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Hot Take: France Is the Whiskey World’s Next Big Obsession

The fifteenth dram in my flight of French whisky is Armorik Double Maturation Single Malt, and I’m slightly relieved it’s the last. It looks delicious, especially golden thanks to the copper hue inside New York City’s Brandy Library, and tastes even better. Owner (and Frenchman) Flavien Desoblin hints that he’s got a few more bottles stashed away, but my palate is tapped out. “We don’t sell many French flights,” he laments, gesturing to a near-full Brenne 10-Year Limited Edition bottle that he’s had for a few years. “It’s a shame because this is a very exciting time. Soon, French whisky could be as big as Japanese whisky.”

It’d be easy to mistake Desoblin’s giddiness for the burgeoning French whisky category as national pride, but when you consider that France is the number one consumer of whisky, per capita, of all countries, and that there are currently 60 active distilleries in France, while another 40 have applied for licenses in the past year alone, you can see where Desoblin is coming from. We’re about to get hit with a crush of French juice, right as Japanese distillers are forced to discontinue age statements — and even some blends — because we drank it all.

Between cognac, Armagnac and brandy, French distillation has deep generational roots, but the demand for whisky is far higher. “French law limits cognac production to specific months so the distillers started making whisky in the off-seasons,” Desoblin shares. “When cognac wasn’t doing great, farmers got government subsidies to uproot grape vines to plant barley and other grain fields. Now everyone’s realizing the terroir in many regions where smaller distillers are cropping up is really suited for the grains.”

Now a hotbed of distilleries, Brittany is considered the origin of French whisky. Home to makers like Armorik, a distillery that’s been churning out under-the-radar, pot stilled single malt juice that rivals any scotch in a blind tasting for decades. Desoblin notes that the terroir not only factors in the glass — a whisky from Charente (a cognac region) or Gers (an Armagnac region) will have a different flavor profile than an Alsace (a riesling region) offering — but it’s used as a vital marketing tool to differentiate brands since the French whisky is still too nascent to have a distinct style unto itself.

Common traits do emerge, evident after my too-expansive flight. Generally, French whisky isn’t big and bold, like American offerings; it’s elegant and silky, soft and round, palatable and balanced. If this all sounds like Japanese whisky, you’re on the right track. “The French palate likes substance and complexity,” Desoblin says. He points to Alfred Giraud Heritage, a triple malt blend aged in extremely rare ex-cognac casks that is so absurdly divine, I attempt to lick any remnants from the empty dram. “This is the turning point of French whisky,” he beams. “It’s incredible. When we look back in fifteen years, we’ll say [owner and founder] Philippe Giraud changed the whole game.”

The kicker: the liquid in the bottle is a mere three years old, far less than high-end whiskeys made Stateside. If you were French, or you knew Philippe Giraud, you might not mind.

The whisky inside the Alred Giraud Heritage bottle is the result of decades of blending and aging knowledge. Giraud is a renowned name within the cognac community. Philippe’s great-grandfather Alfred, for whom the brand is named, was the cellar master of Remy Martin for more than 30 years, while Philippe’s uncle was a master cooper (a barrelmaker). “We’ve since built a distillery,” Giraud says, “but we started buying the best distillates we could find. We debated because we could have a single malt in a few years, but we have four generations of blending knowledge. We wanted to use it.”

Those choice single malt selections, including Rozelieures from Lorraine and Armorik from Brittany, were perfect for Georges Clot, the brand’s master blender (another former Remy cellar master, too). They’re placed into new oak casks, made from a Giraud family forestry operation. “We cut our trees and split the wood because the wood has to stay outside in the rain and the cold for one to two years,” Giraud explains. “You want the rain and weather to wash away the strongest tannins, but you still need enough to give the whisky structure.”

Twelve to 18 months later, the first marriage happens and the blend heads into the ex-cognac casks, all of which are at least 30 years old, with plenty pushing 50. “[Ex-cognac casks] gives it sweetness and a gourmand touch that’s typical of old cognac,” Giraud says. “You can taste a hint of it and it’s even in the nose, to some extent.” The rareness of the casks means the whisky is rare, too; a mere 5,000 bottles of Heritage are produced annually (a subtly peated iteration, Harmonie, is limited to a scant 2,000), and it’s only for sale in New York, though a few additional states will see it in 2020.

Recently, the distiller became the first French whisky to malt its own barley, after outsourcing frustrations abounded. By growing, picking, and malting its own barley, Giraud believes complete control over the process will enable a higher quality product. Downfield, Giraud is experimenting with different kinds of wood and casks that contained Armagnac or white wine, hoping to have a new innovation on shelves by the winter.

Desoblin notes that hurdles and headwinds still exist for French whisky. “Japanese food, particularly sushi, has become integrated into our lives, so whisky as an extension of that was something we can easily understand,” he says. “French food and culture don’t have that same level of penetration, so it’ll take a bit to catch on.” Our bet: it won’t take long.

What to Look for

Editor’s Note: Due to limited production, distribution in the United States isn’t widespread, meaning few French whiskies are widely available. Check for availability at your local liquor store.

Alfred Giraud Heritage Malt Whisky

The one to beat. Floral and spice notes meld well and hints of pear pop on your palate. The new oak creeps in slightly but is balanced by the sweetness from the cognac. If you can find it, it runs between $150 and $200.

Rozelieures Rare Single Malt Whisky

This single malt from Loraine was the first from the region to open, back in 2000. It matures in old sherry, cognac, and sauternes casks, and the resulting liquid is rich and luscious, with plenty of dried fruit notes. Rozelieuers’ Smoked version, made with local peat, is equally divine. You can find it for about $50.

Moutard Esprit de Malt

Champagne producers Moutard age this two-year-old whisky in ex-champagne barrels and ex-ratafia barrels. The latter is a fortified wine produced from champagne grape remnants. You can taste the youth in the glass but it’s lively and delicious. It’ll come to the US later this year.

Armorik Double Maturation Single Malt

Aged for at least 12 years, this drinks like a single malt scotch. Some notes of the sea seep into the maturation process from coastal Brittany distiller Warenghem, who only uses local oak and grains, giving it a wholly unique and full flavor with a long, welcome finish. Where available, it’s typically around $80.

Brenne Single Malt 10 Year

Four perfectly blended single barrels comprise this soft, fruity, super-drinkable ten-year-old. Hints of honey and cherries shine through. While it’s light-bodied, it’s heavy on flavor. You can drink this one all night.

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2022 Aston Martin Vanquish to offer a manual transmission

The retail versions of the Aston Martin Valkyrie and Valhalla remain a ways off, but carmaker CEO Andy Palmer but has given us something to look forward to beyond the flagship hypercar and its baby brother. Palmer told Australian outlet Car Sales that the Vanquish would be offered with a manual transmission. The pledge fulfills Palmer’s previous statement “that I want to be the last manufacturer in the world to offer manual sports cars, and I want to honor that commitment.”

There’s at least one potential caveat with this: The seven-speed dogleg manual transmission recently released for the Vantage AMR forced a reduction in power numbers. The gearbox, developed with transmission maker Graziano to work with the Mercedes-AMG-sourced 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, cut torque to 461 pound-feet compared to 505 lb-ft in the automatic-equipped coupe. The detune added 0.3 seconds to the 0-60 mph time, but we’re confident buyers were happy with the compromise and tech bits that allowed full-throttle upshifts and rev-matching downshifts.

The Vanquish will use an electrified, twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter six-cylinder developed in-house at Aston Martin. Even so, with a lot more power and torque expected in order for the Vanquish to stand above the Vantage and battle the Ferrari F8 Tributo, McLaren 720 S, and Lamborghini Huracán, buyers could again face abridged output. Aston Martin hasn’t said a word about figures, but the F8 and 720 S already crest 700 hp and bring 568 lb-ft.

The Valhalla, which will use the same engine as the Vanquish but is predicted to pack around 1,000 hp, will forgo the manual. Palmer told Car Sales, “that car will only come with a paddleshift transmission.”

As with the Ferrari, but unlike the McLaren and the Lamborghini, the Vanquish gets a bonded aluminum tub instead of carbon. Aston Martin designed carbon tubs for the Valkyrie and Valhalla for “owners happy to sacrifice comfort for ultimate speed.” Palmer explained the Vanquish’s intended daily-driver usability drove the choice for aluminum, which permits a lower, narrower sill for easier ingress and egress. Having two architectures is more expensive for the small company, but Palmer explained, “Unlike McLaren we’re not trying to stretch the same assets over and over again. Our approach is … hopefully … a more compelling way of addressing a customer’s needs.”

When the Vanquish is unveiled in 2022, the price should start at around $450,000, putting $300,000 in daylight between it and the current Vantage. Variants to follow include the sun-kissed Volante convertible and the obligatory hardcore AMR model.

Lamborghini says it could build the Sterrato rally car at a profit

Automobile spent an hour working out the Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato concept at the Volkswagen Group’s Nardo test track. Naturally, the question of a production version came up. Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s chief technical officer, told the magazine a customer version would be possible, only because “the provisional business case suggests that we can build this car at a profit.” And the secret to making money on the car would be 3D printing.

The composition of the Sterrato is 96 percent bone-stock Huracán EVO. Same naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V10 with 631 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, same all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and torque vectoring, same 20-inch wheels. The exterior departures come in the handling software retuned for dirt and loose surfaces, a 1.85-inch lift, fender flares and a one-inch wider track, off-road tires backed by mud guards, aluminum plates front and rear. and those auxiliary LED lights. The cabin gets a titanium roll cage and five-point racing harnesses.

Perhaps save for the software, the edits are cosmetic add-ons, and Reggiani said Lamborghini can fabricate “all restyled or new body panels, claddings, ducts, and splitters on 3D printers.” The carmaker developed a kind of plastic especially for the cause, “a lightweight synthetic material which is in its final shape bolted or screwed onto the finished body.”

The Automobile piece said Lamborghini would need to assess the material’s durability, and perhaps sort out a different solution for the “armadillo rear-window cover that messes up what view there is.” There would also be the “jackhammer noise level” to attend to. Otherwise, the mag’s assessment is that the Sterrato is “even more playful than its brethren, and the mere prospect of enjoying a long cold winter in a hard-core sports car is bound to make quite a few Lambophiles reach for their checkbooks.”

The case for the car is presented as the Sterrato forming one in a line of special edition Huracáns that will maintain interest in the model until the replacement arrives in 2023 or 2024. Next year we’d get the hardcore Huracán STO, or Super Trofeo Omologato. A potential Sterrato could show in 2021, limited to between 500 and 1,000 units, sold for about $271,000 each. That’s about $9,000 more than the 2020 Huracán EVO AWD coupe. A Huracán hybrid would be follow in 2022, a Huracán Superveloce providing the model’s backstop before the successor.

Lamborghini’s jink into a potential supercar off-roader shouldn’t be a complete surprise; the Urus appears to have renewed a zeal for un-beaten track. The Urus ST-X one-make, mixed-surface series is meant to kick off next year. Why wouldn’t the brand want to take full advantage?

First comes getting approval from three boards, though — Lamborghini’s, Audi’s and Porsche’s, and the Volkswagen Group’s. If they won’t go for it, though, we’re confident the aftermarket will.

Brabham Automotive already working on a more affordable road car

Brabham has opened up about its third act. The first step was getting the BT62 hypercar on the track, the second phase is preparing to enter the World Endurance Championship in 2022. The third phase is developing a more affordable supercar to be produced in higher numbers than the BT62, which will only see 70 units made. Speaking to Motoring Research, commercial director Dan Marks would only go so far as to call the next vehicle “a road car that’s well-suited to the track,” and to say it’s already in development.

Ever since Brabham’s intentions became clear last year, commenters have compared the Australian-English company to McLaren. Brabham has more modest ambitions – or more focused, depending on whom you speak to – for the time being. Said Marks, “Between 100 and 200 cars per annum sounds right” for its production goals. McLaren Automotive built more than 4,800 cars last year, and has sold more than 20,000 in the eight years since the MP4-12C debuted.

Brabham and McLaren do have a history, though. Australian Sir Jack Brabham founded his Brabham Racing three years before New Zealander Bruce McLaren founded his McLaren team, not long after both men had been teammates at the Cooper Formula 1 team. Ron Dennis worked as a mechanic at Brabham, and eventually took over McLaren. When Bernie Ecclestone owned Brabham, the team won two F1 titles with cars designed by Gordon Murray, who would also make his way to McLaren. And everyone has compared the BT62 to the McLaren Senna.

The “junior” Brabham isn’t expected for another three years, perhaps joining in the same splash as Brabham’s Le Mans entry. Backed by Australia’s Fusion Capital, the boutique maker sees a clear path to completion. Marks said that Fusion “already owns a carbon-composite shop and a commercial vehicle firm, so we have plenty of resources in-house.” We’ll see if it tilts at traditional supercars like the McLaren 720S and Ferrari F8 Tributo, or if it goes after bigger fish like Ferrari’s V8 hybrid and the Aston Martin Vanquish, the latter of which should arrive around the same time.

Coming Ferrari hybrid loaded with twin-turbo V8, three e-motors, 986 hp

One week from now, Ferrari and its best clients will gather in Maranello for a three-day event to introduce a mid-engined hybrid supercar slotting in above the 812 Superfast. A report in Auto, Motor und Sport purports to fill in some of the engine details and power output we’ve been wondering about. The German magazine says there’ll be a twin-turbo V8 amidships, the same 3.9-liter unit from the F8 Tributo, aided by three electric motors. Total output will be 1,000 PS (metric horsepower) — or 986 U.S. horsepower, 197 more horses than found in the 812.

One of the electric motors will sit inside the gearbox, the other two will reside at the front axles, powering the front wheels. That means we can expect all-wheel drive and finessed torque vectoring up front. With 36 more horsepower than the system output on the LaFerrari, and AWD, it’s claimed that the electrified scarlet star will get from zero to 62 miles per hour in 2 seconds.

The FerrariChat forum, which has a 77-page thread on this car, settled on these same specs well before the AMS report. Wrote one poster, “I’m in Geneva and my dealer told me the BB will have 1000hp, V8 with KERS.” Another chimed in, “Ferr9000 on a Spanish forum … said the BB front axle will be electrified, so we can assume there will be two electrics motors on front axle.” In FerrariChat parlance, the “BB” stands for “Big Brother” to the 812. Another forum member said he expects the coupe to have a respectable all-electric range, which accords with video of a hybrid 488 mule driving silently at Fiorano.

The big question seems to be whether this will be a regular production model or a limited edition, with consensus settling on a proper series production car. AMS puts the price at 600,000 euros, or about $670,000. Yet another FC forum member says there’ll be a public debut at Le Mans, the French race taking place June 15-16. Could that provide a clue to the name?

And remember, there’s plenty more to come from Ferrari this year, with a V6 hybrid sports car slated for debut, and two further cars. One of those additional vehicles is expected to be an 812 Spider.

Next Porsche GT3 to get the upgraded 4.0-liter from the 911 Speedster

Porsche is playing back-and-forth with its naturally-aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six. The engine serves in the 991.2-series GT3 and GT3 RS, tuned to 394 horsepower and 520 hp respectively. Engineers in Weissach overhauled the motor to comply with incoming European regulations, and added more power before slotting it into the new, 502-hp 911 Speedster. Now, according to Autocar, the upgraded 4.0-liter will head right back to the 992-series GT3 that could debut later this year in Frankfurt.

Andreas Preuninger heads Porsche’s GT division, and has said in the past that he wants to power the GT cars with naturally aspirated engines for as long as possible. He told Autocar, “We’ve invested in the future with this engine. I can’t comment on future projects, but we would be stupid not to re-use this engine somewhere.” And during the 911 Speedster launch, 911 spokesman Holger Eckhardt said Porsche wouldn’t spend on all the engine upgrades for a single model that will sell just 1,948 units.

The flat-six’s advances include individual throttle bodies for much better response, higher-pressure injectors with a better spray pattern, and a stainless steel exhaust that’s 22 pounds lighter than before even with two Euro-mandated particulate filters.

It’s possible the same engine will make its way into special editions of the 718 Cayman and 718 Boxster twins as well. Road & Track reported that the coming Cayman GT4 will get the GT3’s 4.0-liter engine, the old 3.8-liter from the older GT4 reserved for the track-only GT4 Clubsport. Carscoops believes that engine in the junior sports cars will come in at around 425 horsepower. Carscoops also reports, however, that there will be Touring versions of the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder that will also get the 4.0-liter, downrated to perhaps 380 hp.

If all this came to pass, that would mean seven other potential models powered by the 4.0-liter — GT3, GT3 RS, 718 Cayman GT4, 718 Boxster Spyder, two Touring versions of the 718 models, and a Cayman GT4 RS. We haven’t heard the Speedster going hard at it yet, but based on a GT3 prototype putting on a flat-six concert at the Nürburgring, we’d have no complaints.

Next Nissan GT-R to likely feature hybridization and autonomous driving

The first- and second-generation Nissan GT-R sold for four years, from 1969 to 1973. The R32 to R34 generations covered 13 years, from 1989-2002. The current R35 generation, already 12 years into its run, will shuffle its bones perhaps as long as the first five versions combined. A lot’s happened in the last dozen years, so we can expect enormous changes from the next GT-R. Top Gear spoke to Philippe Klein, Nissan’s chief planning officer, about what’s on the cards. A hybrid powertrain isn’t surprising, as that’s been rumored for years. Autonomous driving – especially autonomous track driving – perks our ears.

Klein told the outlet, “We’re defending the sports car,” meaning not merely the GT-R and the also-aged Z car, but the segment. The challenges in doing so are constantly documented, all of the primary issues being poison to the usual business case: High development costs, low sales, tighter emissions regulations.

Ensuring that the GT-R remains one of the “hot cars and fun to drive cars” is how Klein reasons the move to hybridization. “In the end we would like the regulations to take nothing away from how fun the car is to drive.” The final arrangement hasn’t been decided, so we’re years away from a reveal, but Klein said, “We’re still working hard on different options.”

As TG rightly points out, electrification could help the GT-R do even better at its unique selling proposition. The coupe is already heavy, already planned in the next generation to be “the world’s fastest brick,” and already complicated. Putting an e-motor on the front axle for torque vectoring would simplify things, and given a power bump to compensate for battery weight, who will notice another 200 pounds on a GT-R? As we discovered in Australia last year, the GT-R is still monstrous. All Nissan’s talking about is turning Godzilla into Mechagodzilla.

It is fitting although unexpected, then, that planners have serious autonomous capability in mind. Beyond better safety measures and teaching moments like “coaching you the best lines,” Nissan exec Richard Candler told TG he envisions a system where a self-driven GT-R could take its occupants on hot laps. “I like to think about turning up to the Nürburgring in your GT-R, and being able to select one of the famous laps and the car just taking over.” That includes flipping to the “Michael Krumm setting,” and getting “launched round the track” in the same 7:08 that Krumm drove the GT-R Nismo.

“Something that most people could never achieve suddenly becomes very accessible,” Candler said. For those who can afford it, at least. The next GT-R sounds like it could be special, but it won’t be inexpensive.

Bugatti SUV: Call it what you will, it’s waiting for a green light

Three years ago, then-Bugatti CEO Wolfgan Dürheimer said the hyper-indulgent brand was looking at four different bodystyles for a second model line. He wouldn’t identify the styles, but they were thought to be a sedan like the 2009 Galibier concept or 2+2 GT, a less extraterrestrial supercar, an electric car, and an SUV. Some rumors of late suggest plans for a “Royale electric limousine” are in the pipeline. Before that, though, Car magazine says “a crossover-influenced sports car” is only waiting for sign-off from Volkswagen Group execs.

As far as we can tell, the phrase “crossover-influenced sports car” is a way to escape calling this reported product an SUV. Remember, brand CEO Stephan Winkelmann said in January that “There will be no SUV from Bugatti” because it didn’t fit the Molsheim automaker’s heritage and disposition.

There could be shades of Italianate wrangling between a boutique brand and a parent company going on here. When ex-Ferrari CEO Luca de Montezemolo said the brand would never build an SUV, he was soon overruled by parent-company CEO Sergio Marchionne. That’s how we’ll get the Purosangue next year, which the Modena sports car maker calls an FAV, for Ferrari Activity Vehicle. So Luca, with help from the marketing team, was technically correct.

Point being that when discussing the shape of the next model, Winkelmann explained needing to balance investment with return, and said, “it’s not me to decide.”

If said proposal gets the green light, it “won’t be a traditional SUV.” The picture painted is of something like a two-door Lamborghini Urus with a higher seating position, much faster bodywork, and much less weight. Underneath would be a Bugatti platform not shared with the rest of the group. Instead of the 641 horsepower kicked out by the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 in the Urus, the report says Bugatti would inject some sort of electrical assistance to achieve 1,000 hp.

Winkelmann is known to be against a hybrid powertrain for the eventual Chiron successor because of the weight and space penalties, but a crossover-like sports car would alleviate those concerns. The form factor would also achieve the more livable brief Bugatti’s been talking about for ages, and address global emissions issues such as EV-only zones being proposed in cities around the world.

The model would sit “below the Chiron but on top of every other model,” and cost less than the $3 million Chiron. Production is said to be capped at 800 units per year. The CEO said he would insist on building it in Molsheim, but to do so means expanding production capacity there, and that means more investment, which makes the hottest bodystyle in the world an even more logical choice. Whatever it is, we’re promised “a real Bugatti” and “a reference for other manufacturers.” Even if given the green light today, we’re looking at 2022 or 2023 arrival at the earliest, so you have that long to get used to the phrase “Bugatti crossover.”

Aston Martin Project 003 details revealed in dealer brochure

Aston Martin showed the as-yet-unnamed Project 003 hypercar at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show. Now that the English carmaker is accepting deposits for the coupe, it has provided dealers with brochures for prospective customers. Two of those prospective customers let Carscoops and Diario Motor flip through the pages and see what the fuss is about. Each site words some of the specifics a bit differently, which we’re not sure is down to the language in the brochure or the way it’s written up. Carscoops says Aston Martin’s targeting a combined 1,000 horsepower, DM says there will be 1,000 hp. Either way, it’s a pleasant ballpark to play in.

We say “combined” because there will be a brand new twin-turbo V6 in back and an electric motor on the front axle. The duo means all-wheel drive in addition to that potential four-figure horsepower. If Aston Martin does hit 1,000 ponies, that would put the “son of Valkyrie” just behind the Valkyrie, which makes all of its 1,160 hp with a naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V12 built by Cosworth.

The brochure says dry weight will come in below 1,350 kilos, or 2,976 pounds. The brochure also asserts a power-to-weight ratio of 750 bhp per tonne. Working backward, that ratio would mean 1,012 hp if the 003 came in right at 2,976 pounds. Shifting through an F1-inspired eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the carmaker expects a 0-60 time of “less than 2.5 seconds,” to be expected for a car about 100 pounds heavier than a McLaren 720S with at least 200 more horsepower. And according to Diario Motor‘s telling, top speed will crest 350 kilometers per hour, or 218 miles per hour; Carscoops says terminal velocity lies beyond 220 mph.

Lots of Valkyrie tech will be adapted for the junior coupe, including the active suspension and active ride height, as well as platform control. A limited-slip differential will keep the back end in line with what we’re sure will be fancy electric motor control on the front axle. Seems all that was said about the sci-fi cabin — which TopGear magazine’s Jack Rix showed us recently — is that ingress and egress will be less challenging than on the Valkyrie.

Only 500 units will leave the factory, in both left- and right-hand drive, deliveries to begin in 2021. American purchasers will need to leave $300,000 with their dealers to hold a place in line. Those monies will be applied to an MSRP that starts “at no less than £875,000” before options, or roughly $1.2 million in green money.

Arrested: Former Porsche dealer who’s accused of stealing $2.2M from customers

Federal authorities have arrested the former executive at a South Florida Porsche dealership who disappeared in September after customers say he bilked them out of millions of dollars in deposits for 911 GTsupercars that they never received.

U.S. marshals on Tuesday arrested Shiraaz Sookralli, 44, the former vice president of marketing for Champion Porsche in Pompano Beach, Florida, the top-selling Porsche dealer in the U.S. He’ll likely face charges of mail and wire fraud and money laundering when he’s arraigned April 16.

Much of the story was spelled out in media reports and online forums last summer, but the FBI offers some new details in an arrest affidavit. It alleges that Sookralli received more than $2.2 million from around 30 customers that he routed into a shell account named Champion Autosports. The complaint says Sookralli spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury vehicles and jewelry, nightclubs and restaurants around Miami after initiating the scheme sometime in 2017. The customers never received their Porsches.

The affidavit further describes interviews with former co-workers and employees of high-end nightclubs and restaurants in Miami who “confirmed that Sookralli frequently enjoyed an extravagant and opulent lifestyle. Bank records analysis shows that Sookralli amassed large tabs at these night clubs and restaurants that were paid with the proceeds of his fraudulent activity.” Further, despite being VP of marketing, Sookralli was found not to be an authorized Porsche salesman at the dealership and never reported his sales transactions to the sales manager at Champion Porsche.

Further, a lawyer for Champion Porsche managed to contact Sookralli on Sept. 10, 2018, days after he disappeared, and asked him if he had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from customers. “Sookralli responded something to the effect of, ‘More like millions,'” the complaint reads. He also agreed in the conversation to send over a list of the customers from whom he’d taken money for deposits. The complaint does not say where Sookralli went after he disappeared.

The dealership filed suit in September against Sookralli, his wife, Vimla Sookralli; and the shell account it alleges he created, named Champion Autosport, to siphon off deposits. A lawyer for the dealer says it has reimbursed all of the affected customers, either by refunding their deposits or applying them to new vehicles.

Sookralli, who is married with 10 children, had credit card debt of more than $176,000 as of 2016, the Orlando Sentinel reports. He made his first appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale earlier this week and was to have a bond hearing Friday, according to the Miami Herald. He plans to plead not guilty.

De Tomaso Pantera to be reborn? Prototype prowled the streets of Geneva

What a strange year. We’ve already witnessed the return of two Hispano-Suiza automobiles from two Hispano-Suiza companies when nobody would have expected even one of either. Now we get the news that the original De Tomaso Pantera could get two resurrections this year. Italian Coachbuilder Ares Design showed off its Panther, based on a Lamborghini Huracán, last week. During the Geneva Motor Show, the company that owns the De Tomaso brand loosed a camouflaged coupe around the Swiss city, the car’s windshield topped with a banner reading, “DTProjectP.”

That company is Hong Kong’s Consolidated Ideal TeamVenture (CIT), which bought the rights to De Tomaso in 2015 for $1.1 million. One year later, the same firm bought sports car maker Gumpert, quickly turning the Gumpert Apollo gullwing racer into the Apollo brand. At the moment the company seems most occupied with the Apollo Intensa Emotion, the gullwing racer powered by a 6.3-liter V12 good for 780 horsepower. The Pantera makes for a very interesting side gig, assuming anything comes of it.

The Apollo IE tracked Geneva in front of the supposed reborn Pantera, both cars wearing the same camouflage wrap. CIT filed trademark applications for model names Pantera and Mangusta, and a European patent search in 2018 turned up designs for a toothsome Pantera with pop-up headlights.

In Geneva, however, Apollo general manager and CMO Ryan Berry wouldn’t be drawn on what’s in store. Seems like there must be something, though — there’d be no reason to parade around Geneva with a prototype something without cause. And this year marks the 60th anniversary of the De Tomaso brand, as ideal a birthday as any for the return of the cat.

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Ferrari V6 hybrid said to arrive in May with as much as 723 horsepower

Ferrari has five debuts planned this year, one of which we’ve seen in the F8 Tributo. The next four will add to and update the mid-engined sports car range as well as the front-engined GT range. Car magazine thinks it has a bead on the long-awaited Ferrari six-cylinder engine that will sit in the middle of some new sports car definitely not named Dino. According to Car‘s sources, the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 works up 610 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque by itself. Given plug-in hybrid assistance and an e-motor between the engine and transmission, the numbers grow to 723 hp and almost 800 lb-ft.

The magazine says there’s also room for an e-motor powering the front axle “at a later stage.” Since Ferrari CEO Louis Camillieri nixed the Dino name, it’s said the moniker 486 could get a call-up when Ferrari reveals the powerplant, expected to happen in May.

We just need to see where that engine is going to go, since the carmaker’s V8 hybrid is also due this year, and also rumored for a May reveal. The V8 hybrid will fit inside a new flexible platform and power a mid-engined model above the 710-hp F8 Tributo in the range and more profitable than the 812Superfast. The F8 Tributo sits on a heavily updated version of the 488 platform, which itself was a heavily updated version of the 458 platform from 2009. The new mid-engined model will focus on track performance. Ferrari has confirmed that its new mid-mounted platform will be able to adopt the V6 family.

The brand’s SVP of commercial and marketing, Enrico Galliera, told Australia’s WhichCar, “So the technology we are going to have, V12, V8, V6 turbo. Hybrid will give us the possibility to have a platform that we can mix to achieve emissions targets.” Since the other three Ferrari debuts are predicted to be in the GT and ultra-luxe categories, it’s possible the V6 will introduce an entry-level option for a model like the Portofino.

Or it could grace a new, more traditional model. There’s a new “front-engine hybrid architecture for host of new cars, including Purosangue SUV,” the SUV not due now until 2022. Galliera also told WhichCar, “We are developing some products that are designed to give the same emotion as a Ferrari.” They will be sports cars, “but with this design that it is more elegant that is more for everyday driving in order to attract those people that maybe are not considering to buy a Ferrari, because they are not willing to have a highly sporty car. So in a way, we are trying to have an offer that is capturing both opportunities.” Late CEO Sergio Marchionne mentioned that kind of model two years ago.

Don’t be surprised by another entry in the Icona line this year, too. Bloomberg reported that Camillieri “will remain focused on revenue and margins, rather than volumes,” and high-dollar one-offs like the $2 million Monza are key to the strategy.

C8 Chevy Corvette has reportedly faced chassis twist, electrical, legal issues

Don Sherman at Hagerty said he “gave the bushes another relentless beating to compile an updated report” on what’s been happening with the mid-engined C8 Chevrolet Corvette. Since it appears that General Motors is throwing a gaggle of new tech at the next generation of America’s sports car, it’s not shocking that there have been some teething problems. One issue was the electrical gremlins that made news in December. At the time, reports said excessive draw required a redesign of the coupe’s wiring system.

Sherman’s intel corroborates electrical trouble, saying it’s part of GM’s adoption of a new writing architecture. GM product chief Mark Reuss talked about the Global B electrical system in 2015. A Reuters report said Global B would “move much of a vehicle’s computer power to the … cloud,” and in doing so enable over-the-air updates. To ensure privacy, it’s said GM conferred with Boeing and military contractors about network security. Sherman wrote that “100 or more computer modules per vehicle communicate on CAN (computer area network) bus,” and Corvette engineers are — or were — having a tough time getting all those nodes on the same team.

A second delay came from the power unleashed by the top-tier twin-turbo model with 900-1,000 horsepower, thought to be the Zora trim. Hard work on the throttle twisted the aluminum spaceframe enough to crack the backlight. A poster on Mid-Engined Corvette forum wrote that this is an old issue, solved when GM put its Cray supercomputer to work to beef up the chassis. A poster over at Corvette Forum said insiders told him “that it is literally frightening to floor” the throttle in the hi-po model, and that GM “had a team of lawyers in to advise on the legal perils of selling such a potent vehicle for street use.”

Another matter Sherman mentioned we can’t even label a problem. Supposedly, designers had “some unspecified bone of contention” with the development engineers. But unless the designer also happens to be the engineer, that happens all the time on every vehicle. What might matter most is that at the end of last month, spy photographers caught a convoy of prototypes in San Diego carrying Corvette engineers Tadge Juechter, Harlan Charles and Alex MacDonald. And a week ago in Yuma, Arizona another convoy included none other than Mark Reuss in one of the passenger seats. Corvette watchers take this to mean the program is back on track.

We’d been told to expect a standalone reveal sometime this year, and Sherman thinks that could go down at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the National Corvette Museum at the end of August. His intel figures the base, 500-hp LT2 V8 version will come in between $60,000 and $70,000. LT6 and LT8 V8 models will goose the output in steps, up to around 1,000 horses. When the eventual hybrid arrives, it’s said the electric motor powering the front wheels will “consume the (front) trunk space otherwise used to carry two sets of golf clubs in the base model.” That sounds suspect to us, but we’ll all find out soon enough. All will wear the Stingray badge, but Zora could be applied to the capstone trim.

Paperwork another user on Corvette Forum found has been taken to mean the C8 will start production in December. The country’s largest Corvette dealer, Kerbeck Chevrolet in Atlantic City, New Jersey has begun accepting $1,000 refundable deposits for a place in the C8 line, and has put double-digit discounts on C7s in stock, with discounting also happening elsewhere as dealers try to reduce a huge C7 backlog. We suppose that means things are getting warmer. A little warmer.

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Lamborghini Aventador successor to use supercapacitors instead of batteries?

While we continue trying to zero in on the next-generation Lamborghini flagship and its specs, Lamborghini CTO Maurizio Reggiani spoke to Road & Track to offer glimpses and set a few things straight. Discussing the coming LB48H supercar, Reggiani said the use of supercapacitors in that limited-run supercar will be a “first jump” into a robust hybrid application for supercapacitors, and that Lamborghini “will prove that in a super sports car, it’s possible to have this technology.”

We’ve known the LB48H would use supercapacitors, but we didn’t — and frankly still don’t — know how. Based on Reggiani’s comment, and likely the fact that Lamborghini uses a special supercar to hint at what’s coming in tech and design, RT takes Reggiani’s comments to mean that the Aventador successor will “store its electric power electrostatically instead of electrochemically, as you would with a lithium-ion battery.”

A caveat to this comes in another of Reggiani’s remarks. He said the brand hasn’t given any indication when an Aventador successor will reach the market, and before that happens, the brand is deciding whether to do another special edition flagship. “There’s the possibility to have a kind of final Aventador family member,” he said, because the brand probably won’t get another chance to make a non-hybrid V12 after the scissor doors come down on the Aventador. Sales of the 6.5-liter V12 monster are still on the rise, remember.

The current Aventador already uses a supercapacitor for the starter battery, to run the stop-start system. And the Italian carmaker has been working with MIT for years on such technology previewed in the Terzo Millennio concept, and rolled out for prime time in the LB48H. It’s hard to see supercapacitors alone serving the next flagship, though, because company CEO Stefano Domenicali has said that “we need to respect legislation. In certain places, you will need electrification to go into the city.”

Supercapacitors can boost the kind of fast-acting peak performance buyers expect of a V12 Lamborghini. But their specific energy is roughly one-tenth that of a lithium-ion battery, or less; to provide the kind of range needed for all-electric trips into a city, the flagship would need a trailer hitch to haul a Urus carrying the supercapacitor array.

Lamborghini has already said the best-case scenario for the Aventador successor is a 330- to 440-pound weight gain because of the hybrid system. How they use that weight, we can only wait to find out. So expect a lot more software control for the chassis to reduce the sensation of weight, and even wider use of carbon fiber.

Pagani is developing a fully electric hypercar ‘no one is asking for’

Pagani wants in on the electric hypercar party. Yes, the same Pagani that makes the Huayra plans to produce an electric hypercar for 2024, according to a report from Top Gear. A report from last year said Pagani was considering it, but the language used here is much more definitive.

Company founder Horacio Pagani said, “Our future project is a fully electric car in 2024.” That sounds a lot like a promise to us. Now we just have to wait five years to see if it’ll actually happen — that’s a lot of time for plans to change, though. The other factor is demand. Pagani himself said the demand for an electric Pagani is about zero currently. “None of our customers or dealers want to know about an electric car. They don’t want to know anything about it. They’re not interested. It’s a huge challenge for us, because no one is asking for it.”

Producing a car that has zero demand at the time of conception is either forward-thinking or foolhardy, but Paganis sell in such low numbers that it’s bound to find some takers. Pagani could be well behind other supercar manufacturers in electrification efforts five years from now, so setting the timeline now could be a helpful push. There’s also no fear that V12 Paganis will be going anywhere. Cars with those engines will continue to be built, with a Huayra successor on its way in 2021.

The next hurdle will be figuring out how to do it. Pagani doesn’t have any partners to supply the battery pack or electric motors, so all the groundwork is being laid out in-house. According to the report, Pagani is already two years deep in development. Engineering a fully electric vehicle for a small company like Pagani would be no small task. AMG provides tailored V12s as the Pagani powertrain, but Mercedes doesn’t have any electric vehicle technology to suit Pagani levels of performance at this time. Perhaps a bit of shopping around is in order — Rimac comes to mind as one of the leaders in electric supercar motoring.

Pagani claims the biggest hurdle to the Pagani electric hypercar is weight. All the others in this realm right now are far heavier than their gas engine counterparts. How Pagani will be able to make a gigantic battery pack lightweight isn’t clear, but he thinks this is instrumental to the car’s success. No electric car will ever match the sound of those bespoke AMG V12s, so that’s a compromise Pagani buyers will have to make if they ever go electric. The intentions are made clear by Horacio Pagani himself, but we’ll be following this over the next few years to see if Pagani actually pulls it off.

Koenigsegg plans a ‘CO2 neutral’ hybrid supercar

Fresh from receiving a 150 million-euro infusion from National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the Chinese-backed company that bought up Saab‘s assets out of bankruptcy, supercar maker Koenigsegg has signaled just what it plans to do under the new joint venture. Christian von Koenigsegggave an interview to Top Gear in which he said he wants to develop an all-new supercar to sit below ultra-exclusive models like the Agera RS and Regera, priced at around €1 million (about $1.15 million) to grow sales from 20 a year into the hundreds, because “our brand has outgrown our production volumes by quite a big margin.” And it will feature a novel, “completely CO2 neutral” hybrid powrtrain using the “freevalve” camless combustion engine technology the company has been developing in concert with battery-electric power.

“Given the freevalve technology, we can actually cold-start the car on pure alcohol, down to -30 degrees Celsius, so there’s no need for any fossil fuel mix then,” he told Top Gear. “The idea is to prove to the world that even a combustion engine can be completely CO2 neutral.”

Von Koenigsegg previously hinted at the setup after talking about how his engineers were responding to Tesla‘s claims that its forthcoming next-generation Roadster would be capable of a 1.9-second 0-60 mph time. He further hints that the new hybridized supercar will look unmistakably like a Keonigsegg but be in a different segment altogether from either the Agera RS or plug-in hybrid Regera.

Consider us very much intrigued and eager to hear more. Meanwhile, Koenigsegg has said it plans to reveal the successor to the Agera RS next month at the Geneva Motor Show based on a refined version of the same supercharged V8 combustion engine.

The new joint venture with NEVS, meanwhile, sees that company take a 65 percent ownership stake, with Koenigsegg holding the rest and contributing its trove of intellectual property, technology licenses and product design. NEVS also gets a 20 percent stake in Koenigsegg itself.

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Lamborghini LB48H hypercar due next year: You might even say it glows

We know there’s a hybridLamborghini Aventador successor coming sometime between 2020 and 2022. Due to deleted Instagram posts and a fissures in the rumor-verse, we expect a hypercar codenamed LB48H to preview the next electrified V12 Lamborghini. Autocar reports the next model in the Italian carmaker’s series of low-volume specials will cost about $2.6 million, making it just another walk in the hypercar park as for price. The weird part is where Road & Track, referencing “a source familiar with Lamborghini’s plans,” says the LB48H will glow in the dark.

The source didn’t elaborate, so not even RT knows what that means. The Lamborghini Terzo Millennio concept from 2017 revealed a smattering of Tron-like light sculpture in its launch video. The wheels and engine bay glow, illuminated Italian flag graphics mark the front fenders, LED piping runs down the centerline. But lights don’t come under the traditional definition of “glow in the dark.” If the LB48H really does sport some kind of overall incandescence, well, we’re about to enter a new chapter in hypercars.

Other questions remain about how the LB48H will preview the future of Sant’ Agata. The company’s head of R&D has bemoaned the weight of batteries, admitting that the best-case scenario for the coming series-production hybrid V12 flagship means an additional 330 to 440 pounds.

It’s thought that the hypercar will use supercapacitors instead of batteries, providing a lightweight solution that would also showcase future technical potential. The all-electric Terzo Millennio employed nascent supercapacitor tech Lamborghini has been developing with MIT. That solution’s upside is lighter size and weight compared to batteries, longer service life, a supercapacitor’s fast charge and discharge ability, and the fact that it can discharge and recover energy at the same time. The downside is that supercapacitors have low energy density compared to lithium-ion batteries, so it’s possible the LB48H could use a battery and a supercapacitor to work a 49-horsepower motor aiding an 789-hp V12.

The production V12 is expected to get a more mundane solution. Lamborghini’s looking ahead to cities mandating a minimum all-electric range up to 31 miles. One idea in play is a split hybrid layout, with an electric motor in charge of the front axle. That eliminates a prop shaft, and sharpens front axle response and torque vectoring. However, without a front transmission, a split system loses efficiency when approaching the triple-digit speeds integral to the brand. The other option would be a more traditional blended hybrid.

Lamborghini’s said to have shown the LB48H to prospective buyers in June. We should see the real thing and its possibly glowing carbon fiber soon.

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Porsche 918 successor needs to do the ‘Ring in 6:30

When spoke to Porsche Motorsport chief Frank-Steffen Walliser at the LA Auto Show, Walliser provided the primary benchmark for brand’s next hypercar: a 6:30 ‘Nürburgring time. That would cut 27 seconds from the 6:57 time set by the 918 Spyder in 2013. Walliser’s so focused on that particular benchmark that he said, “I don’t care about the drivetrain, 6m 30s is the target. Sports cars are defined by their performance, then we have to look how to achieve it.”

The 918 Spyder used a 4.6-liter V8 with 608 horsepower, aided by two electric motors contributing another 281 hp, for a total system output of 887 hp and 944 pound-feet of torque. Since that lap in 2013, four regular production cars have gone faster: a Porsche 911 GT3 RS did 6:56.4 earlier this year, a Lamborghini Huracán Performante did 6:52.01 in 2016, the 911 GT2 RS took the record in September last year with a 6:47.25, outdone in July of this year by the current production-car record holder, a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ with a 6:44.97.

Unofficially, a 911 GT2 RS prepared by Manthey Racing ran the ‘Ring in 6:40.33 at the beginning of November. Last year, a road-legal McLaren P1 LM prepped by Lanzante pulled off a 6:43.2, and in 2015 a Pagani Zonda Revolucion supposedly tore off a 6:30. The 6:30 mark is also the target for the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus 003 Stradale.

Officially, none of the four faster vehicles are hybrids, making Walliser’s powertrain-agnostic position interesting. We’d be shocked if Porsche’s coming hypercar weren’t hybrid; that would counter the general thrust of Porsche and the industry, and refute the last three OEM hypercars. Don’t expect something all-electric, either, Walliser admitting, “An electric car in 6m 30s is quite a challenge.”

The sports car maker will get a lot more practice finding what goes fastest with the launch of the GT2 RS Clubsport (pictured). Porsche expects the new customer race car to grace numerous tracks around the world, and the carmaker plans a trip to the ‘Ring next year. Walliser figures the new competition coupe can get down to around 6:35.

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Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark explains carmaker’s situation and plan for recovery

In August, we posted on some of the issues plaguing Bentley at the moment, namely the large loss the carmaker’s posted this year. The same Autocar piece we referenced, carmaker CEO Adrian Hallmark said Bentley would not be making more sports cars. Bentley wrote to us to clarify that a single year’s loss isn’t a calamity, that “it is a mistake to suggest that sports cars are the same as GTs,” and that the brand “will continue to design, engineer, and craft” GT cars. We must note, though, that at the time, Hallmark himself said, “The sports car sector – like our own….” More recently, Hallmark expounded on some of the factors slowing the company down this year, from delayed launches to exchange rates.

Through the first nine months of the year, Bentley sold 6,654 units, an 11 percent decline from the 7,498 units sold through the first nine months of 2017. In addition to other matters like huge investments in new technologies, that helped the Crewe carmaker to a $44.7-million year-over-year drop in revenue, and a $156-million overall loss, compared to a $35 million profit over the same period last year.

On top of declining sales overall, the nine-month delay in launching the Continental GT, the brand’s second-best seller, was the first of two big issues causing red finances. Hallmark said the Continental GT “just wasn’t ready for launch. But we’d paid for it – we’d paid all the money out, but not got any money back in.”

Bentley dévoile la nouvelle Continental GTC

Having got that sorted, the second issue arose: WLTP certification. Unlike the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) before it, the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure requires every model variant get tested for certification. Hallmark told Automotive News Europe, “We were not quick enough unfortunately to book capacity or prioritize our derivatives within some of the group processes to get them certified on time.” Bentley wasn’t alone in this; Volkswagen had only managed to get seven of its 14 models approved by September 1 when the WLTP rules took effect.

Bentley’s much smaller scale exacerbated the problem, turning the situation “close to catastrophic.” Hallmark said the snafu robbed the Bentayga of 300 to 400 sales – a gigantic number with respect to a $200,000 vehicle – and pushed the Bentayga plug-in hybrid launch back to March 2019 so Bentley could get volume models certified.

Furthermore, preparing for Brexit hasn’t been easy on any of the UK’s manufacturers. For Bentley, which sources many components from The Continent, uncertainty around a Brexit deal has weakened the pound sterling against the euro. That makes parts more expensive.

The carmaker’s already on the road back, led by the uncorked Bentayga V12, V8, and Continental GT, and just-revealed GTC. The CEO said Bentley be back in black in Q4 of this year, but 2019 is the real measure. “This year is a conversion year to a better business model,” he said, “and next year you will start to see significant growth and a return to normality in terms of profit.”

Bentley dévoile la nouvelle Continental GTC

The phrase “significant growth” doesn’t just apply to sales figures of the current lineup. Hallmark intends to grow the range, and Bentley’s interests beyond cars. Plug-in hybrid versions of current models will help build the bridge to a battery-electric offering by 2025. Engineers are aiming for substantial EV range in the hybrids, eventually around 60 to 70 miles. It seems Bentley turned down the chance to build its own car on Porsche’s Taycan platform, because a GT car isn’t a sports car, and it won’t be until the mid 2020s that “the [battery] technology will meet the needs of the bigger cars we need to build.”

The other bridge-builder will be a new nameplate “that will probably be… the transition between conventional products and battery electrical products.”

On the subject of conventional products, the Bentayga will evolve with a facelift and a coupe-ish sub-model, but Hallmark wouldn’t be drawn on that latter point. With an eye on launching something new every year, Mulliner will be drafted into creating more “limited or special editions, slightly different body styles or limited-run cars.” Next year being the centenary, we already know there’ll be something special for every current nameplate.

Once the traditional sheetmetal business is back on track, Hallmark wants more involvement in brick-and-mortar businesses. The firm designed 26 apartments in Miami’s Porsche Tower and will provide on-demand Bentleys for residents, there’s a Bentley furniture collection, a re-upped agreement with watchmaker Breitling, and plans for more jewelry. We’ll see how it turns out, but this could be the road map to that makes The Flying B soar.

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Mercedes-AMG One delayed: Surprise, Formula One engine not ideal for emissions

Putting a Formula One engine into a road car has always felt unrealistic, and now that Mercedes is actually trying to do it in the AMG One, the engineers are finding out how difficult it really is. Passing emissions is the biggest roadblock. In total, the car formerly known as the Project One fell prey to a nine-month delay in development because of the challenges faced with this specific issue.

In an interview with Top Gear, Tobias Moers, CEO of AMG, says that finding a stable idle was the toughest part.

“Getting a stable idle at 1,200 rpm, that’s challenging. To give you a simple example. You have leakage in the throttles in Formula One, and nobody cares, because it runs at a 5,000 rpm idle. At a 1,200 rpm idle, you have to meet the emissions regulations. You need a stable, proper idle. If it’s unstable, your emissions are unstable.”

When the objective is to make maximum power, emissions don’t matter all that much. Still, a 1,200 rpm idle is really high for a road car. It’s clearly worth it to AMG and its customers to make it work with this engine, though. Here’s what Moers said about feedback from the people who are waiting for their cars: “You know what they tell me? ‘Make sure that the car works. Because of what we experienced in the past with hybrid cars, take your time.'”

So, Mercedes still intends on delivering an incredible hypercar with a modified Formula One engine, but it doesn’t appear to be going silky smooth. We don’t think anybody’s surprised about that, though; Formula 1 engines were never intended for a road car application.

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