Ferrari unveils its first ever hybrid model, LaFerrari

The new LaFerrari is unveiled during its world The new LaFerrari is unveiled during its world premiere at the Italian car maker's booth during the 83rd Geneva Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland. (March 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images/AFP

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GENEVA/DETROIT - Billionaire industrialist Ratan Tata pored over every inch of the new million-euro ($1.3 million) LaFerrari on the Italian supercar makers stand at the Geneva auto show.

Ferraris first-ever hybrid "looks terrific", said Tata, oneof Indias wealthiest businessmen and a close friend of Ferrarichairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

But will he buy one?

"I dont have the money," Tata joked.

The issue is moot: every one of the 499 LaFerraris slatedfor production is already spoken for. Sergio Marchionne, chiefexecutive of Ferraris parent company Fiat, says he hasreserved one of them.

The LaFerrari is perhaps the most electrifying debut at thisyears Geneva show, and not only because of its sleekcarbon-fibre body or its top speed of more than 350 kilometresper hour (km/h).

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It is one of a new breed of hyper-hybrid sports cars,combining powerful gasoline engines with electric motors.

But why would Ferrari - so famous for its prancing ponybadge on thoroughbred gas-guzzling supercars - install a hybridpowertrain in a performance car?

"Two reasons," says Di Montezemolo. "The first is that wealways aim to improve our driving experience. The second is thatwe need to meet CO2 emission standards."

The LaFerrari joins an elite fraternity that includesVolkswagens Porsche and Formula One stalwartMcLaren, which on Tuesday unveiled the production version of itsnew P1 sports car.

As Porsche has done with its 918 Spyder, Ferrari and McLarenhave adapted advanced technologies from their motorsportprogrammes for these exotic street-legal sports cars, notablythe extensive use of carbon-fibre composites to reduce weightand increase structural strength.

All three use variations of a hybrid system originallydeveloped for racing and which recovers and stores electricalenergy, then uses it to supplement power from the petrol engine.

Increased performance is the main reason for adding thesecomplex and expensive systems; both the McLaren and the Ferrarideliver a combined 900 horsepower or more from theirgasoline/electric powertrains.

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Side-benefits, as noted by Di Montezemolo, include reducedfuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions.

But "this is not about saving gas", argues auto consultantJim Hall, managing director of Michigan-based 2953 Analytics."Its about taking socially questionable projects and givingthem a veneer of propriety and relevance."

Ferrari and McLaren will benefit from "the green image andthe environmental implications of offering this technology",adds Tom Gage, CEO of California-based EV Grid and an expert onelectric vehicles.

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The addition of electric motors and battery packs on the newsports cars is more geared toward speed and acceleration thanreducing carbon emissions.

In this instance, Gage says, the application of supplementalelectric power "is instantaneous and smooth, and should improvethe responsiveness and driveability" of the cars.

Porsche laid the foundation for the new generation ofhyper-hybrids with the 918 Spyder, which made its debut as aconcept car three years ago at the 2010 Geneva show.

Slated to go on sale later this year, priced from 650,000euros, the production version of the car mates a 4.6 litre V8engine with two electric motors - one in front and one in therear - with a combined output of 770 horsepower and a projectedtop speed of more than 325 km/h.

The McLaren P1, which was unveiled as a concept car at lastautumns Paris show, uses a single electric motor combined witha twin-turbocharged 3.8 litre V8, delivering a combined 903horsepower and a top speed electronically limited to 350 km/h.

The LaFerrari couples a 6.3 litre V12 engine with anelectric motor, producing a combined 963 horsepower and a topspeed in excess of 350 km/h, making it the fastest road-goingFerrari ever.

While none of the three will challenge the Toyota Prius forthe title of worlds best-selling hybrid car, they should atleast begin to reshape the definition of exactly whatconstitutes a hybrid.

Until then, Porsche is content to label its 918 Spyder "thesuper sports car of tomorrow".

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