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Premium auto brands move to survive green shift

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Premium auto brands move to survive green shift

It's tough being green when you are selling high-performance sports cars and luxury vehicles.

By their very nature, the model lines at Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley and similar brands do not fit well in the low-emissions automotive world we are moving toward.

But even if few of us can afford such vehicles, I believe most consumers do not want to see these iconic and entertaining cars disappear from the automotive landscape under the hail of impending government legislation.

The good news is that these exotic nameplates are taking steps to protect their future and ensure that in coming years at least a few of us will be able to drive something more exciting than a Toyota Prius -- as worthy as that car is.

Earlier this year, for example, Ferrari unveiled its 599 HY-KERS concept. Painted a lurid and very un-Ferrari-like green, this beauty marries its standard V-12 gasoline engine with a 100-horsepower electric motor, which can propel the two-seater on battery power alone on a run to the grocery store.

For its part, Bentley, purveyor of ultra-fast eight- and 12-cylinder luxury coupes and sedans, is moving toward flex-fuel capability for its models, beginning this summer. And the legendary German-owned British brand is promising a new powertrain that will bring a 40 percent fuel economy improvement without sacrificing performance levels.

Porsche looks at values

But the biggest scope of green technology development is under way at Porsche.

This is appropriate given that this famous German marque, with close to 100,000 sold annually, is by far the highest-volume brand in its class.

Martin Bratzler, product manager for the Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle, puts it this way: "Unlike Ferrari or Lamborghini, our cars are for everyday driving, so social responsibility has to be one of our core values."

Porsche's strategy with its second-generation 2011 Cayenne, just now going on sale in the United States, is to offer a range of models, from a $46,700 V-6 version to an ultra-high-performance V-8 turbo at $104,000. Slotting in between is a non-turbo V-8 and, coming in the fall, a full parallel hybrid model costing $67,700.

While the hybrid Cayenne offers the most fuel saving potential, all Cayennes come with stop-start gasoline engine systems, a first for this technology in North America. They've all had their weight cut dramatically as well.

'Preserving our reputation'

For 2011, Porsche is adding a more economical V-6 engine option to its V-8 powered Panamera four-door sedan range, also with the stop-start technology. And a hybrid Panamera, using the same system as the Cayenne, is in the pipeline.

"We are not standing in the corner saying we don't believe in the need for lower emissions," says Bratzler. "But we are not going to paint ourselves green for the sake of it. Our technological solutions provide best-in-class fuel economy while preserving our reputation for high performance."

When it comes to Porsche's most iconic model of all, the evergreen 911 sports car, the company has signaled its intent to explore hybrid production technology with the recent unveiling of a hybrid racing version.

So if you are a fan of Ferraris, Porsches and the like, you can take comfort in the knowledge that they are working hard to survive in a greener world.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100729/OPINION03/7290356/1148/auto01/Premium-auto-brands-move-to-survive-green-shift#ixzz0v4zLHbVp

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