Porsche 918 Spyder production starts September 18, 2013, costs €645,000

Can you wait 30 months? If you want a Porsche 918 Spyder, the company’s pending plug-in hybrid sports car, you can. The decree went forth from Stuttgart today that production of the 918 Spyder will begin on September 18, 2013 (9/18 get it?) and dealers are now officially taking orders. Continuing the numerology, just 918 units of the gasoline-electric-plug-in supercar will be built over an undisclosed time frame.

If  you have to ask how much it costs…you know the rest. But for the truly interested, it’s €645,000.  That’ll help ensure exclusivity, and as with every Porsche, buyers will be able to fatten the bottom substantially by selecting custom paints and interior finishes among other options.

The 918 Spyder debuted last year at the Geneva Motor Show with a through-the-road plug-in hybrid powertrain. The concept featured the same 3.4-liter V8 engine mounted amid-ship that powered the RS Spyder to numerous victories in the American and European Le Mans Series over the past five years. The production version will have a road going version of that V8 with a displacement over 4.0-liters pumping over 500 horsepower.  The V8 will send power to the rear wheels via a seven-speed PDK dual clutch transmission.

The hydrocarbon ingesting power unit will be supplemented by a pair of electric motors with one at each axle that put out a combined 218 horsepower. The motors will be fed by a liquid cooled lithium ion battery that propel the 918 electrically for about 16 miles. With 218 electric horsepower and that much battery available, the 918 will be able to complete most of the EU driving cycle on electrons alone which is expected to help it achieve over 78 mpg in the test.   Of course using any of that 500 hp behind the driver’s shoulder will cause that mileage number to plummet just as fast as the quarter mile time.

While waiting for their 918 Spyder, customers can also order a 911 Turbo S “Edition 918 Spyder” that features the same color and trim as the hybrid along with a badge on the glove box that bears the same build number as their 918.  Only 918 of the limited edition 530 hp 911s will be built with a starting price of €184,546 and deliveries starting in June 2011.

Ferrari shows “High Emotion-Low Emissions” and novel 4-wheel torque vectoring in Geneva


At last week’s Geneva Motor Show, Ferrari announced that its two newest cars, the 458 Italia and the FF shooting brake, would be equipped with High Emotion Low Emissions (HELE) technology. Like every other automaker doing business in Europe, Ferrari will have to address pending CO2 emissions limits. Even though its fleet will be averaged with the much more efficient mainstream Fiat lineup, Ferrari still needs to slash its emissions.

To that end Ferrari is following a similar path to Porsche and adding automatic stop-start capability to both models, at least for Europe.  Unlike the current EPA tests, the European test cycle actually includes full stops and starts, thus showing the benefit of stop-start with a 15 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. The FF is rated at 360 g/km for CO2 while the 458 is down to a “mere” 275 g/km.

Of course, this technology only provides a benefit in urban driving. Take one of these Ferraris out on the open road and you can easily consume almost as much fuel as ever, especially in the 660 horsepower FF.

That’s not to say there aren’t any improvements elsewhere in the FF. Like the 458 and California, the 6.3-liter V12 is now equipped with direct fuel injection for both a power and efficiency boost. The charge cooling effect of spraying the fuel directly into the combustion chamber allows the FF’s engine to run reliably with a 12.3:1 compression ratio. The FF is also the first V12 Ferrari equipped with a dual clutch gearbox for very fast automatic shifts without the losses inherent in a torque converter automatic.

Ferrari has also concocted a rather novel four wheel drive system for the FF that is claimed to weigh only half as much as a typical system. Rather than a complex transfer case to split the torque between the front and rear axles, the 4RM system actually consists of two independent gearboxes. The 7-speed DCT transaxle is mounted at the rear axle to balance the mass.

A second two-speed gearbox hangs off the front end of the crankshaft exclusively to send up to 20 percent of the engine torque to the front wheels. The gearing of the two ratios spans the range of the four lower gears in the 7-speed. At higher speeds, the reduced mechanical advantage means that all of the torque can go to the rear wheels with ease.

Since the introduction of Acura’s Super Handling-All Wheel Drive several years back a number of automakers have incorporated torque vectoring to actively distribute the propulsive effort for better handling.  All of those systems only worked on the rear axles, typically sending more torque to the outside rear wheel, thus increasing the yaw moment and helping to counter understeer.  Another unique element of the 4RM system is a pair of electronically controlled multi-plate clutch units on the front gearbox which enables torque vectoring for all four wheels. All told, 4RM only adds 90 pounds to the FF which still leaves it at rather chunky 4,144 pounds.

Ferrari hasn’t yet given any indication when the HELE package will be offered on US market models but we wouldn’t be surprised if it happens sooner rather than later.


Peugeot unveils 908 Hybrid4 Le Mans racer at Geneva


After revealing its completely redesigned 2011 908 Le Mans Prototype last month, Peugeot announced a hybrid version today at the Geneva Motor Show.  The Peugeot 908 Hybrid4 adds a hybrid component to the 3.7-liter diesel V8. Peugeot has been fiddling with this since late 2008, but the car that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show may actually see competition.

While Peugeot is using the same Hybrid4 branding as its production hybrids like the upcoming 3008 crossover, the system is completely different.  The road-going hybrids use a through the road configuration with the conventional powertrain driving the front wheels and an electric motor powering the rear axle.  Last year’s Porsche 911 GT3 hybrid (and the newer 918 RSR) use a similar setup with the electric drive on the front axle and engine on the rear.

The 908 Hybrid4 sends both the diesel and electric power to the rear wheels. The 60 kW motor/generator captures kinetic energy under braking and stores it in a lithium ion battery. The 0.139 kWh of stored energy is automatically released and blended with the engine power when accelerating with no push-to-pass button required.  The powertrain can also drive the 908 in pure electric mode along the pit-lane where speeds are limited.

Right now Peugeot hasn’t committed to racing the 908 Hybrid4. They’re French, remember. It will be track tested later this month alongside the conventional diesel 908. If everything goes well, Peugeot will bring the hybrid to the official Le Mans test day on April 24. What happens beyond that will depend on how both cars run against the new Audis and Aston Martins.  Because overall victory is Peugeot’s top priority, the conventional car will get most of the effort in order to make sure it is reliable and fast.  If the team is confident enough in the base car, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the hybrid run as a third (or fourth) entry.

Rolls-Royce 102EX in Geneva is electrified by Lotus


Rolls-Royce unwrapped its latest experimental concept this week at the Geneva Motor Show and rather than relying on its BMW colleagues in Munich, the team from Goodwood enlisted Lotus Engineering to electrify the massive Phantom limo.

The boffins at Hethel yanked the standard 453 hp 6.75-liter V12 engine and all of the associated drive and fuel system hardware and replaced it with a tailpipe-free battery electric system.  A pair of electric motors are mounted at the rear axle with a combined output of 290 kilowatts (389 horsepower) and 590 pound-feet of torque. The power electronics package sits on top of the drive unit, all of which goes where the gas tank normally resides.

The Phantom’s layout with a hood just slightly shorter than a typical aircraft carrier actually makes it ideal for packaging a battery when the V12 is absent. Thus the massive engine bay accommodates a 71 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery weighing in at a less than svelte 1411 pounds. This is believed to be the largest battery ever installed in an electric passenger car.

The pack is comprised of 96 cells arranged in five modules that roughly conform to the shape of the original engine and transmission. Although Rolls-Royce and Lotus have not announced who the cell supplier is, the cathode chemistry is claimed to be Lithium-Nickel-Cobalt-Manganese-Oxide which is said to have a very high energy density. The cells are most likely provided by SB LiMotive, the Samsung-Bosch joint venture that is also supplying the batteries for the BMW i3 EV and i8 PHEV.

Lotus has fitted a trio of 3 kW charging units for the battery which can be used for either single-phase 220 volt charging or three-phase 440 volt charging. The downside of such a huge battery is that no matter what kind of charging you do, the process will take a while. At 220V, it will take 20 hours to fully charge, while a three-phase charge can do the job in a mere eight hours.

Since the 102EX is an experimental vehicle, it has also been equipped with a fourth charging unit that is set up for inductive charging. This 7 kW charger requires no plug, but features a receiver pad on the bottom of the car. When the Phantom is parked over a transmitter pad, it can charge even over the six inch air gap with a claimed efficiency of 90 percent. Since inductive charging typically requires very close proximity we’d be shocked (no pun intended) if this system can actually exhibit that degree of efficiency over such a large span but hopefully Lotus and Rolls-Royce are right on this one.

With such a large battery, Rolls-Royce claims the Phantom has a range of about 120 miles but its not clear what the conditions are for that claim. Given the gentle way that Phantoms are typically driven their chauffeurs, 120 miles may not be a totally outlandish claim, at least in temperate climates. Heating or cooling the voluminous cabin of a Phantom could slash that range pretty dramatically.

For the next year, Rolls-Royce will be evaluating the electric Phantom, but we would not be at all surprised to see it offered as a factory option within a couple of years. The seamless power delivery of an electric drive system is ideally suited to such a vehicle with the $325,000+ starting price of a Phantom, the cost of even a 71 kWh battery should be fairly trivial to manage.


Volkswagen Bulli concept debuts in Geneva

Here’s a bad idea, a new Volkswagen Microbus that the company is calling the Bulli Concept. Oh, minivans are fine, and so is saying “we invented the Minivan,” but retro is outré, unless it’s exceptionally well done. This latest concept from Volkswagen, sucking up floor space at Geneva, is not well done, but a least it’s rare, so we don’t have to suffer from seeing this thing on the roads. It’s also not that new, when you consider that the “inspiration” for the Bulli is a ten-year-old concept that was snuffed out. That concept didn’t look appreciably different at first glance from the significantly smaller Bulli, which has more Scion xB or Kia Soul in its styling than it does Transporter.

Volkswagen is hoping that this concept will spark a new and beloved product line to complement the Caddy, Touran, Sharan and Caravelle. In North America, an in-house van would replace the Routan Volkswagen currently sells, which is a Dodge Grand Caravan with an English-to-German dictionary. If that’s what VW wants, then it shouldn’t even bother with this thing and just import one of its pre-existing people moving products.

There is an electric drivetrain that Volkswagen claims can go for up to 186.4 miles on a battery charge. The battery is lithium-ion, and VW envisions charging infrastructure along the lines of an “electric refuelling stations” that can replenish the battery’s energy in under an hour. Using the power is an electric motor noteable for its 199 lb-ft of torque and acceptably quick performance like 0-60 in 11.5 seconds. That’d be scorching performance for the original Bus. But wait, there’s more! Volkswagen says it can re-jigger the Bulli’s powertrain to incorporate a gasoline or diesel engine if that’s the propulsion system flavor of the month, too. It’s not that hard to promise this stuff when you’re selling vaporware, so yeeha.

Volkswagen’s press release goes on for paragraph upon paragraph about the styling of this thing, which means one thing. It’s crap. You don’t need to read it, just look at the pictures. Hey, they designed in an iPad dock, great! All those aging boomers that weren’t stupid enough to go spend three days in the mud at Woodstock can now try again to be cool with a large-print iPod. Wonderful. The only reason this thing exists is because Ferdinand Piech wants it.

Lotus and Mansory to announce partnership at Geneva Motor Show

The end may truly be nigh for Lotus. The dimunitive roadster pictured above is likely the last “true” Lotus. New Group Lotus CEO Danny Bahar has the troops in Hethel working away on a lineup of at least five high-end sports cars and GTs that will start rolling out in 2012. Bahar wants a cross between Ferrari and Porsche instead of purist kit cars, and at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, which starts March 1st, Lotus and Mansory will announce a partnership.  While the five concepts that Lotus showed last fall are certainly striking, what they most certainly are not are Lotuses – at least not as envisioned by founder Colin Chapman. Having the Swiss twits add their “tuner” touch is certainly a song from a different hymnal.

The Elise has remained remarkably true to Chapman’s vision through its 15-year run. Despite having to deal with modern crash and emissions regulations, the Elise and its hard-top counterpart the Exige were the cars that Chapman would be building were he alive today. The success of the Elise and its various derivatives undoubtedly saved Lotus from extinction following the debacles that were the Elan and then the aborted M200.

“Add lightness and simplicate” may or may not have ever been uttered by Chapman, and the man was certainly not averse to technology. There was a turbine powered all-wheel-drive car that nearly won at Indy in 1968 and he created the ground-effects race car starting with the 1977 Lotus 78. But his most successful creations were always the fundamentally correct examples like the 7 and the original Elan.

The new lineup is larger, heavier, more luxurious and nothing like the Elise we know and love today. The Club Racer that will debut in Geneva is a parting shot at what was Lotus. The engineers stripped it down even further by deleting noise insulation – who knew the Elise ever had noise insulation? – and substituting a lightweight battery, thus cutting the already svelte mass by another 24 kg. This is the way it should be done at Hethel and it doesn’t look like it will ever happen again.

Instead, alongside the Club Racer, Lotus will also announce the a new partnership with Mansory. For those that don’t recall, Mansory is the outfit behind some of the most godawful customizations of recent years, replete with big wheels, gawdy paint schemes and wildly overwrought body kits. We’ll spare you the gory details but the future is not bright for Lotus if this is the direction they are taking. With a lineup that is expanding far too rapidly and “design help” from an outfit with absolutely no sense of where to stop, I fear that Lotus may soon be buried for good.  Don’t look Colin, they know not what they do.

Thankfully there are enough Elises and Exiges on the road that we will have something to remember the company by for some time to come.

Porsche Hybrid Video: Replica Coming to Geneva Motor Show

Toyota did not invent the hybrid car. In fact, the very first hybrid came to life 37 years before Toyota Motor Company was even founded.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ferdinand Porsche (who else?) came up with one of the first hybrids, and it was a race car. Porsche actually began by building pure battery electric vehicles, but 19th century battery technology prompted the addition of  internal combustion assistance. The result was a series hybrid not far removed in concept from today’s Chevrolet Volt.

The Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus sounds like an infection, but was a car featuring a pair of hub motors driving the front wheels. Later variants included two more motors on the rear wheels to create the first all-wheel drive car. While a single example of the electric carriage survives today, none of the original hybrids exist.

For four years, technicians and craftsmen at the Porsche museum in Stuttgart having been working to re-create that first hybrid. Work has been painstaking, using surviving photos, drawings and information derived from the surviving EV as source material. The product of their efforts will be publicly revealed for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show next week alongside the new Panamera S hybrid.

So what did Toyota invent? The successful combination of ideas and hardware, strung together with modern technology that’s finally good enough to make the driving experience mostly seamless. They may have popularized the hell out of it, but the power-split parallel hybrid concept made so famous by the Prius was the work of a group of engineers from TRW who patented the idea back in the late 1960s. At that time prior to the advent of the nickel metal hydride battery, oil was so cheap that there wasn’t really much demand for the idea of a hybrid powertrain.

Toyota does deserve credit for was pulling all of the ideas together and developing a practical and reliable power-split transmission. By subsidizing the cost of those early Priuses, Toyota helped keep the idea going long enough to build some volume and drive down the cost of the system allowing it to be produced profitably. Hybrids still account for less than three percent of the U.S. auto market, but the price of crude is up and so is volatility. If that keeps up, hybrids will be selling out again.

Rolls Royce 102EX Concept: The Green Phantom

Rolls-Royce has confirmed that a battery powered Phantom, an experimental prototype  dubbed the 102EX, will debut at the Geneva Motor Show in a couple of weeks. This is the first official confirmation that Rolls Royce is heading down the pure battery electric path instead of hybridization.

Despite the fact battery electric vehicles might seem better suited to smaller urban commuters like the Nissan Leaf and the coming Ford Focus Electric a BEV Roller actually makes a lot of sense. Rolls-Royce uses names like Ghost and Phantom because of its reputation for extraordinary quietness and smoothness. Replacing a big V12 with an silent and vibration-free electric motor seems like a perfect fit for a Roller.

Because of the way they’re typically used, range is also less likely to be an issue for the big Phantom. Owners of these big limos are more likely to be found in the cavernous rear compartment than at the wheel. Phantoms often shuttle occupants between the office, dinner or the theater and they sit and wait a lot. Rather than take the Phantom for a long road trip, it will be used deliver the owners to the executive terminal at the airport so they can take the Gulfstream, making a 100-150 mile Phantom a “practical” alternative.

Technical details of the 102EX electric Phantom will be released at the Geneva Show on March 1,  but we probably can expect a large bank of lithium ion batteries under the elongated hood and perhaps an electric motor mounted at the rear axle. In the meantime, Rolls has launched a microsite at www.electricluxury.com where visitors can discuss the future of luxury. Following the Geneva show the prototype will go on tour to gauge its performance and customers reactions to such a machine.

Porsche Panamera S Hybrid Video: Luxury Goes Green

A week after teasing the announcement of a new production hybrid model at the Geneva Motor Show, Porsche has revealed the Panamera S Hybrid.  Everyone knew this hybrid GT was coming; Porsche told us as much when the Panamera debuted in 2009.

In fact, there really are no surprises about the hybrid-electric Panamera. The powertrain is basically the same found in the battery-assisted Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. That means primary propulsion is provided by the sweet supercharged and direct-injected 3.0-liter V6 created by the Volkswagen Group. In the hybrid applications it generates 333 horsepower and a stout 325 pound-feet of torque.

Additional motivation is provided by a disk-shaped 46 hp electric motor that takes the place of the torque converter for the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.  A clutch on either side of the motor allows either blended gas-electric drive, pure electric drive or simple neutral coasting.  Electrical energy generated by the engine turning the motor or regenerative braking is stored in a nickel metal hydride battery pack  that sits under the trunk. Given the price of the Panamera, its odd that Porsche has opted for the older battery technology rather than the lithium ion pack that Audi is using for its upcoming Q5 hybrid. With Porsche’s continuous improvement philosophy, the battery will probably be updated within a year or two.

The motor-transmission configuration means that the motor is spinning at lower speeds  than the motors in integrated power-split hybrids like those from Toyota, Ford and General Motors. That means it can cruise in pure electric mode at speeds up to 53 mph. Oddly, that’s slower than the 80+ mph speeds possible with the Cayenne.

Aside from the powertrain configuration, the rest of the functionality is pretty much what you would expect from any strong hybrid system. That means automatic start-stop, electric boost and regenerative braking.  In addition to the drive system, Panamera hybrid buyers can also select new specially developed Michelin low rolling resistance tires.

On the European drive cycle, that all adds up to a combined average of 34.6 miles per U.S gallon, a mighty impressive number for such a large car that sprints to 60 mph in just 6.0 seconds.  Stick with real tires, and you’ll do a bit worse at only 33.1 mpg.  Results achieved on the EU drive cycle tend to be a bit more optimistic than EPA’s numbers so real world results will probably be closer to the mid-to-upper 20s.

The Panamera S Hybrid goes on sale in Europe in June of this year and comes to America in the fall with a base price of “just” $95,000. That makes it a bargain compared the Lexus LS600h, and the Porsche will actually be entertaining to drive, unlike any LS. Even so, 100G of Porsche money should go to something proper, like the 4S Turbo, but hey, it’s your money.

Lamborghini Aventador carbon skeleton revealed

The Lamborghini Murcielago is dead. Work is well underway on its replacement, the Lamborghini Aventador, and some details have dribbled out. Here’s the latest automotive equivalent of showing some ankle, the carbon fiber tub for the Aventador. The whole car will be revealed in just a couple of weeks at the Geneva Motor Show but for now, a view of the composite bones are it. The Aventador will be the first production Lamborghini to use composite instead of a metal core structure.

While the final product is described as a single shell, the central structure is assembled from a number of individual components with fibers oriented to maximize strength where needed. The components are bonded together and after the final curing process, it becomes essentially one large piece. The complete tub which includes the finished roof weighs in at about 324.5 pounds while the complete body-in-white tips the scales at 505 pounds. That’s lighter than your typical pair of midwesterners leaving Golden Corral.

The individual panels are fabricated from fiber mattes pre-impregnated with a precise amount of resin. The mattes are then laminated in molds and baked in an autoclave.  Prepreg construction is more complex to manufacture,  but it yields a class-A surface finish. Going this route removes the need for extra body panels to cover up a ghastly-looking structure, keeping weight in check. Well-finished surfaces also avoid looking like that bondo bucket in your driveway that waves back at you. In addition to the fiber-reinforced parts, the structure is augmented by epoxy foam components for extra stiffness.

The biggest downside to carbon fiber in street cars is a lack of repairability.  A damaged carbon structure typically needs to be scrapped, although BMW is working on carbon structures that can be fixed for the upcoming MegaCity EV. Given the price of the Aventador, this probably won’t be an issue as owners will just replace broken parts. Most likely won’t be doing Eddie Griffin impressions, either, so it’s not much of a concern.

Eventually, some of this technology will make its way to mainstream vehicles to boost fuel economy and performance by reducing weight. For now, just the rich and credit-hyperextended get to play.