Say the name Porsche, and you’re likely to think of a sleek sports car racing down the Autobahn. But an unveiling of three hybrid-electric powertrains at the Geneva Motor Show may change that image and give the German maker an unexpectedly green halo.
Say the name Porsche, and you’re likely to think of a sleek sports car racing down the Autobahn.
But an unveiling of three hybrid-electric powertrains at the Geneva Motor Show may change that image and give the German maker an unexpectedly green halo.
The first to come to market will make its debut in the all-new 2011 Cayenne, Porsche’s distinctive high-performance SUV, which will reach U.S. showrooms by autumn. A so-called “full” hybrid, the battery-electric version of the Cayenne will be able to drive for brief distances – at speeds of up to 98 mph – solely on battery power. But like other current hybrid systems, it is intended to run primarily on a mix of battery and gasoline power.
The big surprise at the Geneva show was the unveiling of the track-ready 918 Spyder Concept. The unusual system under the 918’s lightweight composite skin relies on a high-performance gasoline engine paired with two electric motors, one for each axle. One of the advantages of battery propulsion is that electric motors develop their maximum tire-spinning torque the moment they start turning, so Porsche estimates the Spyder Concept will be able to launch from 0 to 60 in barely 3.1 seconds.
But when you don’t put the pedal to the metal, it will still deliver the improvement in fuel economy you’d expect of a hybrid – in this case, an astounding 78 mpg. Better yet, the 918 prototype has a large enough lithium-ion pack on board to let a driver plug into a standard electric outlet – or a high-voltage quick charger – and get 30 miles on battery power alone.
Though officially a concept vehicle, company sources say Porsche engineers are moving ahead as if the 918 Spyder has already been given the green light, with applications in the Boxster roadster and 911 sports car under consideration.
The third hybrid system will power the 911 GT3 R Hybrid race car. Instead of batteries, it uses a fast-spinning composite flywheel to store energy in kinetic form, rather than converting it to electric current.
The flywheel is “recharged” when the GT3 R uses its brakes, much as a conventional hybrid recharges its batteries. Then, when the race car emerges from a corner or shoots onto the straightaway, that energy gives it a burst of power that can send the GT3 R surging ahead of the competition.
Porsche begins track-testing the system during the grueling 24-hour race at Germany’s Nurburgring in May.
Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.
Porsche’s hybrid systems
1. “Full” hybrid for the 2011 Cayenne and later the Panamera, a 4-door sports car.
2. Plug-in hybrid for the 918 Spyder Concept that may wind up on the Boxster or 911.
3. A flywheel-based, battery-free hybrid for track use on the 911 GT3 R Hybrid.