No, it's not pronounced "hell" ... although that word was heard from many Modena fans when news first broke that Ferrari was planning a hybrid-electric drivetrain in some models.

The first fruits of Ferrari's wide-ranging quest to improve the fuel efficiency of its models was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last week: It's the Ferrari California convertible hardtop model fitted with a package the company calls HELE.

The acronym, however you pronounce it, stands for High Efficiency Low Emissions, and it's likely to appear on other models sporting the prancing horse in the next few years.

2009 Ferrari California

2009 Ferrari California

453 horsepower, off and on

The major component is a start-stop system that switches off the 453-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-8 engine when the car comes to a stop, then switches it quickly back on when the driver starts to lift his foot off the brake pedal.

It's packaged with a variety of other efficiency tweaks, including several power-sapping ancillaries that only operate when the engine is lightly loaded or the car is decelerating.

Those include the engine fan, the fuel pump, and the air-conditioning compressor. With their load removed under acceleration, the HELE California actually puts out about 15 foot-pounds more torque than the standard model.

Light load, quicker upshifts

There are also new mappings for the 7-speed direct-shift transmission software, so that when the car is being driven gently, it will shift up earlier to save fuel.

The company says the transmission mapping is unchanged if the driver is hustling the car along, so there is no compomise in the classic Ferrari performance when it's wanted.


2009 Ferrari California

2009 Ferrari California

Roughly 10 percent better

How much does this all save? In city usage, as much as 17 percent of fuel consumed, Ferrari says. But at high speeds, the savings are negligible, perhaps 1 percent.

Overall, on the European test cycle, carbon emissions (and fuel consumption) were reduced by roughly 10 percent.

Little change for the driver

The British magazine Autocar drove the California HELE last week. Its reporter said, essentially, that it the more efficient California is unchanged from the standard model at speed, and the efficiency tweaks are largely imperceptible around town.

In England, the HELE package costs £820 (roughly $1,300), but it may well become standard equipment in some European markets.

What's less clear is whether the package will be offered in the U.S. At the moment, no vehicles are sold with stop-start functions except for hybrids--in part because they provide almost no increase in rated gas mileage under current EPA fuel-economy tests.

[Autocar, Gizmag]