Advances in automotive propulsion tech offer greener pastures.

As market acceptance of gas-electric hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and fully electric cars (BEV) grows, even punctilious luxury car makers are eschewing ultra efficient combustion engines for the greener pastures of advanced battery-powered options offering huge advances in maximum range capabilities. Regardless of social strata, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it is more cost-effective to power a vehicle with cheap electric power once the stigma of ‘range anxiety’ is removed.

With many luxury marques lining up ‘alternate propulsion’ (non-100% combustion) vehicles to showcase publicly, it’s an exciting time for more capable buyers who can afford the best tech money can buy. Luxury leaders like Tesla’s Model S (BEV), BMW’s i8 Roadster (PHEV), Jaguar’s I-Pace (BEV), Volvo’s XC90 T8 (PHEV), Cadillac’s CT6 (PHEV), and Lexus’ LS 500h (Hybrid) are but a few. These luxury brands are investing billions into R & D to be the next BIG thing. The growing global popularity of the all-electric, FIA-sanctioned Formula E racing circuit is currently powered by luxury marques  BMW, Jaguar, and Audi. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche will join the Formula-E grid for the 2019/2020 season. Competitive racing has long been the testing ground for new automotive technology, and Jaguar’s 2016 $22,000,000 CDN investment in Formula-E indicates how charged they are for the future of alternate propulsion vehicles.

Typically, luxury automakers begin a push into alternate propulsion with the reliability of hybrids. With the growing advances in technology, they can now skip this initial phase and the plug-in hybrid stage, advancing straight to the all-electric vehicle option. Lodestar luxury-marque Rolls-Royce has indicated that’s their plan with an upcoming new all-electric Phantom. The CEO of BMW’s luxury British brand Rolls-Royce, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, confirmed, “We will go full electric. We won’t do any interim steps.”

Even McLaren Automotive, an illustrious alumnus of the combustion-powered Formula One circuit, is committed to ensuring that its sports car and super car range will be hybrid within seven years. Beginning in 2013 with their revolutionary P1 model, the ] (world’s) first gas-electric hybrid hyper-car, McLaren’s entire range is due to be all hybrid models by 2025.

McLaren is introducing the 2019 Speedtail this October 2018 with new hybrid technology. The Speedtail is described as the “Ultimate Hyper-GT” with the highest top speed of any McLaren yet, including their iconic F1 which exceeds 391 km/h (243 mph), and promises levels of customization and individualization never seen before in a three-seat configuration. Sadly, only 106 are to be produced worldwide.

Jaguar, known for breathtaking design in luxury, is opting to excite the soul with an all-electric performance SUV. Deliveries of the new I-PACE are expected to land in Canada in early fall, 2018. A pure Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), Jaguar says the I PACE is the “world’s smartest five-seater sports car.” Offering a fully-charged estimated range of 386km, it uses technology developed in the I-TYPE Formula-E car, specifically electric motors that generate 394 horsepower and 512 lb-ft of torque. Drawing an ambitious “green line in the sand,” Volvo announced in 2017 that every new model from 2019 onwards will be hybrid or electric. This marks a historic “jump the shark” moment for the Chinese-owned, Swedish marque and stakes the core of its future on green power tech.

“This is about the customer,” said Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO. “People increasingly demand electrified cars and we want to respond to our customers’ needs.  You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish.” Volvo’s plans include launching five (5) fully BEV cars between 2019 and 2021, three of which under the Volvo marque and two under their high performance marque, Polestar.

Meanwhile, on the Continent, the automotive technology wunderkinds at Porsche and  Mercedes-Benz are charging up their current offerings. Porsche is adding a new Cayenne E-Hybrid, six (6) Panamera E-Hybrid models, and the soon to be produced Taycan in 2019. The all-electric Taycan is a brand new model, designed (and priced)
specifically to compete with Tesla’s Model-S with a price of $75,000 USD.

Not to be outrun, Mercedes-AMG showcased their top-of-the-line surprise called “PROJECT ONE” hyper-car. Built around an F1 race car’s 1.6 litre turbocharged hybrid engine, smaller than a Toyota Corolla’s (1.8 litre), that delivers upwards of 1,000 hp, the  ONE will have a very non-Corolla price tag of roughly $3.5 million CDN. Mercedes-Benz is testing its first foray into full BEV’s, under the EQ marque, the SUV-style EQC scheduled for 2020 delivery, followed by a compact-style EQA concept currently in development.

The first luxury marque to test ‘greener pastures’ was Elon Musk’s Tesla, which has blazed the trail with sleek, practical BEV’s against which today’s luxury cars are bench-marked. The super-quiet, super-quick Model S leads the luxury class market in US sales, controlling 34% of the market as of Q1 2018. That’s more than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera, BMW 7 Series, or the Lexus LS. Consumer Reports rated the Model S the “most-loved car of 2014 by its owners” with 98% of Tesla owners saying they’d buy another.

What’s driving this rise in luxury-car greener pastures? Around the world, governments are mandating automakers to make vehicles more fuel efficient. Some jurisdictions, like BC and Quebec in Canada, offer taxpayer-funded subsidies to purchase alternate propulsion cars. Some countries, like China by 2030 and Norway by 2025, are mandating new cars be all-electric. Undoubtedly, the biggest factor leading to huge investments in alternate propulsion models by luxury car makers is because technology has finally caught up to reality. All things being equal, electric just makes more sense…and cents.