There was a time not so long ago when hybrid cars were the sole domain of mainstream manufacturers and were synonymous with uninteresting cars with excellent fuel economy. But, as that famous Bob Dylan song goes, “the times, they are a-changin”.
Some of the manufacturers of the world’s fastest cars have recently harnessed hybrid technology to boost figures other than fuel economy. Taking a lead from Formula 1, hybrid hypercar manufacturers have gone in a slightly different direction to manufacturers of some of the more conventional hybrid cars. In this article we take a look at a few of the contenders for the top spot on the hybrid hypercar podium.
First introduced at the 2012 Paris Motorshow, the McLaren P1 is a plug-in hybrid. The first of the vehicles was delivered in October 2013, with a total of only 375 ever made.
The P1 has been designed for performance featuring a mid-engine layout, carbon fibre monocoque chassis and rear wheel drive design to keep weight down. The P1 is powered by a 3.8 litre twin turbo-charged V8 petrol motor that produces 542kW of power and 719Nm of torque. To fulfil its hybrid credentials it also has an electric motor that generates an additional 131kW and 260Nm, resulting in a total available output of 674kW and 978Nm.
Depending on the drivers’ motivation, the P1 can be driven in petrol or electric modes, or a combination of the two.
In all-electric mode, the P1 has a range of 10km and can creep around town only turning heads due to its striking styling. In combined mode, the electric motor can be intelligently used to fill gaps in the petrol motors torque curve, which effectively eliminates turbo lag. The electric motor can also be deployed instantaneously to give a burst of power, similar to “push-to-pass” technology.
The electric motor is powered by energy stored in a 324-cell high density lithium ion battery located behind the cabin. The battery can be charged either by the engine or via the plug-in equipment in about 2 hours.
The McLaren P1 is filled with the latest technology and materials, much of which has no doubt filtered down from McLaren’s Formula 1 program, including hardware and software for the hybrid system.
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What do Ferrari and McLaren have in common? They are both heavily involved in Formula 1 and have embraced hybrid technology to produce their fastest road going cars.
LaFerrari’s main power plant is a petrol powered 6.3 litre V12 that produces a massive 589kW and 700Nm. Ferrari engineers have also added an electric motor which by itself outputs 124kw and 270Nm of torque.
The electric motor is stimulated by a compact lithium ion battery pack built by Samsung. When used together, LaFerrari is capable of producing a massive 708kW and 969Nm that is fed to the rear wheels only.
The hybrid system in the Ferrari is very different from both the McLaren and the Porsche. The Ferrari uses electric power low in the rev range to provide bucket loads of torque when the petrol motor is still building. By 3000rpm the petrol motor has smoothly transitioned in and provides the thrust. LaFerrari also does not have an all-electric driving mode like the McLaren and Porsche.
The petrol and hybrid engines are integrated so they work together at all times to make the full potential available to the driver at any time.
Energy is constantly being harvested as long as the car is moving from the braking, ABS, traction control and E-Diff systems using Ferraris Hy-KERS system, a variation on their Formula 1 system for regenerative braking.
If you are in the market for one of these masterpieces, you will have to settle for waiting for a second hand example to crop up. Ferrari committed to building just 499 LaFerraris - all of which have been allocated.
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Porsche 918 Spyder
While Porsche are no longer involved in Formula 1, they still boast an impressive motorsport pedigree. They have utilised hybrid technology to produce the 918 Spyder, their fastest car ever. In the process they succeeded in building the fastest production car to lap the famed Nurburgring circuit in Germany to date, with a lap time of 6 minutes and 57 seconds, making it the first production car to break the 7min barrier.
At the heart of the 918 Spyder resides a 4.6 litre V8 petrol motor derived from Porsche’s involvement in Le Mans. Alone, this motor pumps out 453kW and 528Nm. To justify its hybrid badge, it has not one but two electric motors that supply an additional 208kW. The first drives the rear wheels in parallel with the petrol motor and is responsible for delivering 115kW, and also acts as a generator. The second electric motor powers the front axle and contributes 93kW. In total, the motors deliver 661kW of power and 1275Nm of torque.
The Porsche 918 stores energy for the electric motors in a liquid cooled 312-cell 6.8kW lithium ion battery that can be found behind the passenger cell. The batteries can be charged by plugging in to mains power on the run via regenerative braking from excess engine output when the car is coasting.
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It is clear that hybrid technology is not just for highly economical shopping trolleys. With some of the biggest names in high-end sports cars integrating electric power into their most high performance vehicles, hybrid technology is revolutionising the cars we drive, extending the capabilities of the petrol engines they are augmenting. There is no doubt hybrid and electric motors are a technology to watch for the future.
However, the technology is in its infancy and has room to advance and improve, as well as being enhanced by technological developments such as improving battery technology. The question is, has the full potential of the internal combustion energy been achieved?
Sources and Further Reading