Porsche introduces the new 918 Spyder in Frankfurt

I was able to snap these photos at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show as Porsche unveiled the much-anticipated 918 Spyder supercar. As you can see it’s a beautiful vehicle, but the real story here involves the plug-in hybrid engine and performance elements.

This concept was designed to be a high-performance hybrid, with 887 horsepower and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 2.8 seconds. Like the Ferrari supercar announced earlier this year, the 918 Spyder features a combustion engine combined with an electric motor-based drive to optimize the dynamic performance of the vehicle. The electric motor allows for the faster acceleration from zero and then the gas motor kicks in.

This is the new reality of supercars. They are obviously becoming much more exotic, and in a way we’re seeing a real departure from traditional sports cars with a traditional stick shift. For that reason, cars like the new Corvette that still embrace the stick shift and powerful gas engine will probably still command a legion of fans.

But for sheer performance, these new hybrid supercars will be a beast on the track.

  

Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid looks badass

Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid
© General Motors

GM showed off this new Caddy at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year. It looks pretty awesome and it’s basically a luxury version of the Chevy Volt as Cadillac brings plug-in hybrid technology to the Cadillac brand.

When General Motors (GM) decided to make a plug-in hybrid several years ago, there was a lively discussion behind closed doors about whether the first model to showcase the expensive technology should be a Chevrolet or a Cadillac. The Chevy advocates won and the Volt was born. History suggests that may not have been the right choice. The Volt—the first car to mix all-electric capabilities with an auxiliary gas engine to extend its driving range after the battery’s depleted—has had disappointing sales. Republicans during the presidential campaign pilloried it as a symbol of the failings of President Obama’s auto-industry bailout.

GM has decided to take a second stab at Volt technology, and this time it’s heading upmarket, with the Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid, introduced Jan. 15.

That may be going a bit too far, as there’s nothing to indicate that a Cadillac would have fared any better as GM’s first plug-in option. The technology is just getting started, and the Volt’s price point was always an issue.

  

Chevy Volt sales are picking up

I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials for the Chevy Volt, and this advertising blitz might be paying off. The Chevy Volt outsold the Nissan Leaf for the first time in October. In October GM sold 1,108 units of the Volt, which is a significant increase over the 723 units sold in September.

The Volt is still running behind GM’s sales targets, and it seems like the company was banking on all the PR buzz around the vehicle to drive sales. Perhaps a marketing push was also needed. The commercials are pretty good. They stress the gas savings of an electric car with some humorous situations at gas stations.

As more and more automakers go electric and introduce plug-in hybrids, it will be interesting to see if this segment really takes off. Right now the sales numbers are miniscule but that could change quickly.

  

GM claims that the Chevy Volt will get 230 miles per gallon

chevy-volt-concept-07

GM is looking for a big PR push with the Chevy Volt, and their announcement that the new Chevy Volt will get 230 miles per gallon will certainly grab some positive attention for the beleaguered company.

General Motors Co. said today the Chevrolet Volt, its extended-range electric vehicle due out in November 2010, will get an estimated city fuel economy of 230 mpg, or 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles.

GM will unveil 25 new models between now and the end of 2011, president and CEO Fritz Henderson said during an hour-long webcast this morning.

“When the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle rolls off the assembly line late next year, it will be the first mass-production automobile to achieve triple-digit fuel economy, with an expected 230 mpg in the city, or 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles,” GM said.

The Environmental Protection Agency declined to confirm the figure, which was based on a draft testing procedure. GM said the calculation is based on more than one vehicle electrical charge, since the average driver travels far less than 100 miles in a single day.

“EPA has not tested a Chevy Volt and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM,” said EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn.

“EPA does applaud GM’s commitment to designing and building the car of the future: an American-made car that will save families money, significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good-paying American jobs.”

In recent days, GM had launched a “viral” marketing campaign featuring a green background and a “230” logo — with a plug in the place of the 0 — to build interest in today’s announcement. Many auto bloggers correctly guessed that the figure was connected to the Volt’s city fuel economy rating.

The viral campaign is another good idea, and it looks like we really might have a “new GM.”

That said, the important story here is we’re seeing a plug-in hybrid that will potentially be a game-changer in the auto business. For a country that imports a ton of foreign oil, it’s refreshing to see real progress on electric vehicles.

Of course, not everyone is impressed, including Nissan.

But at least one competing automaker isn’t convinced. “Nissan Leaf = 367 mpg, no tailpipe, and no gas required. Oh yeah, and it’ll be affordable too,” the folks over at Nissan’s electric vehicle Twitter feed wrote today. About an hour later, they added this statement: “To clarify our previous tweet, the DOE formula estimates 367mpg for Nissan LEAF.”

That’s even more great news. It looks like there will be serious competition here from other automakers, so perhaps consumers will have real choices, and we can make real progress towards a goal of eliminating oil imports.

  

Lithium-ion car batteries

lithium-ion-car-battery

With the potential emergence of plug-in hybrids and electric cars, many expect them to be powered by lithium-ion cells, and it will be interesting to see if American producers can compete with Asian companies.

Should Uncle Sam provide billions in loans and grants to a promising but unproven business? Or should the government wait for the market to sort things out before it backs a U.S. company? The risk is that by then another major industry could go the way of memory chips, digital displays, the first solar panels, and the original lithium-ion batteries used in notebook PCs and cell phones. American scientists, funded by federal dollars, were at the forefront of each of those. Yet the industries—and the high-paying manufacturing jobs that go with them—quickly ended up in Asia. U.S. labor costs and taxes drove many operations abroad, but often industries fled simply because Asian governments, banks, and companies were more willing than Americans to risk big capital investments.

This time federal help could be on the way. Battery makers are expected to get some of the $25 billion set aside last year under Washington’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program to speed the commercialization of green cars. EnerDel, a subsidiary of Ener1, has applied for a loan to build a plant capable of making 600,000 batteries a year. Rival A123 of Watertown, Mass., wants $1.8 billion to build a car-battery factory in Michigan. Under the $790 billion stimulus package under debate in Congress, U.S. lithium-ion makers also could compete for $2 billion in grants to fund research and development and manufacturing.

The Obama administration is determined to assist the development of next-generation cars in the United States, and Obama has said he wants to see them built here. The new stimulus package and the programs referred to above will be just the beginning. We can expect significant government support as many view plug-in vehicles and electric cars as critical to our future economic security. It lessens our dependence on foreign oil and can help to save domestic manufacturing.

  

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