Hybrid hypercars are here … but not to stay

The latest in a string of high performance hybrids just debuted: the Lamborghini Asterion. Yet despite the insane looks and performance, the most interesting thing was what Lambo chief Stephan Winkelmann told Digital Trends: high-performance hybrids are a stop-gap — and one that the company wishes it didn’t have to make.

The technical and environmental reasons that Lamborghini made the Asterion a hybrid seem likely to dominate the next decade. Yet, as we will explore, hybrid hypercars may not be long for this world.

Why hybrids?

The reason for the Asterion’s existence are tightening emissions laws, specifically the 2021 European emissions standards that set a maximum CO2 emissions at 95 g/km. This is undoubtedly a good thing for anyone who doesn’t want the ocean rising to greet them in the next few decades. However, it leaves supercar makers and lovers in a difficult position.

Emissions regulations apply generally to all cars sold, meaning a limited-edition hypercar needs to meet the same standards as a humble family car. Hybrid tech can do a lot to bridge that gulf, which is why Lamborghini isn’t alone in pursuing hybrid tech. Other exotic manufacturers, Porsche, Ferrari, and McLaren, have all released their own hybrid hypercars, which we have pictured above.

Using battery-based hybrid tech allows manufacturers to improve the efficiency of existing internal combustion engines, particularly under the sort of normal driving conditions under which efficiency is tested.

Hybrid tech is also a well-understood field that requires far less research and development than the alternatives. This matters when companies are producing cars of which they only plan on producing several hundred. It is a lot harder to recoup research and development dollars on a production run of 200, than it is for a mass-market automaker that might use the technology on literally millions of cars.

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What’s the problem?

Even so, hybrid tech has costs. Some are literal costs; high performance batteries and the lightweight composites needed to counteract their weight are expensive. That’s part of why the high-performance hybrids cost upwards of $1 million.

Then there is perhaps the biggest concern in supercar performance: weight. In the case of the Lamborghini Asterion, its 551-pound battery pack and electric motors make up something like one fifth or one sixth of the total weight of the car. According to Winkelmann, this added weight prevented the Asterion from being a true supercar, hence why it’s considered a “hyper cruiser.”

Winkelmann went on to explain that they could have compensated for the weight by using more carbon fiber and other composites in the bodywork. However, this would have made the car too expensive. From the CEO of a company that sells a car that costs $4 million, that’s saying something.

So, for now, high-performance hybrids are either a compromise when it comes to performance or prohibitively expensive for even normal supercar buyers.

Why it won’t last

It is hard to see the problems with hybrid technology going away. Batteries are the real problem with the technology. As long as batteries remain heavy and expensive, so, too, will the cars that use them. However, if batteries become lighter and more efficient, then there will be no reason to mate them to a big, heavy internal combustion engine.

For supercars, where price is less of a concern, we may be closer to that transition then many people might expect. Of course some people, like Elon Musk, already think that battery technology is ready for this transition.

The transition to pure electric isn’t the only alternative either. Lamborghini believes that the future for supercars is still internal combustion, just in a more efficient guise like turbocharging. The brand isn’t alone. Founder and president of Koenigsegg, Christian von Koenigsegg, also believes that hybrids are a waste of time.

Both supercar makers think that efficiency standards can be met by using advanced forms of forced induction rather than hybridization. On the face of things, it’s hard to see how turbocharging and supercharging can produce the insane power we have become accustomed to while still scraping below the stringent emissions standards.

Yet, Winkelmann and Koenigsegg are hardly the sorts of people to discount; and there is already evidence of what forced induction can accomplish. Volvo is leading the way with its new, small displacement powerplants that are capable of producing astounding power and emissions through the use of both superchargers and turbochargers.

Winkelmann expects similar technology from Lambo to help the brand meet emissions standards in 2021, without the use of batteries.

lamborghini-asterion-rear-970x548-c

Conclusion

Hybrid hypercars are immensely impressive demonstrations of technical achievement. So it is tempting to think of them as the future of high-performance motoring. Ultimately, though, these cars are compromises between the need to meet regulations and technological limitations.

The regulatory pressure to improve efficiency and emissions will continue, but technological development is likely to push high-performance automakers away from the complexity and cost of hybrids. Mass-market automakers may continue to use hybrid technology where the added weight and limitations are not such strong liabilities. But, ultimately, the very reason for hybrids – batteries – is likely to make them irrelevant.

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