Electrification meets performance in new generation of hybrids

Tue Sep 10, 2013 3:05am EDT
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By Paul Lienert

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Faced with tougher European regulations on pollution, but a constant desire among affluent drivers for speed and panache, many carmakers have reached the same solution: luxury hybrids.

Pricy new models are heading for production from BMW AG (BMWG.DE: Quote), Daimler AG's (DAIGn.DE: Quote) Mercedes-Benz and Tata Group's (TAMO.NS: Quote) Land Rover, among others, - some with gasoline engines, some with diesels, but all with electric motors and battery packs.

They will slot into Europe's automotive landscape just below top-end hybrids such as LaFerrari, unveiled earlier this year by the Fiat-owned FIA.MI supercar maker, and a new 918 Spyder from Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) Porsche, on display in its final production trim at the Frankfurt auto show this week

While they may not have as much of an impact on energy consumption and clean air as smaller, more efficient hybrids and pure electric cars such as the BMW i3 and the Renault Zoe, the new high-performance hybrids could represent a clever compromise between the demands of regulators and speed junkies.

The cars offer a "feel-good factor" to wealthy drivers, according to LMC Automotive analyst Jonathon Poskitt, giving them the social kudos of being "green" while also allowing them to still enjoy the buzz and status of a fast, powerful vehicle.

On top of existing rules aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions for all new cars in the European Union by 2015, the 28-country bloc is working on stricter targets for 2020.

That makes luxury hybrids of critical importance for premium carmakers.

"Manufacturers need to gently push them into the market, and doing this under the premise that it provides politically correct performance - in other words, green - is a nice way to market that," said Tom De Vleesschauwer, director of long-term planning and sustainability for consulting firm IHS Automotive.   Continued...

Porsche CEO, Matthias Mueller presents the new Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid car at the Volkswagen group night at the Frankfurt motor show September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski