Everywhere you look in the car industry, another major brand is announcing a battery-electric power initiative. Everywhere, that is, except at Ferrari.
The Italian supercar maker, newly independent since January, is determined that there will be no silent surge of power in its near future, even as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche, and BMW all have committed to building exhaust-free electric cars. The 70-year-old company will instead follow the lead of its Formula 1 program to downsize its engines and mate them to fast-discharging hybrid power, while sneering at the whispering rivals ahead of it.
“We would not follow to develop a fully electric car,” Ferrari’s chief technology officer, Michael Leiters, said at the Paris auto show, where the company’s centerpiece was the LaFerrari Aperta (above), the roadster version of its hybrid exotic with a V-12 plus an electric motor. “We are convinced that it’s right to have a hybrid car because, for us, the sound is a very crucially important characteristic of a Ferrari, and our customers want to have this. Definitely for us also, the electric technology is interesting, not for reducing emissions but for increasing the performance of the cars,” Leiters said.
—Michael Leiters, Ferrari CTO
That might not be music to the ears of ardent environmentalists, but while even Tesla targets sales volumes of 500,000 cars a year (eventually, someday), Ferrari has capped its annual manufacturing capacity at just 10,000. On top of that, many of its high-powered cars clock up notoriously low annual mileages.
“For us, it’s important to have the right combination, with [engine] and battery power,” Leiters insisted. “There’s a lot to do. For us, today, the weight [of batteries] is still too much to have a highly dynamic and highly agile car.
“Anyway,” he said, “we are convinced that at a certain time there will be a step forward also for Ferrari with a hybrid car.”
All European manufacturers are developing both positions and contingency plans to respond to tightening EU emissions regulations for 2020, which even apply to Ferrari. At the Paris show, neither Leiters nor Ferrari’s product marketing director, Nicola Boari, would rule out a return to V-6 power—coupled with an electric motor—for the first time since the 1974 Dino, positing it as a potential response to the coming European regulations. Ferrari has downsized its powerplants in other cars in recent years, with the wailing 9000-rpm 458 V-8 giving way to a 3.9-liter twin-turbo engine, a variant of which now sits in the GTC4Lusso T, in an engine bay that formerly housed only a V-12.
“I don’t like to cover our future right now, obviously, but, yes, battery technology on electric cars and so on is going ahead very fast, and you can see quite bold steps in regard to power and capacity,” Boari said.
“Obviously, if you’re thinking about a hybrid car, the [reality] is that you will have extra weight, and you have to accommodate that. You have to find a solution that is more compact than today and weighs less than today. You also have to think more about downsizing—eight cylinders, or six cylinders, or whatever—it makes sense.”