When the subject is green machines you’ll often hear the topic turn to “payback period,” the time it takes to recover the added cost of an alternative drivetrain through the money you’ll save on fuel.
When it comes to the new Porsche 918 Spyder, the German maker’s first plug-in hybrid, you’ll have to count the payback period in centuries – but then again, how many buyers will really be buying the high-performance sports car just because it saves a few gallons of gas?
More than a year after the 918 Spyder made its show-stopping debut at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, Porsche has confirmed the design will be going into production – with an asking price of $845,000. That will make the Porsche 918 Spyder the world’s most expensive environmentally-friendly automobile, unless you consider some of the Formula One designs using hybrid power-assist systems.
For your money, you’ll get a 500-horsepower V8 that’s paired with twin electric motors – one mounted at each axle – kicking in another 218 hp. Lithium-ion batteries help capture energy normally lost during braking or coasting, though like the much more mundane Chevrolet Volt, the 918 Spyder can be plugged in when parked, and will yield up to 16 miles running on pure electric power.
Recharge times will run about seven hours using 110v wall current, and less than half that relying on a dedicated 220-volt charger.
In normal use, the vehicle can operate on batteries alone, gas power or a combination of the two. Around town, a careful driver will get an estimated 78 mpg, though the number will likely change by the time U.S. regulators finalize the 918 Spyder’s sticker before its 2013 on-sale date.
For those who aren’t as worried about mileage, the Porsche 918 Spyder will launch from 0 to 60 in just 3.2 seconds, and top out at 199 mph.
To maximize performance – and mileage – the Spyder will use a carbon fiber monocoque. The 2-seater’s roof system relies on removable panels that can be stowed in the 918’s front storage compartment.
Porsche isn’t the only maker investing in high-mileage alternative powertrain technology. Mercedes-Benz revealed the production SLS E-Cell, a battery-power version of its gull-winged roadster, at the recent Detroit Auto Show, though company officials hint that it will cost less than half as much as the Porsche 918 Spyder.
Lotus plans to use an F1-derived hybrid drive system in several upcoming models. And even Lamborghini and Ferrari are developing hybrid systems, though they’ll focus as much on maximizing performance as improving fuel efficiency.
One of the advantages of an electric motor is that it provides maximum torque the moment it starts spinning, a definite plus over traditional turbochargers.