This week's Geneva Motor Show features greenwashing finally invading the exotic-car realm — Lotus, Ferrari, and Porsche all debuted a hybrid. These cars won't save the planet, but they might just get a few rich dudes laid.
Hybrid cars are both a fad and a reality for the modern automaker. They receive an inordinate amount of attention compared with their more conventional, less expensive fuel-sipping brethren, and yet, thanks to increasingly strict environmental regulations, they're not going away. Can hybrid technology help reduce pollution? Totally. Will a hybrid Ferrari save the planet? Absolutely not.
Consider Maranello's case: Ferrari produces some 6000 cars in a good year, and none of them get driven that much. All the Toyota Priuses sold in one year use more fuel than all the Ferraris produced in the same year — there are far more Priuses than Ferraris, and they're actually, you know, driven. And even if someone did drive their hybrid Ferrari like a normal car, the end result still isn't worth it. The Ferrari 599 Hybrid, a.k.a. the Ferrari Hy-Kers Hybrid Concept, adds 220 pounds of curb weight for a 100-hp gain that essentially does little but counteract its own weight and work only at low speed. And we all know how often Ferraris get driven slowly.
Exotic carmakers are just as prone to industry fads as mainstream manufacturers are — every one of the exotic marques showing a hybrid at Geneva also produced a wedge-shaped concept car in the early 1970s. Blindly following industry trends, as it were, is not new.
Don't get us wrong: We don't we hate progress, the green movement, or environmentalism. We're proponents of public transportation, we realize that time marches on, and we don't own thirty pairs of rose-colored glasses. We are not monolithically against green cars — we're monolithically against bad green cars. Build a sports car that eats Ferraris for breakfast and shits out nothing but water and rainbows? We'll be the first to sign up.
But these vehicles don't do that. They're overly complex green stopgaps designed to look the part while relying mostly on some form of gasoline-engine-meets-electric-motor drivetrain. The stated goal of the automobile industry is to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, and it's a noble one. But the not-so-dirty secret is that almost every carmaker on the planet is reducing the emissions of its products without the help of hybrids.
FIAT Group, of which Ferrari is a part, is a perfect example. The Italian firm already sports the lowest average emissions in Europe — a Toyota-besting 131 grams of carbon per kilometer. This figure is within 1 g/km of the 2015 EU target. The biggest gainer within the FIAT group? Ferrari! Maranello has reduced its emissions by a whopping 53.6 g/km without a single hybrid in its lineup, all while raising engine output. Granted, the prancing horse also had a long way to come — its cars were pretty dirty to begin with — but there's a lesson there. The 458 Italia is the most efficient V-8-powered Ferrari ever. Good. Great. It makes perfect sense.
Even Porsche, long a CO2-focused company, has seen significant drops: Stuttgart lowered its volume-weighted CO2 emissions by 27.5 g/km in 2009. That decrease had nothing to do with hybrid sports cars and everything to do with offering a smaller diesel engine in the European-market Cayenne. In a volume-weighted analysis, you see the greatest gains by fixing the cars that you sell the most of.
That said, the Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid doesn't make much sense. It's an attractive vehicle, and it would be a hit even without its hybrid drivetrain, but there are some unanswered questions. (How well will this 78-claimed-mpg Porsche perform when its batteries aren't charged? How possible is that that mileage figure under normal Porsche driving conditions? A 500-hp green machine sounds awesome, but building such a thing is neither as easy nor as helpful as you'd think.
What of Lotus? The Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid might actually be cool. Its drivetrain — essentially a compact version of the Chevrolet Volt theme — may even be an advancement. But Hethel already produces an incredible green machine: the Elise. The spritely little Lotus offers the lowest C02 rating of any gasoline-powered sports car on the market. Its CO2 output is around 155 g/km — a figure that bests the entire lineup of either Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
You know what reduces emissions? Passengers. Carpooling. Try squeezing four or six people in the Hispano Suiza Audi R8 V-10. If this sounds impractical, then try a simpler solution: don't buy the V-10 in the first place!
In short, manufacturers like Ferrari and Porsche will never hit zero emissions while making cars that consumers want without a radical change. None of the cars at Geneva offer a radical change.
So none of these cars are going to save the environment or even reduce corporate emissions quickly or easily. Why, then, do they exist? It's not enough any more to show a girl that you want to sleep with that you drive a Ferrari. A big gas guzzler is unfashionable. It seems wasteful. Green is sexy. Green is It. Green is now.
The hybrid sports car is a lie, but if it's a lie that sells, you better believe that we'll see a lot more of it.