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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

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Lamborghini: The Italian maker best known for pushing performance extremes, cannot ignore the issue of what CEO Stefan Winkelmann calls “social acceptance.” For the moment, the focus is on trimming weight and reducing the fuel consumption of its big gas engine, but he reveals “we could imagine a hybrid,” particularly if the maker moves ahead on plans to add a third model line, likely under the current Gallardo.

Land Rover: Jaguar’s sibling brand aims at big improvement in fuel economy in coming years, and the 85-mpg Range_e plug-in diesel-hybrid revealed at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show hints at what’s coming. U.S. buyers should see a conventional gas-hybrid Range Rover in 2013, and a plug-in a year later. Don’t be surprised if Land Rover’s first crossover, the new Evoq, eventually adds a battery-based model to its mix.

Lexus: No other luxury automaker has had a greater commitment to hybrid power than Toyota’s high-line marque. The maker offers a wide range of gas-electric models, from the base CT 200h to the hybrid version of its flagship sedan, the LS 600h. Its RX 400h is the most popular hybrid crossover on the market. Next up? The LF-Gh, shorthand for the Lexus Future Grand touring Hybrid, aims to balance both performance and fuel economy.

Lincoln: Ford’s luxury subsidiary broke ground with the introduction of the MKZ Hybrid, the first gas-electric model to be offered at the same price option as its conventional, gas-powered version. Lincoln claims that at 41 mpg/city it is the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan on the market, delivering 6 mpg better mileage than the Lexus HS 250h.

Lotus: The British maker shocked the automotive world when, late last year, it announced plans to roll out five new sports cars, ranging from a replacement for the aging Lotus Elise to the top-of-the-line Eterne. Significantly, most are expected to offer a version of the racing-derived KERS hybrid system, though the emphasis will likely be as much on performance as mileage.

Mercedes-Benz: As noted earlier, Mercedes is heavily committed to battery power, with hybrid versions of the flagship S-Class sedan and ML SUV already on sale. It has a variety of other electrified offerings in the works, though none quite as outrageous as the SLS E-Cell, the battery version of its gull-winged supercar. Other BEVs will follow. The maker remains committed to fuel-cell technology and recently started leasing its F-Cell hydrogen car in limited volume in Southern California.
Mini: One of the first to test the market for battery power, Mini has gotten good feedback for the Mini E despite its limitations. The prototype could soon be followed by a battery-electric version of a concept vehicle revealed earlier this year, the Mini Rocketman.

Porsche: Porsche has a wide range of hybrids and plug-ins coming to market, all the way up to the $845,000 918 Spyder. Porsche also plans to campaign its hybrid technologies, with an emphasis on flybrids, or flywheel-based hybrids, on the racetrack.

Rolls-Royce: This marque delivered a shocker when it revealed its 102EX, a Phantom-based, all-electric concept designed to test owner response to battery power. So far, the response has been mixed, at best, but some form of battery propulsion, perhaps a hybrid, could follow.

Tesla: Tesla has made a name for itself as a proponent of pure battery-electric vehicles starting with the two-seat Roadster. Next up is a mid-range luxury sedan dubbed Model S that aims to overcome so-called “range anxiety” by offering buyers a choice of three battery packs.

Volvo: The Swedish automaker, now Chinese-owned, has long focused on safety, but is increasing its emphasis on environmentally friendly technology.  It recently launched a low-volume version of its small coupe, dubbed the C30 Electric, but it has particularly high hopes for the upcoming V60 plug-in launching in Europe. Expect similar technology in the U.S. but on what model and when is uncertain.

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