Porsche hybrids destined to flop? Not likely

Porsche has been quick to adopt plug-in hybrid technology. Quicker, in fact, than any of its Volkswagen Group sibling brands, which includes Audi and Volkswagen itself.

This shouldn’t surprise us though, because Porsche has frequently prioritized technology that will make its cars quicker without getting hung up on sentimental issues.

The company’s engineers are fans of all-wheel drive and engine turbo charging, for instance, despite a widely held belief that rear-wheel drive and atmospheric engines offer a purer driving experience. Ferrari certainly thinks so.

Like all-wheel drive and turbo charging, electric motors have an unjust reputation for sullying performance. Until the Tesla Model S arrived that was because most electric cars were slow, and in performance terms the heavy battery packs they need for power blunt acceleration and handling.

Calibrated just right, however, electric motors can make a gasoline car much faster, which is why Porsche had few reservations about using two of them in its latest showpiece, the 918 Spyder. The car explodes off the line thanks to all-wheel drive and hefty torque from its electric motors, but it also returns 78 mpg US.

Similar plug-in hybrid technology has emigrated to the latest Panamera, Porsche’s four-door sports sedan (review), and so far it’s been an unexpected (Porsche may beg to differ with that) success.

Of the 16,698 examples delivered worldwide this year, 1,513 Panamera’s were plug-in hybrids, and US drivers have bought into the technology – which allows for short commutes using electric power alone – more than most. Over here the Panamera S E-Hybrid enjoys a solid 16 percent share of sales, despite its swollen price tag compared to other variants.

Buoyed by that success and the need to reduce average fleet carbon dioxide emissions, Porsche will introduce a similar version of the Cayenne SUV in Paris next week, and don’t be surprised to see a Cajun S E-Hybrid next year, either.

With a hybrid version of the consecrated 911 seen testing at the Nürburgring, too, there’s little doubt that Porsche is embracing the technology fully. As with everything from small roadsters, to SUVs, to million-dollar hypercars, when Porsche commits to an idea the result is usually class leading.

Plug-in hybrid SUVs could well be the next big thing in the automotive world, and Porsche is well positioned to capitalize on its early advantage.