A few decades back, it was no sure thing that electrification would take a firm hold on the performance world, let alone the automotive market as a whole. Yet here we are today with a great many of the fastest performance vehicles on the road powered by electric motors. Italdesign-Giugiaro and Toyota presented their take on the electric supercar some 18 years ago in the form of the Alessandro Volta concept shown here. This article from our archives is presented just as it appeared in Green Car Journal’s Fall 2004 issue.
Excerpted from Fall 2004 Issue: In an automaker’s portfolio, the flagship should be a car that sets the tone for the rest of its fleet, pushing brand identity and technology to the outermost limits. Shown here is just such a vehicle. Rolled out on the world stage at the Geneva Motor Show, this Toyota hybrid supercar concept is clearly designed to inspire and, not inconsequentially, underscore the very real potential that hybrid electric propulsion has throughout the Toyota brand.
Serial Hybrid Electric Supercar
Toyota’s Volta concept is named for the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the battery. One needn’t look too closely at this car to understand why. It uses a derivative of the high technology drivetrain found in the hybrid Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX 400h, but in this instance configured so there’s no direct link between the gasoline engine and the wheels. Instead, the 3.3-liter V-6 engine’s power is converted to electrical energy for charging the car’s batteries and powering electric motors at both front and rear axles. Drive-by-wire technology allows the combined 408 horsepower to be modulated without the need for a clutch or transmission.
This car puts all those volts to good use, taking advantage of the inherent instant torque provided by electric motors and launching the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in just four seconds. Combined with a top speed of 155 mph, the Volta certainly has the performance to back up its supercar persona, although these numbers alone aren’t enough to stand out among today’s fastest machines. However, with a claimed 430 mile range and fuel economy around 31 mpg, the Volta would literally leave the rest of the fuel-guzzling pack behind. When was the last time you saw a supercar with those numbers?
Dramatic Italdesign Styling
The Alessandro Volta was developed collaboratively by the famous Italian design house Italdesign-Giugiaro and Toyota Motor Company, a fusion of car cultures as disparate as the concept’s nobly duplicitous pretensions. The hybrid drivetrain allowed Italdesign to take some packaging liberties with the lightweight carbon-fiber chassis, positioning the engine behind the rear axle without need of a driveshaft to connect the front wheels, thus allowing room in the cockpit for three passengers.
Dimensionally, Toyota’s Prius is three inches longer, over a foot taller, and 300 pounds heavier than the Volta. Of course, a 76-inch width, meaty tires, and wonderfully dramatic styling see that ‘economy’ is purged from the mind of any uninformed onlooker...as planned.
Age of the Electric Supercar
Perhaps this blatant contradiction is the real attraction of the Alessandro Volta. A hybrid electric car shouldn’t look this exotic or go this fast, and certainly an all-wheel drive supercar shouldn’t get this kind of gas mileage – and yet there it sits in all its paradoxical glory. Whether it becomes reality or not, the Alessandro Volta has charted a course of bold possibilities, and we can’t wait to see what surfaces in its wake.