To date, the development of hybrids and EVs has focused mainly on prosaic, and affordable cars for the masses, and to a lesser extent augmented luxury cars for a more fortunate few. Come 2013 however, the hybrid world’s range will expand exponentially with the release of the most advanced and powerful hybrid cars the world has yet seen.Porsche, the famed maker of iconic sports cars (and less iconic but highly sought after sedans and SUVs) will start delivery of the 918 Spyder to Ultra High Net Worth Individuals globally. With a breathtaking price tag of $845,000 – and performance to match, the 918 promises to smash preconceived notions of the role of hybrids and ecologically friendly automobiles.
The 918 is the first salvo in an upcoming war for preeminence in a yet un-contested luxury alternative energy vehicle battle. Not to be undone, Jaguar has announced its own gorgeous flight of fancy, the C-X75 hybrid supercar which will arrive to do battle for superlatives with the 918 in late 2013. Shown as a concept in 2010 with a radical jet-powered hybrid powertrain, the production version will feature a somewhat less exciting hybrid system consisting of a conventional engine mated to a sophisticated electric motor setup. The price tag of the super cat is also likely to shatter records for the most expensive new Jag ever, at an expected cool $1,000,000+
Not to be outdone, Ferrari has made rumblings about its own hybrid drivetrain, and showcased such a concept on the Kermit-green painted 599 HY-KERS concept from 2010. The Prancing Horse has been quiet however on its plans to release a production car with the advanced flywheel energy system, although a production model announcement is expected. Porsche has also announced it plans to introduce a production hybrid version of its iconic 911 by late 2013, in efforts to marry the abilities of the 918 into a more easily accessible package. Earlier this year, they introduced 3 examples of their Boxster roadster with pure EV drivetrains to evaluate electric motor and battery designs. Audi and Mercedes Benz are also tipped to release EV versions of their top sports models.
Even famed ultra-luxury maker Rolls Royce has entered the alternative energy fray with a powder blue concept sedan, the 102EX (experimental.) Also known as the electric Phantom, the giant Rolls EV features a massive battery pack stacked in a rough approximation of the V12 engine previously found under the hood and 2 electric motors driving the rear wheels.
Which all begs the question, why? Obviously the world’s wealthy aren’t particularly concerned with the vagaries of fuel prices. The answer is, in a word: leadership. Porsche is adamant that their products are relevant to the drivers which they sell to. Indeed, for the entire 20th century Porsche survived exclusively as a sports and racing car builder. Yet now in the early years of the 21st the Porsche brand is embraced for its sedans and SUVs as well as sports cars. According to Rolls Royce, the 102EX is “the world’s first battery electric vehicle for the ultra-luxury segment.” Rolls Royce intends the 102EX to spark a debate amongst customers, thought-leaders and other contributors before committing to a production version.
Porsche is committed to producing cars that resonate with buyers the world over, and with over 1000 customers queued with deposits for the 918, there are individuals who have embraced environmentally sensitive concepts as very relevant to their interests. Rolls Royce is betting on the 102EX to lead them and its customers towards an understanding of how to proceed in a future when gasoline might simply not exist.
Speaking with Autocar in March of 2010, Porsche’s boss Michael Macht stated “The 918 Spyder provides the answer to whether there can be high-performance cars in the future,” he added. “Many have said they are finished. This car shows they are not.” For a brand built on performance, the 918 ensures continuing relevance for the brand. Like all Porsche models, this one will also be sold for profit. Challenging targets of performance, economy and profit drive engineers to develop technology that will very likely spread throughout the entire Porsche range not long after the last 918 rolls out of the Stuttgart factory. This, in turn means that garden-variety Porsches that mere mortals can afford will become increasingly green, while still staying true to the core values of Porsche product.
Jaguar too wants to attract the newly wealthy of the 21st century and move its brand firmly into the future. Unlike Porsche however, the C-X75 project isn’t projected to make a profit. Jaguar is using its development to educate its engineers on the challenges of creating alternative-energy drivetrains that maintain core Jaguar values.
These mega-buck supercars might not be practical like a Prius or BMW hybrid, but they captivate the imagination as well as provide engineers and designers an opportunity to create blue-sky visions of a future where energy is used efficiently whilst still keeping the passion for these iconic brands intact.