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Porsche Aims for Hollywood Tesla Fans With Panamera S E-Hybrid

Porsche Panamera Hybrid - H 2013
Porsche Press
Panamera S E-Hybrid

A slew of electric and hybrid cars are coming from Mercedes, BMW and Audi — but Porsche's is the first hybrid in the luxury category that can be powered purely by electricity.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine

The Tesla Model S has proved that Hollywood will embrace an electric car as long as it looks like a combination of a Maserati and an Aston Martin, piles on the tech and creature comforts with a trowel and catches fire only sporadically. The troika of mighty German luxury automakers presumably took the Tesla's stellar sales -- more than 10,000 this year through July -- into consideration when putting the finishing touches on what will be a small invasion of electric and hybrid cars in 2014, including BMW's all-electric i3 and gull-winged i8 plug-in hybrid and a plug-in hybrid version of the Mercedes S.

First out of the gate is Porsche's Panamera S E-Hybrid, an update of the previous Panamera hybrid, which goes on sale Nov. 25. The five-door, four-seat luxe hatchback recalls the form factor of the 911 Carrera -- Jerry Seinfeld owns several. For now, it also is the only car in the segment able to scoot around town entirely on electricity before shifting seamlessly to its twin-turbo gasoline engine when the batteries are depleted. That's 20 gas-free miles of relatively circumspect driving.

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The Panamera is considered a bellwether for the viability of plug-in hybrids because it arrives at a price point, about $100,000, that attracts a demographic for whom fuel economy is born more out of guilt than need. The car therefore must compel entirely with its styling, comfort and especially performance -- as fast as 83 mph on electricity alone and a more Porsche-like 167 mph when the 3.0- liter supercharged V6 engages. (EPA mileage hasn't been established, but the car is expected to top the outgoing Panamera hybrid's 30/22 mpg.)

Along with the Cayenne SUV and the Cayman, the Panamera was a game-changer for Porsche, expanding the marque's reach beyond its sports-car legacy. Vilified by purists as an abomination of the 911 design legacy when introduced in 2009, the Panamera since has found respect and a niche in Hollywood as a stealth luxury sedan, large enough to cosset four adults but as low-slung and slinky as its famed stablemate.

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The Panamera S E-Hybrid addresses the Achilles' heel of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles: battery charge. While the battery can be charged in 2½ hours using the supplied charger, the gasoline engine also can recharge it after about 20 miles of regular driving, a big improvement on the regenerative braking used by many electric cars.

Like the Mercedes S, the Panamera is stuffed with tech accoutrements, including an app that allows monitoring of the charge level from a smartphone as well as the firing up of air conditioning to precool a parked car. Porsche plans to sell the E-Hybrid throughout North America, but with Los Angeles accounting for 13 percent of U.S. hybrid-car sales and 16 percent of electrics, Stuttgart likely will keep a watchful eye on the car's reception in Hollywood.