It was so much easier just a few short years ago. Luxury cars wafted and sports machines roared, with nary a thought to gasoline consumed. Hybrids were for weenies, and everyone knew their place.

But now? A hybrid Ferrari, a hybrid Porsche race car, an electric BMW ... what is the world coming to? And, more seriously, why are the world's luxury and sports car brands running as fast as they can to slather green over their entire line?

Because, frankly, they won't survive if they don't.

2011 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid

2011 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid

Ferrari hybrid patent

Ferrari hybrid patent


Aston Martin Cygnet in Aston Martin racing team colours

Aston Martin Cygnet in Aston Martin racing team colours

Incentives as carrots ...

All over the globe, countries are enacting incentives and tweaking tax rates to encourage buyers to opt for greener vehicles. Last summer's U.S. Cash for Clunkers program was one; it offered rebates of up to $4,000 for consumers trading in older vehicles on newer models with an EPA rating at least 10 miles per gallon higher.

Several European countries have had similar programs, most now ending, and Russia recently extended its program into 2011, though it applies only to vehicles manufactured within the country.

The U.S. also offers income-tax credits up to $7500 for the purchase of a plug-in vehicle; the United Kingdom grants purchase rebates (which most analysts feel are more effective) to cut the cost of electric vehicles. (See our Electric Vehicle Incentives Guide for a complete list.)

France even levies annual registration taxes on a "feebate" system: Within any given car class, vehicles that consume the most fuel pay the highest fees, while buyers of the lowest-consuming cars may even get a rebate on their registration.

... and laws as sticks

And countries are backing them up these carrots with sticks, in the form of stricter gas-mileage requirements. The U.S. has increased gas-mileage requirements, Europe is moving toward lower carbon emissions, even China has instituted strict fuel efficiency regulations.

In other words, the writing is on the wall: Along with the rest of the industry, even luxury and sports brands must improve their fuel efficiency. Some pursue bizarre strategies, like the Aston Martin Cygnet based on a Scion iQ minicar.

But the good news is that after dragging their heels--probably backed by customers who confused anything "green" or fuel-saving with the specific attributes of the iconic but divisive Toyota Prius--sports car makers in particular are waking up to a fun fact: Adding electric drive can do remarkable things for performance.

911 Hybrid: Deeper braking, better acceleration

Take the reaction of driver Patrick Long, who called the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid race car an "exciting platform" after testing it on Germany's Lausitzring circuit outside Berlin.

Long customarily drives a Porsche GT3 RSR in the American LeMans Series. Against that car, he said, the hybrid version of the 911 let him brake later into turns and accelerate earlier, giving him up to 160 horsepower on demand to power the front wheels for added thrust out of corners.

As is often the case, the initial gloom and doom, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, is starting to give way to a sense of experimentation, perhaps even excitement.

Benefits as well as costs

Going green isn't something that automakers do voluntarily--among other things, it's challenging and expensive--but the engineers are starting to realize it could have unexpected benefits too.

And that's a good thing.

The video below, from Denmark's, discusses some of the greener sports and luxury models on display at last spring's Geneva Motor Show.

[Detroit News, Detroit News,]