Ferrari's HY-KERS concept, shown at the 2010 Geneva auto show, is a bit tough to swallow. The world's most iconic sports car marque, known for screaming V-8s and V-12s, is playing around with the gas-electric technology epitomized by the Toyota Prius. Yet it gets even more dramatic than a hybrid concept. Eventually - maybe ten years from now - all Ferrari's will be saddled with batteries and an electric motor. Hybridization or electrification of the Prancing Horse lineup is inevitable.
The HY-KERS, a hybrid concept based on the 599 GTB Fiorano, is the first glimpse of that future. Ferrari tells us that a production hybrid will arrive in three to five years, though no one's saying what car the gas-electric powertrain will be pushed into first. We're told the hardware shown on the HY-KERS concept can easily be adapted to mid-engine vehicles. Whatever the body, though, management is clear that hybrid propulsion won't be optional; the gas-electric unit will be the one and only powertrain offered for the vehicle.
To accommodate the electric running gear, Ferrari traded the 599's six-speed automated manual for the seven-speed dual-clutch unit from the 458 Italia. The electric motor, rated at 107 hp and 111 lb-ft of torque, is located on the opposite side of the gearbox from the gas engine and mated to the transmission shaft holding the odd number gears. Up to 3 kwh of electric energy is stored in lithium-ion batteries. The V-12 mill is essentially unchanged, though the starter has been removed and the alternator has been traded for a motor/generator that drives accessories when the engine isn't running. Total weight of the system is a relatively kind 220 pounds, and the goal is to make the production package even lighter and reduce mass in other systems to compensate.
Of course, adding weight is never a positive, but Ferrari has done the devil's work in the most angelic manner possible. The prismatic-cell battery packs are mounted below the floor pan, and the motor and electronics module have been placed behind the rear transaxle. The result is a lower center of gravity and 55 percent, rather than 53 percent, of the car's weight over the rear wheels. Engineers also adopted a philosophy that mandated an additional one horsepower for every kilogram of weight they added to the car.
Operation modes in the HY-KERS aren't all that different from those of a Toyota Prius. During deceleration, regenerative braking sends electricity into the battery pack while the gas engine shuts off. At low speeds and light loads, the electric motor serves as the sole power source. E-boost mode uses the motor to assist the V-12 engine during spirited driving. Finally, load-point moving calls on the V-12 to both move the car and charge the battery, allowing the engine to operate at a higher load - and thus greater efficiency - at low revs.
The hardware in the 599-based concept has virtually nothing in common with the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) used by Ferrari's Formula One team in 2009, but company officials say the automaker learned valuable lessons in developing the control algorithms for regenerative braking and using the electric motor to as a performance booster to supplement the gas engine.
The impetus for Ferrari hybrids is a looming European regulation that dictates automakers' fleets average about 140 g CO2/km starting in 2012. Details for small-volume manufacturers are still being discussed, but it's clear that the current produce won't come close to any modern standards. Currently, the 458 Italia produces 307 g CO2/km in emissions testing. Insiders say that during development of the new rules in the middle of the decade, Maranello management fretted over how they could possibly meet the stringent requirements.
We find the HY-KERS solution beautifully Ferrari, as it's an elegant means to being brazenly subversive. The drivetrain is calibrated such that the entire European cycle is driven in electric mode. Then, during the extraurban cycle, load-point shifting allows Ferrari to recharge the battery (as required by the regulations) and operate at a higher efficiency. The result is 35 percent lower CO2 emissions over the combined urban and extra urban cycles. Gains on the highway will be significantly less substantial, but Ferrari is also developing cylinder deactivation and other technologies to improve cruising efficiency.
Best of all, though, is that the V-12's hyperkinetic character is left untouched. A heavy foot will still snap the throttle open, squeeze you against your seat, and unleash a beautiful shriek. Ferrari claims that the gas-electric 599 runs to 124 mph in 7.5 seconds, 0.4 seconds faster than the current 599. We were also relieved that Ferrari officials never once mentioned the idea of a continuously variable transmission in their technical presentation. Of course, we'll have to wait for a drive before we can truly pass judgment.