Monday, January 14, 2008

Intersting move for Ferrari/Porsche

You know the "Green Movement" has reached new heights when the top sports car manufacturers take note. First up: Ferrari's new 430 Spyder Biofuel concept:

Ferrari 430 biofuel concept
What's the skinny?

Labeled as the 430 Spider Bio Fuel, the roadster runs on the familiar mix of 85% natural ethanol and 15% gasoline, which reports suggest yield a modest 2% increase in power. That’s enough to bring the 4.3-liter V8’s output up to 500 from the standard 490 with torque rising 4% and fuel economy improving by 5%.

Our old friend, ethanol. Blech. Thankfully we're only looking at a concept for the time being. What might change the tides?
...a ferrari official has said that if E85 became widely available in California (where 10% of Ferrari’s worldwide sales are) then this Bio Fuel model would become a viable option.

I do my best to sort through the countless articles I read about this or that concept to bring you what I consider to be either a really good thing or a really bad thing. I leave the middle-of-the-road stuff to anyone that follows this type of news outside of reading my blog. There are plenty of generic green blogs out there, including ones that deal with cars.

Point being... stuff like this usually flies under my radar but, in this case, it is worthy of mention. For one thing, this particular model gets BETTER fuel economy and has MORE power than the gas version. What you find when you read about ethanol is that it contains less energy per gallon than gasoline... from a thermodynamic perspective. That means if you combust them the same way, you have to get either less power or worse MPG. What this means is that Ferrari made the 430 have much better fuel economy IN GENERAL which translates to better MPG for the E85 blend. That means that the regular fuel economy must be a lot better. I'm very interested to hear how they did that...

The other reason that this is worth mentioning is that we're looking at an industry-wide change - in a vary strange industry to be making this change. From here (quote from the official Ferrari press release which can be found on
The development of an engine powered by the biofuel E85 comes as part of a research and development program announced during the Technological Innovation Conference held at Maranello last June as part of our 60th Anniversary Celebrations. On that particular occasion, Ferrari also unveiled projects focused on improving the energy of the whole car which would in turn lower fuel consumption and emissions levels. The ultimate aim being, of course, to cut the latter by 40% by 2012.

It's good to see big names like Ferrari waving the green flag for any number of reasons. It's nice to see them have a conscience, first off. But they might also just see it as another obstacle to overcome. Their heart is in F1 racing and that's why their cars are so amazing. The technology that comes from developing some of the most amazing machines on the planet is mind-boggling. But, for street and occasional track use, how fast do they need to be? How light? How nimble? Cars can only be so fast and so capable before they start to exceed a human's ability to control them. Aside from that, looks are relative between the supercars.

But what would it say about your level of technology if you attained similar power numbers but got 30% better fuel technology? That, to me, says that there might be better, newer, stronger technology in that particular car. And, aside from that, what kind of message does that say FOR your customers? If I'm a greentech mogul and I run a sustainable company that, say, builds fuel systems for a new wave of biodiesel trucks, wouldn't I want to exclaim my green-ness? If I was a big car guy, I would want something really nice but I would also be wary, as a big green guy, of the mixed message I would be broadcasting by driving something that gets single-digit MPG. See what I mean?

In a similar vein, Porsche recently unveiled a hybrid Cayenne SUV idea:
The gas/electric hybrid Cayenne will cut fuel consumption by about 15 percent over the non-hybrid version. It will use a hybrid system being developed in partnership with Volkswagen, the same company Porsche partnered with to create the Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg SUVs. The Porsche/VW hybrid system will allow the vehicle's gasoline engine and electric motor to operate independently or together as needed. The Cayenne hybrid should be available by the end of the decade, the company said.

Not the exact car in question but you get the idea.

I see big technology muscle getting involved in fuel efficiency as a very good thing, even if their intention is simply to sell to a broader market. The more players, the bigger the game and as the competition gets hotter and hotter, the sustainable industry can do nothing but reap benefits. If Porsche and VW together design a great new hybrid system for the Cayenne, that means a couple years down the road that we'll probably see it in a Passat.

...and I can finally say I drive a Porsche because they share a bolt or two :)

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