system. Maranello also has an F430 test mule that runs on biofuel.
Everyone joins the fray
While Ferrari and Porsche had perhaps the most stunning green reveals in Geneva, they were far from alone in their efforts to channel eco ethos. The hybrid roll call included Audi, with an A1 E-tron, the third E-tron concept with electric propulsion in about half a year, plus an A8 hybrid; BMW showed the ActiveHybrid 5; Infiniti had an alluring M35; Lexus debuted a CT200h compact car, and Mercedes-Benz showed the F800 Style.
Even nonluxury companies such as Opel answered the bell with a its Flextreme GT/E concept, an impressive take on the Chevrolet Volt’s (and Opel Ampera’s) extended-range technology, while the Hyundai i-Flow concept with a diesel-hybrid powertrain offered a hint of its next large sedan.
“The future is full hybrid,” Andy Pfeiffenberger, Lexus vice president of Europe, said in Geneva. He was talking about a specific type of powertrain, but in many ways he could have been alluding to the future of cars.