Many makers of expensive performance cars have long valued one characteristic most: raw power. But now Ferrari, the preferred drug for many deep-pocketed drivers with a need for speed, is turning to fuel-saving hybrid technology to create its most powerful and expensive model. Using technology developed for Formula One racing, the Italian automaker’s first hybrid, dubbed the F70, will combine two electric motors with a 12-cylinder gasoline engine to produce more horsepower than any previous Ferrari while cutting fuel consumption by 40 percent.
The F70 won’t come at a Prius price: The vehicle will probably surpass the €660,000 ($850,000) cost of the automaker’s storied limited-edition Enzo, which the company considers it a successor to, says a person familiar with Ferrari’s plans who was not authorized to talk about them. “Dedicated Ferrari drivers look first at power and technology,” says Fabio Barone, president of the Passione Rossa owners’ club, who has two Ferraris. “The new Enzo will satisfy their appetite.”
The model is part of a wave of green supercars as high-end automakers step up efforts to make their models environmentally palatable while maintaining or boosting performance. As more models become available and emission rules tighten, sales of hybrid supercars may surge from fewer than 100 this year to more than 2,100 in 2015, according to IHS Automotive (IHS).
Porsche, which sells hybrid versions of its Cayenne sport-utility vehicle and Panamera four-door coupe, plans to start deliveries next year of the €768,000 918 Spyder. The top-of-the-line Porsche sports car will combine a 500-horsepower engine with two 218-hp electric motors to hit a top speed of more than 320 kilometers (199 miles) per hour. BMW (BMW:GR) will roll out its own i8 plug-in hybrid in 2014. The BMW supercar, similar to one used in the film Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, will be able to drive up to 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) on electric power and accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour in less than 5 seconds. “If you want to sell a vehicle in the U.S. and Europe, you must show you want to make the difference in terms of lower emissions, even if you sell a €100,000 car,” says Ian Fletcher, an analyst at IHS Automotive. “Even a supercar becomes more usable for city driving if it carries a hybrid engine.”
Toyota Motor’s (TM) Lexus, which has led the green technology shift among luxury-car makers, offers five hybrid models, ranging from the $29,120 CT to the $112,750 LS. Daimler’s (DAI:GR) Mercedes-Benz sells the $91,850 S-Class hybrid and introduced a diesel-electric version of the E-Class in Germany this year. Even Volkswagen’s (VOW:GR) ultraluxe Bentley line is considering a plug-in hybrid version of its planned $201,000 to $252,000 SUV.
The Ferrari hybrid will go on sale next year, with the U.S. likely to be its biggest market, according to the person with knowledge of the car’s rollout. Ferrari will produce a limited number of the model, with the final price yet to be decided, the person says.
The original Enzo, which sports wing doors, a carbon-fiber body, and a 660-hp engine, was limited to a run of 400 vehicles between 2002 and 2004. Because of its rarity, it now sells for about $1 million, according to website Infomotori.com. The Enzo successor will be powered by HY-KERS hybrid technology developed for the brand’s Formula One team. In the system, the electric motors deliver about an extra 100 hp to the wheels by operating through one of the gearbox’s two clutches. The setup transfers power instantaneously between the 12-cylinder engine and the electric motor, Ferrari says.
That brings some important gains for members of the 1 Percent with an eco-bent. A 40 percent savings in fuel economy would give elite car drivers some green bragging rights and about an additional 9 miles to the gallon vs. a conventional car of comparable weight. But the green benefits of the propulsion changes aren’t what has supercar fans excited. Instead, it’s the prospect that adding those supplementary electric motors will actually allow the cars to go even faster without requiring a larger main engine. “Boosted by the electric motors, the new supercar may have more than 900 hp,” says Barone, the Ferrari club president. “It’s going to be a sensational car, and it also lowers emissions.”