2010 Geneva: We need performance hybrids

Batteries add weight. Electric drive dilutes the character of an unbridled gas engine. Hybrids are an insult to the philosophy and heritage of any legitimate sports car.

Those are the cries of shallow alarmists who are quite busy at the moment detesting a barrage of hybrid exotics and sports cars that debuted at the 2010 Geneva auto show. In reality, cars like the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari HY-KERS, and Lotus Evora 414E are saviors. With tightening emissions and fuel economy standards, these concepts illustrate the decision small-volume performance carmakers must make: clean ‘em up or close up shop. Given that choice, I say bring on the hybrids.

It’s unfortunate to see Maranello, Weissach, and Hethel vilified as if one morning the company executives jumped on a conference call to agree that, yes, we would like to alter the fundamental focus of our businesses. Oh, and let’s dump billions of dollars into the project while we’re at it.

Of course I’d prefer to see Ferrari devote its development dollars to advanced valvetrains, combustion efficiency improvements, and exotic materials that make V-12s scream louder and spin faster while producing fewer emissions. Yet that track doesn’t deliver the mandated results fast enough. Want to get angry about hybrid sports cars? Fine. Blame the government, write a letter to your senator, or call NHTSA (they’re happy to talk about anything that’s not Toyota).

Porsche, Ferrari, and Lotus, though, did not wish this on the industry. Still, the companies have accepted their fate without complaint. Instead, the same brilliant minds that have delivered the planet’s best cars are quietly working to deliver the next generation of the planet’s best cars.

There will certainly be casualties as hybrids and electrics become the norm for performance cars. The guttural idle of big displacement is likely the first victim. And at the same time there will be performance improvements, just as we expect with each new variant of our favorite sports car.

Porsche claims a 3.2 second sprint to 62 mph with the 918 Spyder, 0.7 seconds faster than the V-10 Carrera GT. Ferrari says its hybrid 599 runs to 124 mph 0.4 seconds faster than the V-12 car. Just as they haven’t abandoned acceleration, these automakers won’t lose sight of their other values. Handling, style, and prestige will continue to be a part of the DNA.

These cars also have the chops to survive emissions testing. Ferrari’s HY-KERS runs the entire European urban on electric power. Porsche is claiming the 918 Spyder, with three electric motors and more than 500 horsepower of V-8, returns 78 mpg. Lotus says there’s 35 miles of electric range in the 414E.

Skeptics scoff at those numbers. No one will ever achieve such efficiency in the real world, they rant.

Who cares? You and I shouldn’t.

Finding the loophole is exactly what these cars are about. We don’t know how the coming wave of hybrid exotics will drive, but to write them off now is to excuse yourself from the table too soon. As long as elite automakers have the tenacity to build within the rules, I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next seductive, standard-setting supercar.

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Even in the drive on mountains with enormous wind in front, or let it be the highway with the speed of 65 mph and even in full traffic

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