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High-Performance Hybrids

There's electricity in the air as experimental technologies redefine high performance, both on and off the track
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

(continued from page 2)

Acura: Honda, which introduced the first U.S. hybrid, the original Insight, has added a number of additional models, with a battery car also in the works. But oddly, its high-line Acura division has so far steered clear of battery power. That may soon change. The maker hints that the long-awaited replacement for the NSX supercar will use a hybrid drivetrain, and several more mainstream models may opt for gas-electric power, as well.

Aston Martin: No longer owned by Ford, the British maker has limited resources to move outside its performance luxury niche. Nevertheless expect to see either a hybrid or battery-electric version—or both—based on the maker’s Cygnet minicar. Cygnet comes as an unusual collaboration with Toyota, based on the pint-sized Scion iQ soon to reach U.S. shores.

Audi: Like most European makers, the Volkswagen subsidiary has emphasized diesel power with models like the A3 TDI, but it is finally charging into the battery world with the A6 Hybrid, a concept version that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show, last January. The maker also intends to introduce a production version of its e-tron, though final details are uncertain, with Audi having shown both BEV and plug-in versions of what is essentially a downsized version of the R8 supercar.

Bentley: The maker has promised a significant bump in fuel economy and sharply reduced emissions, though it is focusing on dual-fuel and other technologies. But don’t be surprised to see a hybrid in its future.

BMW: German makers in general are big diesel fans, and U.S. demand is slowly growing for models like the X5 xDrive35d. The BMW has pushed hard for hydrogen, but with support slipping it is turning to battery in a big way. It was scheduled to begin leasing the ActiveE sedan in mid-2011, but U.S. sales will be limited to 700 as the project is really a test for the upcoming introduction of an entirely new brand-within-a-brand debuting in 2013 with the launch of the i3 battery city car.

Buick: Brought back from the brink after parent General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy, Buick is now one of America’s fastest-growing brands. GM hopes to keep that momentum building with the 2012 launch of the Buick LaCrosse eAssist, a “mild” hybrid that boosts fuel economy on the big sedan to 36 mpg highway. The hybrid will be the standard powertrain on the updated LaCrosse. Other Buick models should eventually share eAssist.

Cadillac: Caddy’s popular bling-mobile, the Escalade, is also the brand’s first to go hybrid. The battery-electric version of the big SUV may have helped give it just enough “green” tint to survive the recent spike in fuel prices relatively unscathed. General Motors killed plans to give Cadillac a more luxurious version of the Chevrolet Volt, but insiders hint another plug-in project could be in the works.

Fisker: Founded By Henrik Fisker, best known for his former life as Aston’s chief designer, this start-up will challenge established luxury brands with the Karma plug-in. Priced at $95,900, it will deliver 50 miles in battery mode before switching to gas power. Together, both power sources should push it from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds. Fisker is developing a second, more mainstream, model, code-named Model S, which will be produced at an old General Motors plant starting in late 2013.

Infiniti: Nissan’s luxury division introduced its first hybrid vehicle earlier this year based on its updated M line. Its next step is to roll out an all-new battery-electric vehicle based on the Nissan Leaf. Expect still more battery-based offerings in the years ahead.

Jaguar: The British maker made headlines at last year’s Paris Motor Show with the stunning C-X75 supercar. The plug-in hybrid concept was said to deliver 30 miles on battery power alone, but also used a pair of micro-turbines for backup power and to top 200 mph. Strong public acclaim convinced Jag to OK limited production, though the street version of C-X75 will have a conventional gas engine.

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