Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hot new sports cars tout green credentials

new sports cars

Porsche via AP

The new Porsche 911 Carrera goes from zero to 60 in a screaming 4 seconds, but the maker is also promising improved fuel economy.

Considering the endless congestion on Southern California roadways it’s little wonder the region has become the nation's largest market for hybrids and other “green” machines. Yet the greater Los Angeles region is also the world’s single largest market for high-performance products like the Porsche 911 making its North American debut at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show.

The seventh-generation Porsche 911 is already winning early raves. The iconic car is slightly longer, lower and wider than previous versions and delivers significant improvement in the numbers sports car fans like – starting with the 350-horsepower performance of the base 911 Carrera and 400 hp of the Carrera S.  The new model launches from 0 to 60 in just over 4 seconds, with the more powerful Carrera S reaching a top speed of 189 miles per hour.

Yet Porsche officials are also promoting another impressive figure: Preliminary testing suggests the 2013 911 will get an estimated 15 percent better mileage than the outgoing model thanks to a variety of steps,  taken to improve engine efficiency, such as direct injection. Porsche engineers also focused on reducing aerodynamic drag and lowering tire friction.

And Porsche isn’t alone.  While the Los Angeles show will see the launch of a number of new luxury and high-performance products, many are delivering the sort of fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures that just a few years ago would have been impressive on a compact economy car.

“Fuel economy is becoming more and more important in every segment of the market,” said August Achleitner, director of the 911 product line.


The new Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG improves fuel economy through an automatic stop-start feature.

The new 911 shares a groundbreaking new technology with another high-performance model debuting at L.A.’s Staples Center, a system commonly referred to as Auto Stop/Start.  The 2013 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG pumps out as much as 550 horsepower with its optional performance package but delivers an estimated 16 mpg in the EPA's combined city/highway test – a surprisingly good figure for a large, high-performance SUV.

One way it gets there is by automatically shutting off its engine when the vehicle would otherwise waste fuel idling. When the driver’s foot lifts off the brake the engine seamlessly restarts. The technology is expected to become commonplace over the coming decade after starting out in the luxury market where motorists are more willing to pay the premium – and where the improvements in fuel economy are most noticeable.

The annual L.A. show is one of the biggest events of its kind in the U.S. and for good reason, considering the size of the local Southern California car market.

Jaguar/Land Rover will use the event not only to reveal the Indian-owned company’s super-high-performance Jaguar XKR-S sports car but also to gauge consumer reaction to a trio of concept vehicles -- including a pair of prototypes that could eventually morph into a new Land Rover Defender, as well as the Jaguar CX-16 a sports car concept bearing more than a hint of the design DNA of the legendary Jaguar E-Type.

The Land Rover model, if it goes into production, will almost certainly feature an optional high-mileage diesel as well as a hybrid-electric driveline.  Jaguar is studying an even more advanced gas-electric powertrain option for the CX-16, according to the maker’s global brand boss Adrian Hallmark.

The plug-in hybrid system “would have three different modes,” he explains, noting it could handle daily commuting on battery power alone, operate as a more conventional hybrid-electric vehicle or deliver an outsized performance punch. In that mode its lithium-ion driveline would act like an electric turbocharger – briefly kicking in about 90 horsepower and several 100 pound-feet of torque on top of the 380 horsepower of its base V6.

There are several reasons why luxury and high-performance automakers are so keenly interested in electric propulsion.  A new Consumer Reports study shows that 93 percent of American motorists are demanding better mileage – and research shows that even the most affluent drivers are looking for improved fuel economy.  Meanwhile tough new regulations here and abroad will require significant improvements in mileage and sharp cuts in CO2 emissions.

That’s led BMW to launch an entirely new brand-within-a-brand dedicated to battery propulsion systems.  The new i3 city car and i8 performance car show the range of options possible for alternative power.  The two models made their European preview at the Frankfurt Motor Show and will now make their first appearance in the U.S.

The L.A. Auto Show isn’t entirely green. There’ll be a significant presence by more conventional muscle cars and exotics, including the Mustang-based 2013 Ford Shelby GT500, the first American muscle car to break the 200 mph barrier. Chevrolet will fire back with the unveiling of the most powerful Camaro ragtop ever, the Camaro ZL1 Convertible. And Dodge will spin some wheels with the Challenger SRT8 392 Yellowjacket Edition.

But few products will be able to avoid the green revolution, even in the upper reaches of the luxury market.  The new Cadillac XTS will debut in L.A. this week with a conventional gas engine but the premium luxury sedan, Caddy’s new flagship, will eventually get a hybrid driveline, as well.  The General Motors brand recently won approval for a more luxurious version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid – which may be on the Cadillac stand for the 2012 L.A. Auto Show.

You've heard a ton about electric cars being the future of the auto industry, but the real growth is coming from internal combustion engine vehicles, reports CNBC's Phil LeBeau.

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