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Might Lexus produce an all-electric LFB?

Conventional wisdom that electric cars could be nothing but small cars for putting around town –glorified golf carts, if you will– was turned on its head by the 2006 unveiling and 2008 production debut of the Tesla Roadster, a battery electric vehicle (BEV) sports car loosely based on the Lotus Elise. Piqued and intrigued by this upstart, Europe’s traditional high-end carmakers began work on their own takes on the electric supercar concept. Audi fired the first salvo with the initial R8-derived e-tron concept that debuted at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show. Roughly 4 months later, a smaller version (tipped to preview an upcoming Audi R4 sports car) appeared at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. Flash forward a couple of more months, to the Geneva Auto Show, where the undisputed star and surprise of the show was the plug-in hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder. Not to be left behind, Ferrari used that show to introduce the 599 HY-KERS concept, a mild hybrid that utilizes the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (hence the concept’s name) from the 2009 Formula One season. Lotus also introduced the Evora 414E Hybrid concept that is actually an extended-range electric vehicle in the manner of the Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma. Finally, the long-rumored all-electric E-Cell version of the gullwing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG was unveiled last month, with a production model expected in 2013.

So, given this flurry of electric supercar activity, did Lexus miss the boat in not “electrifying” a version of the LFA? Not likely. During the Lexus supercar’s decade-long gestation, there were numerous rumors of an alternate hybrid version propelled by a variant of the LS 600h’s 2UR-FSE 5-liter V8 plus two motor/generators powertrain. These never came to fruition, but tongues were wagging when, just this past April, Brian Williams, an associate of spy photographer extraordinaire Brenda Priddy captured a Pearl Gray LFA hiding what appears to be a plug-in charging port on the left front fender. And, most compellingly, Lexus’ parent Toyota joined forces with the originator of the electric sports car craze, Tesla, investing $50 million to acquire a roughly 3.6% share of the fledgling electric sports car maker.

Now, touching upon many of these points comes an article by Peter Lyon for Motor Trend magazine titled Toyota Mulling All-Electric Supercar. For the uninitiated, Peter Lyon is definitely a credible and well-respected source of information. Australian by birth, his car enthusiasm combined with his Bachelor of Arts degree in Japanese Studies and the fact that he moved to Japan in 1988 make him ideally suited as a major go-to source for the goings-on of the Japanese car industry for numerous American, British and Australian publications. As an aside, he was the first English-speaking journalist to sample the 2nd-generation Lexus IS before its launch in 2005.

It’s certainly not much of a stretch to imagine Lexus borrowing a page from the Mercedes-Benz and Audi playbook and taking its gasoline-powered LFA supercar and, much as the Germans did with the SLS AMG/E-Cell and R8/e-tron, respectively, transforming it into a battery electric vehicle (BEV) sports car, utilizing Tesla’s expertise in high-performance liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries. Yet, while this author concurs with Lyon’s opinion that an all-electric Lexus/Tesla “LFB” would make sense as a direct rival for the Audi and Mercedes supercars, the opening paragraph of this article reminds us that there is hardly consensus on the degree or type of electrification pursued by rival supercar makers. Although Toyota did not share Ferrari’s (and, to a lesser extent, Renault, BMW and McLaren’s) interest in the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems the Europeans dabbled in during Toyota’s final 2009 Formula One season, Lyon notes that Toyota engineers were duly impressed during the recent 24 Hours of the Nürburgring by the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid’s ability to lead the race for more than 22 hours using a hybrid system that uses regenerative braking to store energy in a large flywheel, then using that energy to provide a power boost to the front wheels. Not that Toyota is totally clueless as to the virtues of power regeneration, as its Supra HV-R racer, which uses a supercapacitor, became the first hybrid race car in history to win an event outright, namely the 24 Hours of Tokachi in July 2007. In other words, you have conflicting all-electric (Tesla/Audi/Mercedes) versus hybrid (Ferrari/Porsche/Lotus) schools of thought and, at this point, Toyota has not publicly stated which side it falls on.

One area where this author dissents with Holiday Auto, however, is with the fanciful renderings of what an “LFB” (tipped by Lyon to appear “around 2015”) would look like. It would make far more sense, especially in these austere no-frills times we live in, for a purported “LFB” to hew much closer to its LFA progenitor aesthetically. Those Infiniti Essence-meets-Ferrari 458 Italia renderings, while not unattractive, represent too much “change for the sake of change” versus the LFA’s functionally and aerodynamically optimized shape. We could see larger grilles and slots to cope with the batteries’ added cooling demands, and certainly different wheels, but not the wholesale aesthetic changes that Holiday Auto suggests.

Photo from Toyota USA Newsroom

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