Hongqi S9 coupe, Lamborghini Countach, Lotus Evija among the rush of hypercars

Most of the hypercars from start-ups use electric drivetrains because they make it much easier to achieve the required acceleration while meeting tightening emission controls. On the other hand, many buyers are seizing what they believe might be their last chance to enjoy the tourbillon-like complexity and more tactile driving experience of traditional high-revving, high-performance piston engines.

Lotus, Pininfarina and Rimac have announced hypercars powered purely by batteries (the Evija, Battista and Nevera, respectively). The Rimac recently set a new production car record for acceleration. On a US drag strip, the Croatian-built coupe covered the standing quarter mile (402 metres) in just 8.58 seconds, crossing the line at just under 270 km/h.

Even then, it took 2.1 seconds to reach 100 km/h, throwing some doubt on how many of the new breed will really break the two-second barrier, as claimed for the Hongqi and several others.

Lamborghini’s 2021 Countach is a supercapacitor-powered hybrid.  

The quickest cars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin (with its Valkyrie coupe and just unveiled Spider) and Swedish maker Koenigsegg have thus far used petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains with relatively small batteries (or in the case of the Lamborghini Sián and reborn Countach, a supercapacitor). This enables them to combine the instant torque of electricity with the lighter weight of a conventional drivetrain. Mercedes-AMG has adapted its hybrid F1 drivetrain to its One hypercar.

A few new hypercars still make do with purely petrol engines. These include Bugatti with its spectacular new Bolide track car and Divo road car. Both have eight litres and 16 cylinders at their disposal.

Italian brand Pagani, US brand Hennessey and Australia’s Brabham, which promises a streetcar later this year to go with its track-focused BT62, also eschew electrical boosting. Then there is the most eccentric offering of all, the GMA T.50.

The Bugatti Bolide that will go into production. 

It’s an attempt by ex-McLaren and Brabham Formula One designer Gordon Murray to create one last “analogue” hypercar. Murray designed the now legendary McLaren F1 three-seater road car of the 1990s, and sees this as a further development of that. It weighs just 986 kilograms, compared with 2.2 tonnes for the electric Pininfarina Battista.

Murray has commissioned an all-new V12 from Cosworth, despite plans to make only 100 road cars and 25 track derivatives. And as further proof the market is in rude health, the road cars sold out within 48 hours of their announcement, at about $4.4 million apiece, plus taxes and other charges.

When hypercars are a hit, they boost profits tremendously. Ferrari has generated billions from limited-edition, extreme performance models. The ultra-expensive McLaren P1 and Speedtail sold out almost immediately. Yet, the same company’s Elva streamliner struggled and production numbers had to be drastically cut, no doubt leading to losses.

And consider Bugatti, for many the supreme hypercar maker since its 2005 relaunch by Volkswagen Group as a maker of 16-cylinder, 400 km/h-plus coupes.

Aston Martin Valkyrie Spider uses a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain. 

Yes, new Bugattis sell for eye-watering amounts, but VW is said to have invested nearly $4 billion in the brand in set-up and R&D. It has sold only about 800 cars, so that equates to about $5 million in fixed costs for each car, before that car is built, marketed, sold (with dealers taking a cut) and provided with warranty support.

Various estimates have concluded the company has lost between $7 million and $8 million on every unit it has shifted. That’s one reason VW Group has merged Bugatti with Rimac, which it partly owns via Porsche. The Croatian company will develop next-generation electric drivetrains for both brands to cut costs and meet the zero emissions demanded by some markets by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, if you think buying a hypercar might provide you with a nice nest egg, make sure you choose the right one.

The GMA T.50 is the most eccentric offering of all. 

In the early 1990s McLaren and Jaguar were competing to produce the world’s fastest, most desirable supercar (the word hypercar hadn’t yet caught on). Their respective F1 and XJ220 models had tremendous performance, and pricing way higher than anything else at the time. The McLaren was priced from £540,000 and the Jaguar from £470,000.

Yet at the Monterey Car Week auctions in the US last month, an example of the McLaren sold for $US20.5 million, while a Jaguar XJ220 in equally pristine condition fetched just $US472,500 (or about a third less than its new price, with no adjustment for inflation, and no consideration of three decades of insurance, servicing and storage).

With so many hypercars to choose from in 2021, and technology advancing more quickly than ever, the heroes and zeros of today’s crop will be even harder to pick.

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