What’s the Point of High-Powered ‘Green’ Sports Cars?

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Jing Wei / Imaginechina via AP Images

This green Ferrari hybrid is also 'green.'

The best argument for going green is that it’ll help conserve natural resources and money at the same time. The new breed of “green” supercars led by Ferrari and Porsche doesn’t really do either.

A 920-horsepower, $850,000 sports car might be described as “cool,” or perhaps as “cutting edge.” A phrase like “totally ridiculous” also comes to mind. But “eco-friendly”? Really?

“Green” and “eco-friendly” are a couple of the terms tossed around in stories about the Ferrari F70, Porsche 918 Spyder, BMW i8, Infiniti Emerg-E, and other high-end hybrid sports cars in the works. As regulations force automakers to lower vehicle emissions and increase mpg ratings, even the ritziest rides are getting made over with the “green” label. That includes Ferrari, which is producing a new hybrid that operates using its experimental HY-KERS engine. The car, dubbed the F70, is expected to boast 920-horsepower engine and improved fuel efficiency, as well as a retail price in the neighborhood of $850,000. But is this “greenwashing” at its worst?

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Rising gas prices and increased government regulations regarding gas mileage and emissions have led every car manufacturer to tweak the way they do business. Even Rolls Royce has toyed with an electric version of its Phantom.

Often, though, luxury and high performance come directly at the expense of a car’s environmental friendliness. Rolls Royce ultimately decided to not produce its electric car for the public, citing “a lack of charging infrastructure” on the roads as a main reason. Funny how Rolls didn’t mention how silly the idea of saving on energy costs via the purchase of a $300,000+ car is, but that’s to be expected.

Two basic questions must be asked of any driver considering a “green supercar” from Porsche, Ferrari, Bentley, or the others:

If you’re buying a car like this, do you really give a damn about gas mileage and fuel costs?
Businessweek estimates that the new “eco-friendly” Ferrari will be 40% more fuel-efficient than a similar gas-powered vehicle, giving “elite car drivers some green bragging rights and about an additional nine miles to the gallon vs. a conventional car of comparable weight.” But come on. It’s hard to argue that you care about minimizing pain at the pump when you’re dropping close to a million bucks on one of the world’s most impractical automobiles. If you were remotely worried about gas mileage, you could pick almost any other vehicle on the market and it’d probably have a much better mpg rating—and certainly a much lower cost of ownership. What’s making some drivers excited about hybrid supercars is the prospect of their engines providing more power than ever, not that they might scale back fuel consumption.

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If you’re buying a car like this, do you really give a damn about the environment?
The point of the automakers developing these cars, as pointed out in another story, is to “make their models environmentally palatable, while still maintaining or boosting performance.” But again, come on. If you’re driving a Ferrari or Porsche, you clearly care a lot more about 0-60 than you do about Mother Nature or global warming. The Toyota Prius gets by with a 98-horsepower engine. Compare that to the new $960,000 Porsche 918 Spider, which comes with two 218-horsepower electric engines—as well as a 500-horsepower gas-powered engine. The new Ferrari is expected to pack two electric engines and an 800-horsepower 12-cylinder gas engine under the hood. Is that really “green”?

Of course, the case can be made that these cars are greener than their predecessors, and that the technology being used will result in a decrease in gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions soon, and even more so in the future. For that, these efforts are to be commended.

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But let’s not pretend anyone driving such a vehicle should be commended for their devotion to the environment or their concerns about our dependency on oil.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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