One way or another, the future looks electric

2010 Geneva Motor Show floor, buzzing with action(Photo: Michael Bettencourt)

Geneva, Switzerland - If it's futuristic, it has to be electric. But if it's going into production this year, thriftier gasoline or diesel engines will do for now. That's the message coming out of this year's Geneva Motor Show, where the vast majority of automakers featured an enviro-friendly message backed up by a gas-electric hybrid or full-electric plug-in concept vehicle.

But in the end it was still more hype than substance, as only one new automaker confirmed its entrance into the gas-electric hybrid business here this year, and backed up the talk with a new production vehicle.

Gallery: 2010 Geneva Motor Show: Wrap up

Porsche gets into the hybrid game in a big way

Porsche hybrid display at the Geneva Motor Show(Photo: Martin Meissner, AP Photo)

That would be Porsche with its new Cayenne S Hybrid, introduced as part of a new second-generation line of 2011 Cayenne SUVs that will launch this summer, although the hybrid and V6 versions will arrive in Canada in the fall. Making the Cayenne Hybrid unique among hybrids is an all-electric highway mode, which promises to shut off the gasoline engine entirely, using only the battery to propel the big SUV at higher speeds.

Porsche says this cruise mode can disengage the gas engine completely at speeds up to 156 km/h, giving the S Hybrid V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, with an overall Euro average fuel consumption rating of 8.2 L/100 km.

The new Cayenne Hybrid pairs a supercharged 333-hp 3.0-litre V6 from the Audi S4 with a 47-hp electric engine, for a total of 380 hp. This powerplant offers its ample 427 ft.-lb. torque peak at a mere 1,000 rpm, which is just above idle in most cars that aren't hybrids. That low-end electric grunt should help the hybrid feel as energetic or even moreso than its more powerful V8 and V8 Turbo versions, which the S Hybrid will slot between in price.

Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid(Photo: Porsche)

"Today, we're starting the hybrid age for Porsche," said Porsche AG president and CEO Michael Macht at the 80th Salon International de l'Auto in Geneva.

Of the numerous world debuts from mainstream manufacturers at this show, about half of those generated power to the wheels through electricity, either fully or partially as gas-electric hybrids. Almost all of them were concept cars. The other half consisted of actual production models, which were all more fuel efficient, but will only arrive in traditional gas or diesel engines at launch.

More hybrids on the way

Infiniti M35 Hybrid(Photo: Loona, Abaca Press)

The Cayenne S Hybrid may have been the only hybrid unveiled in Geneva confirmed to actually go on sale in North America this year, but there were other hybrid unveilings and "concepts" that are much closer to production than true concept vehicles. Infiniti unveiled its M35 Hybrid, which is slated to go on sale in early summer 2011, BMW showed its 5 Series ActiveHybrid Concept that looks production ready, and Audi showed a gas-electric version of its new generation A8 flagship, which it confirmed early last month will go into production, just not when.

The Audi A8 Hybrid shown in Geneva featured an electrified version of the brand's 2.0-litre direct injected and turbocharged TFSI four-cylinder engine, making 245 hp and 354 lb.-ft. of torque. Despite the A8's size, Audi puts acceleration from rest to 100 km/h at a very respectable 7.5 seconds, especially in light of the Euro-cycle average of 6.2 L/100 km fuel consumption rating.

Audi A8 Hybrid Concept(Photo: Loona, Abaca Press)

Audi also had the highest profile celebrity appearance in Justin Timberlake, packing the German luxury brand's large display during its press conference with wall-to wall-people, and what looked like just about every woman in the building under 40 years of age. Coming in a rather distant second for celeb wattage was the appearance of Michael Schumacher at the Mercedes-Benz stand, along with fellow 2010 Benz Formula One driver Nico Rosberg.

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