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How can a $650K Porsche plug-in hybrid benefit you?

By Claes Bell ·
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Posted: 10 am ET

Porsche has announced plans to bring to market a $650,000 plug-in hybrid car that will get 78 mpg and reach 60 mph in around 3 seconds.

I must admit, I laughed a little bit when I first read about the 918 Spyder. First off, the idea of spending the price of a luxurious house on an automobile is a little bit funny to me, just because it's so far outside my frame of reference. And I know that the car isn't really about saving money on gas, but the idea of a person capable of spending that kind of money on a two-seater car complaining about their gas bills is also kind of hilarious.

The hybrid plug-in Porsche 918 Spyder will retail for $650,000

The hybrid plug-in Porsche 918 Spyder will retail for $650,000.

My guess is that those that buy the 918 Spyder will be looking for a way to be more "green." Luxury sports cars at that level of performance usually get around 8 mpg to 12 mpg, and maybe they feel guilty emitting that much carbon dioxide just to look really awesome. Still, they could probably save a lot more carbon for that price by building huge solar-cell arrays to power their gigantic houses instead, but that's beside the point.

For those of us plebes who would take a decade or more to earn the Spyder's sticker price, there are some actual benefits to the existence of a car like this. While there's no way we'll ever be able to afford the vehicle itself, it may yield advances in plug-in hybrid technology that could make their way into more reasonably priced cars in the near future.

In fact, many technologies we now take for granted in our current cars were first developed for luxury cars like the Spyder. Modern antilock braking systems made their debut on the top-shelf 1978 Mercedes S-Class, for instance. The first car with standard air bags? The 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo. Electronic stability control? The 1995 Mercedes S-Class. Modern air conditioning? An option on the top-of-the-line 1954 Nash Ambassador. In-car navigation? The 1990 Acura Legend.

You get what I'm saying here. It may not apply in economics, but "trickle-down" really does work when it comes to car technology. Because the profit margins are so high for luxury automakers, they can afford to spend large amounts developing technology to set their cars apart from other luxury automakers. Eventually, those other high-end automakers follow suit and begin to standardize the technology. Those features then begin to filter into the top-tier option packages of mid-priced cars, and so on.

In effect, rich luxury car buyers end up subsidizing technological development in cars built for the rest of us. Bottom line: If a few insanely wealthy folks buying a Porsche 918 means in 10 years I can get a Mazda 3 that gets to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds and gets almost 80 mpg, that's just fine with me.

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