In the chess game of emissions policies and carmaker resistance, Ferrari’s promise to have a hybrid on the market by 2015 is a sign that even niche corners of the automotive industry are moving towards greener vehicles. Confirming rumors that began circulating last year, the company’s president announced that it is indeed developing a hybrid sports car, but emphasized that a Ferrari hybrid would still be “fundamentally a Ferrari.” 

The Italian company also aims to cut 40 percent of its vehicles’ greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012. Carmakers within the European Union are starting to feel pressure to prepare for a time when their vehicles will need to slim down to meet tightened efficiency and emissions standards. The EU has a ruling on the table that could force the automotive companies to limit their fleet-average carbon dioxide emissions to less than 130 grams per kilometer by 2012, down from about 160 g/km now—on a timeline that could blindside many a less limber company. More to the point, it could deal a major blow to companies like Ferrari, whose elite customer base and niche markets don’t clamor for practical features like fuel efficiency in their ultra-sleek vanity vehicles.

The hybrid Ferrari would use “alternative energy sources,” based in part on technology developed for its Formula One program. The core of that technology, called a kinetic energy recovery system, or KERS, is a regenerative braking system that recycles power lost when a driver applies the brakes. The energy expended when a car  brakes can be captured and stored, either by accelerating a rotor to spin a flywheel (basically a disc that is able to keep rotating until the energy is drawn out), or by loading it into a storage device, such as a battery or supercapacitor. That energy can be quickly released to improve acceleration. Not only does it provide race cars with extra zip, it also improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions.

The organization behind Formula One is including the use of KERS as part of its 2009 regulations for vehicles. The racing group is a big proponent of seeing new technologies tested in its cars, especially ones that could benefit consumer markets, and Formula One is pushing teams towards adopting innovations in hybrid systems and fuel economy. Next, the organization will begin encouraging the use of biofuels, and by 2011 it wants an aggressive reduction in fuel use and to see the cars’ exhaust gases and the heat they generate captured and used for propulsion.

"With attention on energy problems worldwide, Formula One cannot afford to be profligate in its use of fuel," Max Mosley, the organization’s president, is quoted as saying.

That’s not to overstate the green credentials of performance racing: the baseline for these roaring tire-burners is a whopping 3.8 miles to the gallon. But with the Tesla Roadster, the first electric sports car, just beginning production, maybe auto greenery is ripe for a jolt of glamour and speed, and an embrace of that classic motorist’s love for an exhilarating drive. 

Story by Sandra Upson. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Ferrari to build hybrid for low-carbon racing
Ferrari's development team aims for a hybrid by 2015.