FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) -- Porsche and BMW have both unveiled new sports cars that can not only beat Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius off the line but also at the fuel pump as efficiency becomes a key standard even for supercars.
Porsche's $845,000 918 Spyder hybrid, unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show, can reach 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in 2.8 seconds and gets the equivalent of about 3.9 liters/100km (72 mpg UK/60 mpg U.S.), based on European fuel-economy data. That tops the 5.6 liters/100km (50 mpg UK/41 mpg U.S.) of the basic Prius hybrid.
BMW introduced the i8 in Frankfurt, a plug-in hybrid sports car that will go on sale next year. The supercar will use just 2.5 liters/100km (113mpg UK/94 mpg U.S.) versus 3 liters/100km (95 mpg UK/79 mpg U.S.) for the Prius plug-in.
The models will join other elite electric and hybrid models such as Ferrari's 1 million euro ($1.32 million) LaFerrari and Mercedes' 416,500 euro SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive. These ultra-efficient supercars help automakers meet tougher emissions regulations without sacrificing power and performance. And they break the association between speed and pollution, shoring up the carmakers' reputations for innovation, which have helped them sidestep a six-year decline in the European car market while underpinning their ability to charge premium prices and haul in above-average profits.
"We are standing at the dawn of a new era," BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer told reporters Tuesday at the show. "We believe in electro-mobility and will bring it on the road."
The Frankfurt show brings together almost 1,100 manufacturers and suppliers and will feature 159 world premieres, according to the exhibition organizer. Alongside the green efforts, BMW, Mercedes and Audi are all plotting large-scale expansions of their high-performance units, which make faster versions of their cars, to boost sales and earnings to help pay for the development of new technology.
"Demand is growing for high-performance cars especially in markets like China, the U.S. and the Middle East," said Falk Frey, an analyst at ratings agency Moody's Corp. in Frankfurt. "The profit margins manufacturers reap with these vehicles are very attractive."
In Frankfurt, Audi is showing a concept called the Sport Quattro, a plug-in hybrid coupe with a 700-hp drivetrain. The combined thrust of the combustion engine and electric motor accelerate the car to 100 kph in 3.7 seconds. Its mileage of about 3 liters/100km (94 mpg UK/78 mpg U.S.) is meant to demonstrate that efficiency and performance can go hand in hand. "The one thing doesn't rule out the other," Axel Strotbek, Audi's chief financial officer, said of the company's push to raise its image with sportier models while at the same time cutting overall emissions.
Audi's high-performance Quattro unit plans to roll out more models like the RS 5 convertible, the RS 7 coupe and RS Q3 SUV. The effort is being flanked by the introduction of a plug-in hybrid version of the A3 compact as VW plans to roll out the technology across the group.
VW is betting "that plug-in hybrids offer the best bridging technology" until pure-electric cars become more viable, said Tim Urquhart, an analyst with IHS Automotive in London. With demand for such vehicles still low, carmakers "hope the new market entrants launched at Frankfurt will create a tipping point."
The limited-run Spyder hybrid will be Porsche's most expensive model ever when deliveries start at the end of this year. The car follows on a plug-in hybrid version of the Panamera four-door coupe.
The 918 combines a gasoline engine with two electric motors for a total of 887hp to push the car to a top speed of 198 miles per hour. "With this exclusive super sports car, Porsche is pushing the limit of what's technically possible," said Matthias Mueller, head of the Porsche brand. "We'll prove even to critical observers that sports cars have a great electric future," Mueller said at a briefing in Stuttgart, Germany, ahead of the 918's show debut.
BMW's i8 combines a 131hp electric motor to turn the front wheels with a 231hp, three-cylinder gasoline engine for the rear. It accelerates to 100 kph in 4.5 seconds and can drive 35 kilometers solely on electric power. The i8, which BMW said on Tuesday will cost $135,925, is the second model in BMW's efficiency-focused "i" subbrand after the battery-powered i3 city car.
"We've created a sports car with the consumption of a small car," Herbert Diess, BMW's development chief, said Tuesday in an interview in Frankfurt. "The biggest challenge was that there wasn't any previous model at all," as the company developed the carbon-fiber body with a low center of gravity, a gull-wing door and a three-cylinder engine. "Now is the right time for electric cars."
The carmaker will also bring to market a plug-in hybrid version of the X5 SUV in 2015, reflecting the company's intention to introduce the technology in its mainstream models. "The plug-in hybrid is already standard for us, and a version will be included in every model series," Diess said.
"BMW is leading in terms of innovation," said Hans-Peter Wodniok, an analyst at Fairesearch GmbH in Kronberg, Germany. "While Audi and Mercedes are lagging, BMW's power to innovate is one of reasons for its success."