2013 and the year of the hybrid hypercar

From McLaren to Ferrari, supercar builders have been turning to electric motors to reduce environmental impact of their vehicles but without denting top speed or performance, a trend that’s set to accelerate in 2014.

The exception

There’s a good reason why Lamborghini called its latest concept hypercar the ‘Egoista’. During its official unveiling in Sant’Agata Bolognese in May, its creator, Volkswagen’s head of design, Walter De Silva, said: “This is a car made for one person only, to allow them to have fun and express their personality to the maximum. It is designed purely for hyper-sophisticated people who want only the most extreme and special things in the world. It represents hedonism taken to the extreme, it is a car without compromises, in a word: egoista.” Or, when translated into English, ‘selfish’. But, with the notable exception of Lamborghini, which believes the gasoline-powered, V12 supercar is a work of art, an endangered species that should get the same protected status as the panda or orangutan, 2013 will be remembered by many in the motoring industry as the year that supercar selfishness turned into benevolence.

Before its time: the Jaguar C-X75 concept

A growing number of Lamborghini’s peers are adopting hybrid gasoline/electric powertrains that cut cars’ CO2 production and increase fuel efficiency in line with growing environmentally focused EU and US legislation, but without eroding performance, exhilaration or, critically, desirability. Making the change is anything but simple, it’s a huge feat of engineering as Jaguar’s Rob Atkin explained. “Our challenge was monumental: we needed to achieve the performance of a Veyron; the range of a Volt; and the CO2 of a Prius,” he said of the company’s 2011 C-X75 concept.

The McLaren P1 – sold out

Ironically, when Jaguar examined the feasibility of putting its 850bhp hybrid hypercar into production, it decided that global economic uncertainty would stop potential owners from taking a chance on the car, and so shelved manufacturing plans in 2012. UK competitor McLaren has had no such problem. Its first hybrid hypercar, the P1, made its official debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March and within seven months had sold all 375 examples of the 903bhp twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8/electric hybrid, despite its $1,350,000 price tag. Still for that money, delighted owners got an environmentally friendly car somehow capable of going from 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 350km/h.

The LaFerrari: making hybrid power desirable

Ferrari has also gone for an electric motor, albeit mated to a V12 and the result, the LaFerrari, boasts equally impressive statistics. Like the McLaren, it debuted in Geneva in March and it too is sold out, but unlike the P1, each of the 499 production examples were spoken for in a matter of minutes, such is the allure of the prancing horse.

Setting a new standard, the Porsche 918 Spyder

Porsche has been openly tinkering with electric motors for some time and this year grabbed headlines with its equally environmentally friendly 918 Sypder, not least because the car – capable of a 0-100km/h time of 2.8 seconds and a better fuel economy than a Toyota Prius — just broke the lap record at the Nurburgring. With a time of six minutes and 57 seconds, it is currently the fastest ever road-legal production car to lap the 20.8km circuit.

Economic and exciting, the BMW i8

The 918 Spyder will officially go on sale in 2014 and it will be joined by the BMW i8. Not as powerful as its Italian or British peers, it uses a 131bhp electric motor to drive the front wheels and a three-cylinder 231hp engine that sends power to the rear for a combined 360bhp. And because the car is extremely light, this horsepower will translate to a 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds and a fuel economy of 2.5 litres/100km (94 mpg).

Is Audi’s Sport Quattro concept heading for production?

And, where BMW goes, Audi tends to follow. At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the company unveiled the Sport Quattro concept, a reimagining of its legendary Quattro coupe but updated for the 21st century with a hybrid V8/electric powertrain. There’s every likelihood that a production version is in the works.

Will the Honda Acura NSX be Japan’s first hybrid supercar?

The same is true of Honda, which has been touting its NSX concept for several years now. Although it is not expected to go into full production until 2015, a finished version, compete with electric motor to complement its V6 engine, is expected to make its official debut as soon as January at the Detroit Auto Show.

All-electric, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive

Jaguar has signaled that it is reconsidering its decision regarding the production of its C-X75 concept and Mercedes is continuing its research into all-electric supercars, following the warm reception its SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive has so far received. Although it has seriously limited range, due to being battery-powered only, it offers better acceleration and handling than the gas-powered equivalent thanks to an electric motor independently powering each wheel.

The end of the line?

All of which could leave Lamborghini as the only supercar builder still focused on squeezing as much power as possible out of a V12 engine, regardless of environmental impact. However, the company has just ceased production of the Gallardo and a replacement is expected to be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March. So, don’t be surprised if it comes with a battery as well as a fuel tank.