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Fanatics: Don’t fear the hybrid

Hear the word “hybrid’’ and you’ll likely conjure up images of dull, wedge shaped vehicles being driven by environmentalists (cue DiCaprio and his Prius). Yet it’s been nearly 20 years since the hybrid drivetrain was introduced to our automotive markets, and throughout the nearly two decades that we’ve had hybrids available in North America, the connotations surrounding these vehicles have remained unchanged. Beyond the stigma given to seemingly all hybrid vehicles, there is a reality that many car enthusiasts (myself included) have to face. The technological advancements made to not only electrical motors but also to small displacement internal combustion engines mean hybrids no longer have to be synonymous with the meek image of a Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight. These progressions now present uncharted potential territory for performance advancements.

On a sunny spring day a Toyota Prius hybrid car drives through a tree lined road in Montana while on a road trip. The bright sun casts and in camera lens flare across the scene.

As supercar manufacturers have proven with their most recent offerings, the electric motor isn’t merely there to meet emission regulations or boost fuel efficiency, they play a substantial role in acceleration, handling and braking. Beyond the obvious ecological benefits, the use of electronic motors presents an entirely new set of possibilities to nearly all areas of a vehicles performance metrics. Engineers would not spend extended periods laboring over heavy batteries and potential cooling issues within performance vehicles if the substantial benefits of hybridization were not present.

Look across a list of sports car manufacturers and it appears each brand has their own interpretation of performance-hybrid vehicles on offer: Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, Porsche 918, Honda/Acura NSX, Koenissegg Regera, BMW i8. Though they utilize diverse layouts and technologies, the idea surrounding the electric motor’s input and applications remain relatively unchanged: provide power to the drivetrain ‘where and when’ traditional combustion engines fall short.

The McLaren P1 has an electric motorIn the McLaren P1 for example, the electric motor fills the void in propulsion when waiting on the V8’s twin Turbo’s to spool up, much like the Kinetic Energy Recovery System on a formula one car the hybrid set up minimizes lag stemming from the traditional motor. The Ferrari on the other hand, uses two electric motors. One dedicated to onboard electronics while the other connects directly to the drivetrain, the outcome is an increase of 163hp coupled with a lower center of gravity due to battery placement and an engine whose power band is no longer subject to an A/C Compressor or any other cabin elements. The Porsche 918 went a different direction entirely, attaching one electric motor to the front axle to power the front wheels giving the 918 the surefooted-ness characteristic of AWD when coming out of corners, while another motor is attached to the rear axle providing additional torque output to boost to the vehicles already potent 4.6l V8 engine. The Honda NSX, employs a similar idea, attaching one electric motor to each front wheel, relying on each individual motor to deliver distinctive torque vectoring while cornering.

There’s talk of the upcoming BMW and Toyota’s jointly developed sports car also being powered by a hybrid system. Volkswagen (who has made it clear that they plan to produce 20 EV’s by 2020) has already begun working on a hybrid setup for one of their most beloved models, the GTI. The Mark VIII Golf GTI is slated to reach dealers in 2020, and is said to be adopting a 48-volt electrical assist system distributed between both axles much like the Porsche 918’s current layout. As the technologies implemented in today’s super cars (LaFerrari, McLaren P1, Porsche 918) slowly become increasingly affordable, we will begin to see a trickle-down effect as affordable hybrids begin adopting these substantial technical advancements. It won’t be long until these applications collectively transform the hybrid from its meek ecologically conscious-image, to the responsible sports car of the future.

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