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Porsche Cayenne Hybrid: Redefining the Hybrid

Porsche Cayenne Hybrid: Redefining the Hybrid

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
At the recent Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, sports car (and SUV) maker Porsche revealed its future to the public for the first time-a future that moves the company in a decidedly green direction. Porsche displayed what it describes as a prototype of its 2010 hybrid system that will be available on its Cayenne SUV.

Porsche had already presented the hybrid system to journalists several months earlier and was careful to point out that the production version of the alternative powertrain would be in the next-generation Cayenne model. The automaker also stated that the hybrid system may be subject to changes in the three years between now and when it hits the streets.

The significance of the public display transcends the technology. Porsche is one of the world's smallest auto companies, dedicated to building enthusiast-oriented sports cars. The fact that it, too, is joining what has become a worldwide move to more fuel efficient vehicles shows that, once again, the company is willing to step away from tradition to address what it sees as a market demand.

The challenge for Porsche is to define what a Porsche hybrid is. At first glance, it would appear they have done this with some finesse-showcasing an SUV that achieved a 20 percent boost in fuel economy, with no loss of power, handling or the swagger that has come to define the brand. For the Porsche Cayenne, this roughly translates to 24-26 miles per gallon (up from about 18 mpg in current non-hybrid versions) with improved acceleration.

To accomplish this feat, Porsche employs a system that places the hybrid module between the engine and transmission and can send torque to all four wheels. The system is more similar to the approach taken to hybrids by Honda than by Toyota. In addition, Porsche has taken advantage of the high-power nickel-metal-hydride battery pack to electrify the steering, braking and air conditioning of the vehicle.

Porsche is not the first automotive company to take the high-performance road with hybrids. Toyota's Lexus division markets each of its three hybrids with the combined appeal of performance with fuel economy. Its LS 600h L, for instance, touts V-12-like performance from a V-8, with fuel economy approaching that of a V-6.Of course, in the real world, the driver will make choices that determine where on the spectrum between performance and fuel economy the car tends toward.

Porsche intends to use its hybrid technology not only in the next-generation Cayenne, but also in its 4-passenger Panamera sedan that will be introduced in 2009. The driving force behind Porsche's move away from its traditional focus on performance is a rising concern in Europe over greenhouse gases, which is driving regulations to restrict CO2 emissions in vehicles. Faced with the threat of being legislated out of business, Porsche has responded with a technology solution it hopes will satisfy customers as well as regulators. If, however, regulators continue to push for higher fuel economy standards, Porsche may need to migrate its hybrid technology to other models as well, such as the Cayman and Boxster.

The challenge in the marketplace is one that Porsche will not be able to sort out until the Cayenne Hybrid is on sale. While Toyota has been successful with its limited-volume Lexus performance hybrids, it is doing so from a leadership position in the segment. In contrast, Honda struggled with its Accord Hybrid, which attempted to combine performance with enhanced fuel economy. How a "green" performance vehicle plays with Porsche's enthusiast buyers remains to be seen.
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