Hybrid highlight

An exotic three-seat supercar with hybrid power and no gearbox was among the highlights of this week’s Geneva Motor Show.

The Toyota Alessandro Volta, a collaboration between Italdesign-Guigiaro and Toyota, is powered by a modified powertrain from the Lexus RX 400h sport-utility vehicle, which goes on sale early next year.

‘We wanted to create an exotic car using not a typical transmission but the powertrain of the future,’ said design centre vice-president Fabrizio Guigiaro. Italdesign-Guigiaro, which is known mainly as a styling house but has 1,100 engineering staff, designed the car’s chassis and form then approached Toyota to supply the power unit.

‘We have designed a very compact, high-performance car,’ said Guigiaro. ‘The idea was to show that if a racing shell could be combined with a clean and innovative propulsion system, there would be huge potential for creating environmentally-friendly saloon and compact cars.’

The car, which is named after the inventor of the battery, has a carbon-fibre body with a 3.3 litre V6 engine mounted between the rear wheels. But unlike in the RX 400h, the engine generates power for two 300kW (408bhp) electric motors that drive the front and rear wheels. There is no gearbox, with electronics modulating the power delivered to the wheels. All the mechanical parts lie within the car’s wheelbase, improving the weight distribution.

Batteries weighing 70kg are needed to power the car, but this is compensated for by the elimination of the transmission, which would typically weigh 100-120kg.

The car is also less than 2m wide. ‘As a rule, sports cars with mid-mounted engines expand lengthwise, with the engine, drivetrain and suspension occupying a lot of space,’ said Guigiaro. ‘With the Alessandro Volta, we have achieved the same performance, attaining better weight distribution and more comfortable seating.’

Elimination of the transmission allows for a flat floor, with room for two adults and a child. Alternatively, use of drive-by-wire technology allows the steering wheel and pedal box to be slid sideways to the centre of the car to make more room for the driver.

The electric motors give the Alessandro Volta a 0-100Kph acceleration time of 4.03 seconds, and a top speed limited to 250Kph. A 50-litre fuel tank provides an impressive range of 700km. Weight is 1250kg.

The Alessandro Volta is a running prototype, and could go into production (though without drive-by-wire) if public reaction is sufficiently favourable.