Cars

Mercedes-AMG Aims to Top Other Hypercars in Efficiency

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Today the word “hypercar” brings to mind some of the world’s top-performing machinery, such as the McLaren P1, Porsche 918, and Ferrari LaFerrari. The upcoming Aston Martin/Red Bull AM-RB oo1 and the F1-powered Mercedes-AMG aim to go beyond even those cars’ extraordinary abilities. But the word “hypercar” wasn’t always defined this way; back in the early 1990s, a hypercar was what proponents called the earth-saving conveyances they imagined for the future—ultralight, aerodynamically radical, made with advanced lightweight materials, and potentially packing a hybrid powertrain with a super-high-efficiency engine.

With the as yet unnamed F1-powered speeding bullet from Mercedes-AMG, these two definitions could merge. At the Los Angeles auto show, we caught up with the chief executive of AMG, Tobias Moers, to learn a few more details about the project. It’s shaping up to be a roadgoing F1 race car brought just inside the bounds of what’s legal for sale as a passenger vehicle. And, as it turns out, it also could be remarkably fuel-efficient.

Moers emphasized that the goal for the circa $2 million flagship performance car, which is likely to arrive by early 2019 and be produced in mere hundreds (depending on interest), is that it won’t just go fast; it also will serve as a showcase for the bevy of efficiency gains and technology leaps made by F1 in recent years.

“To put it in just one sentence: outstanding performance with more than impressive efficiency,” he said. “That’s the main goal, the main target.” Setting aside that his “one sentence” is a verbless fragment, he’s talking about the confluence of a racing engineer’s objective to squeeze as much power as possible out of an engine restrained by rules with those of road-car engineers seeking to maximize fuel economy. Both aim to make the most of every drop of fuel and measure the results of their efforts as thermal efficiency.

“It will meet emissions regulations worldwide, but we’re still confident that we’re going to have 40 percent [thermal efficiency],” Moers said of the roadgoing car, claiming that figure will mean the AMG will top every other combustion engine in production today. To put this hypercar cred into context, the F1 race engine has a thermal efficiency well over 40 percent. While the gasoline engines in the latest Toyota Prius and the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro hit the 40 percent mark, neither of those engines has a redline beyond 10,000 rpm or a total power output in the 1000-hp range—both expectations for the Mercedes-AMG model. So, even though this would be quite the bragging right, green-car advocates are unlikely to herald Mercedes-AMG as a hero in the same breath with Tesla.

The company gets that point. Although AMG marks its 50th anniversary next year, Moers underscored that the production hypercar isn’t going to be a homage or a birthday present celebrating the firm’s past, which is highlighted by large-displacement V-8 and V-12 engines and virtually no regard for fuel-economy ratings.

“That [new] car opens a doorway into the future, a definition of future performance, and our interpretation of the future—which means electrification and hybridization of powertrains,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re going to use the most efficient combustion engine on the planet, which is the Formula 1 1.6-liter engine.”

If you’re still a little bit in disbelief that this is happening, we are, too. “It’s not inspired by it, it’s just that engine,” Moers said excitedly, without prompting.

It’s a turbocharged V-6 with a 90-degree angle between cylinder banks, designed to work as a hybrid with an electric motor and battery pack. It’s not only the F1 engine itself that’s being adapted for the road car, but the entire hybrid system. “Every component we’re going to use out of Formula 1; that means an electric turbo, electric motors, the combustion engine, and even the battery—we’re going to use the same battery cell,” Moers said.

With that much carried over, how can you take a powertrain designed for a specific set of high-stress conditions and make it perform in real-world conditions with cold starts, short trips, varied weather conditions, and sometimes lackluster premium fuel? Real-world durability has become a serious engineering concern when employing the racing drivetrain, which Moers himself calls “delicate” machinery.

“We have to reduce compression, for sure,” he mused, also noting that the world-championship-winning machine’s 3000-rpm idle is a little too high for a streetable car. Some elements, such as bearings, will have to be different in a production engine. “The Formula 1 engine we run stressed on the racetrack, and we have just three or four engines per year.

“It’s an issue; it’s a challenge; but it’s solvable, and we’re going to meet that.”

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