Not too many years ago, electric and hybrid cars were regarded as being rather quirky, their main purpose being to deliver performance and practicality approaching that of a conventional internal combustion engine powered vehicle coupled with very low emission levels. They were therefore considered to be acceptable for use as “city cars” and favoured by those who placed more emphasis on their green credentials than on driver satisfaction and enjoyment. The Toyota Prius Hybrid first appeared twenty years ago and has been a popular eco-friendly choice ever since but small green cars such as these have never really caught the imagination of the wider motoring public, especially the true petrol-heads who invariably favour the sound of a screaming Ferrari V12 over the click and whine of an electric motor.
Supercars on the other hand are the stuff of dreams, playthings of the super-rich with little regard to practicality, economy or the environment. Evolutionary forces however are as real in the automotive industry as they are in the natural world and modern trends of ever increasing regulation have forced car makers to go back to the drawing board in order to ensure that their cars continue to survive in this ever-changing environment. It seemed to many that the days of the supercars were over and they were doomed to go the same way as the dinosaurs. The makers of some of the world's most exciting cars were having none of this of course and rather than scaling down the performance of their cars to conform with modern requirements, they simply designed cars which harnessed electric power as a means of offering enhanced levels of performance while still conforming with statutory regulations. Individual manufacturers have employed different methods of achieving this.
The McLaren P1 for example has upped the power on its previous incarnation of this engine and this 3.8 litre V8 is twin turbocharged resulting in an output of 727 bhp. To this is added an electric motor placed between the engine and the transmission providing additional torque and overcoming any turbo-lag. In total, the car offers 904 bhp. Its all-electric range is just 6 miles.
The Ferrari LaFerrari follows a similar theme, its 6.3 Litre V12 provides 800 bhp supplemented by an electric motor attached to the rear of the gearbox resulting in a total of just over 960 prancing horses. Like most other hybrid supercars, the LaFerrari employs a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) in this case developed from that used in F1 cars. This may result in some energy savings but this car is unlikely to offer much more than around 16 mpg … but who cares!
The Porsche 918 Spyder is equipped with two electric motors, 156 bhp at the front and 129 bhp at the rear. It can be operated in all-electric mode for around 12 miles. When the electric power is added to the 608 bhp from the 4.6 Litre V8, a total power of 893 bhp is available.
Each of the above cars carries a price tag of around £1 million or more making the BMW i8 seem like a real snip at £105,000. This really is a more practical supercar offering many of the advantages of more lowly hybrids such as exceptional fuel efficiency and zero rated V.E.D band. Its 3 cylinder 1.5 litre turbocharged engine produces 231 bhp but an additional 161 bhp from the front mounted electric motor powering the front wheels gives blistering acceleration. It also has a usable 22 mile range in all-electric mode.
Hybrid technology now dominates F1 and even Le Mans. Suddenly hybrids are cool!
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