We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Porsche with a Plug

The 918 Spyder will be the world’s fastest plug-in hybrid.

For years, as Toyota and Honda toiled away at hybrid-electric vehicles, German manufacturers largely ignored electric-drive technology. But times have changed, and last week, Porsche committed to making a production version of what will likely be the world’s fastest plug-in hybrid: a rip-roaring two-seat supercar with a top speed of 198 miles per hour and a zero-to-62-mph acceleration of 3.2 seconds.

Hybrid speedster: A concept version of the 918 Spyder was shown at the Geneva Motor Show last March.

The Porsche 918 Spyder was first shown as a concept car at the Geneva Motor Show last March to demonstrate Porsche’s research into battery-powered hybrid powertrains. Its racy styling was combined with the greenest of features: a zero-emissions “E-Drive” mode that gives it up to 16 miles of electric-only range. With some European cities expected to institute emissions-based entrance fees or congestion charges, the 918 Spyder will offer a few rich buyers both supercar performance and environmental peace of mind.

This story is part of our November/December 2009 Issue
See the rest of the issue

A 3.6-liter V-8 gasoline engine puts out 500 horsepower–with a remarkable maximum 9,000-rpm redline–to drive the rear wheels via a seven-speed direct-shift gearbox. An electric motor between the engine and transmission contributes extra torque as needed. Up front, a pair of electric motors–one per front wheel–provide all-wheel drive. Taken together, the three electric motors add 218 horsepower to the gas engine’s 500. The motors are powered by a 5.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

As in most performance cars, the driver can select from various driving modes, with different settings for the software that operates the engine-control, power distribution, and stability-control systems. A “Race Hybrid” mode lets the driver add electric boost as needed to accelerate more quickly out of corners or when overtaking–handy on the fabled Nürburgring circuit, where Porsche’s simulations suggest that the 918 will be a bit quicker than its last supercar, the Carrera GT.

The 918 Spyder is expected to cost around $600,000–several times as much as Tesla Motors’s $109,000 2010 Roadster. But Porsche is also experimenting with all-electric versions of its entry-level Boxster as well. Industry analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive says that high-performance hybrids from Porsche, as well as those from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, could pose a challenge to startup electric-vehicle makers.

“This puts tremendous pressure on Tesla and Fisker,” Lindland says. “They’re well-established carmakers with a lot of resources who are suddenly coming in to play in Tesla’s very elite sandbox.”

More broadly, Lindland says, cars like the 918 Spyder show how committed previously skeptical automakers are to dealing with tighter limits on carbon-dioxide emissions and fuel-efficiency requirements.

Mike Omotoso, manager of the power train forecasting group at J.D. Power and Associates, says that some of the technology in Porsche’s 918 Spyder could eventually find its way into other vehicles made by Porsche. It might also end up in cars made by Volkswagen, which owns a controlling interest in Porsche.

Despite its power, Porsche says the 918 Spyder is rated at the equivalent of 78 miles per gallon using European test cycles. As the EPA is learning with the 2011 Chevy Volt range-extended electric vehicle, however, it’s a substantial challenge to provide useful information on a vehicle’s fuel consumption when it depends so much on how it’s used.

Porsche’s first production hybrid vehicle, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid, is now reaching dealers in the U.S. and Europe. The company is also developing the 911 GT3 R Hybrid, a racing car that stores recaptured energy not in a battery but in a flywheel system.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.