Sales of gas-powered sports cars are soaring before automakers switch to electric

It took less than six weeks for French automaker Bugatti to sell all 99 units of the Mistral, a $5 million roadster built with the brand’s impressive 16-cylinder engine.

Perhaps that was the appeal of owning an open-top hypercar. Or maybe it was the announcement that the 110-year-old brand was going electric.

“The way you feel the engine is so intense. We thought it was the perfect way to celebrate the outgoing W16 engine,” Frank Hale, Bugatti’s design director, told ABC News about the Mistral. “Bugatti is an established brand with an established DNA.”

Enthusiasts were caught off guard when Croatian electric car maker Rimac took control of Bugatti in 2021, sparking a frenzy among customers that Bugatti’s massive 8.0-liter engine would be immediately replaced with an electric drivetrain. That change is coming, executives said. Until then, owners can wake up the raspy engine (1,578 horsepower) with every press of the gas pedal – a satisfying example of engineering excellence.

“When you sit in the driver’s seat and the intakes are right behind your head, you hear the induction noise of the turbochargers going ‘Shooh’ and when you lift off the gas, ‘Phhhhhh,'” Hale said. “That inhale and exhale sounds a bit like Darth Vader.”

Owning a vehicle with a big, powerful engine has long been a status symbol for drivers. Yet those gas-guzzling vehicles — including trucks — are now scorned by the industry, which is quickly replacing them with fewer cylinders or electric motors. Bugatti will soon stop production of its legendary W16. Production of Bentley’s powerful W12 engine will end next April. Audi recently said “Tschüss” to its euphoric V10.

“When enthusiasts hear that gas engines are going away, they think, ‘They’re going to take my Lamborghini and put me in a Nissan Leaf,'” Johnny Lieberman, TV host and editor of MotorTrend, told ABC News. “Few people think that an electric vehicle is attractive to drive – but it is. Electric sports cars are coming.”

Lieberman pointed to the next-generation 718 Cayman and Boxster, which Porsche has confirmed will be electric-only by 2025.

“It will be interesting to see how the electric Cayman is received,” he noted. “The Porsche Mission R was incredibly powerful as a sports car.”

Doug DeMuro, a popular YouTube car reviewer and founder of Cars & Bids.com, said electric cars are generally cheaper — and faster — to produce. Also, younger drivers prefer Tesla or Rivian, he said.

“Car manufacturers don’t change their route. They have resigned themselves to an electric and plug-in hybrid future,” De Muro told ABC News.

German automaker Audi decided to end production of its powerful, naturally aspirated 10-cylinder R8 supercar this year after introducing the model to American drivers in 2008. The mid-engined R8 was a halo for the brand and won every major endurance race, in which was involved. Customers admired his dual personality: track star and everyday commuter.

“There has never been a concept like this in the history of the brand. There were no role models,” said Frank Lamberti, designer of the first generation R8, at Laguna Seca Raceway’s farewell celebration in August.

The automotive community praised Lamborghini’s all-electric four-seat concept when it debuted this summer. Ultra-modern and futuristic, the Lanzador, which will go on sale in 2028, looks like a Lamborghini – except for the screaming engine behind the driver.

Lamborghini doesn’t need an electric model to reduce sales; it delivered 5,341 vehicles worldwide in the first six months of 2023, a sales record. Its Urus and Huracan models are completely sold out.

“Customers have to wait at least two to three years for cars — that’s how exclusive we are,” Andrea Baldi, CEO of Automobili Lamborghini Americas, told ABC News. “Dealers are profitable and shouldn’t be discounting.”

Bentley Motors and Mercedes, two brands known for their high-performance engines, are aggressively transforming their lineups to include more electricity. The company said it is phasing out its W12 and V8 product portfolio to become an all-electric automaker by the end of the decade. Its awesome Continental GT Convertible Speed, which features a 6.0-liter W12 engine, is still available — for now.

“The Bentley W12 is the best petrol engine I have ever driven. It’s the best powertrain ever built,” said De Muro.

Lieberman agreed, saying, “I’m going to miss the W12.”

Mercedes continues to produce sports cars with AMG 4.0-liter V8 Biturbo engines before fully switching to battery electric vehicles by 2030. The company’s new AMG GT 63 Coupe, available next year, delivers 577 hp. and 590 lb-ft of torque and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. The sports coupe gurgles, pops and pops with every downshift, a wonderful experience for both driver and passenger.

Ryan Lanteigne, a Rimac test driver, has driven Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches throughout his career, pushing each to its limits. Like many enthusiasts, Lanteigne “loves” high-revving V8s and V10s. He then started driving the Rimac Nevera, a $2.2 million electric hypercar that goes from 0 to 60 mph in a whopping 1.74 seconds. The GT produces 1,914 horsepower and has broken 20 acceleration and braking records in one day.

“The performance will surprise enthusiasts,” he told ABC News. “You can go hard on the gas – the rear doesn’t start to spin, there’s no wheel spin. A car gives you so much confidence. There is no modern supercar or hypercar that can match the Nevera.”

Rimac is building 150 units of the Nevera, with half of production still available.

Lieberman, who has driven the Pininfarina Battista, another electric supercar, says ICE fans are missing out on electric sports cars.

“People are afraid to buy them,” he said, adding that the Battista handles “fantastically” and makes Bugatti’s Chiron “feel relatively slow in terms of acceleration.”

“Enthusiasts hate electrification … there’s a big campaign against it,” Lieberman continued. “There’s a lot of ignorance in not experiencing something and immediately dismissing it.”

Ferrari and Lamborghini still seem committed to big engines, with the Revuelto plug-in hybrid featuring a brand new V12. DeMuro predicts that the latest great 12-, 10- and eight-cylinder sports cars will increase in price over the next 10 to 15 years. Until then, race tracks and highways will be dominated by quiet machines that can break 0-60 mph records without turbo lag or carbon emissions.

“For enthusiasts, there is a realization that this is a very special time. There is a battle cry in the middle of the country, especially among those who grew up with Camaros and Mustangs,” DeMuro said. “They can die hard with their gas engines. Electrics are the future.”

Lamberti, who traveled from Germany to California to send the R8 in person, said he was “the luckiest man in the world” to be part of Audi’s racing history. Crouching down to take one last look at the car, his hands gliding over its curves, Lamberti was effervescent that the R8 would continue to mesmerize drivers years after its retirement.

“What do I want people to say? Wow, that’s a great car. I’d love to have it,” Lamberti told ABC News. “That’s when you know you’ve touched people’s souls.”

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