Sales of gas-powered sports cars skyrocket before automakers go electric

"Automakers have resigned themselves to an electric future."

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 marque's hell-raising 16-cylinder engine.

Maybe it 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 experience the engine is so intense. We thought it was a perfect way to celebrate the outgoing W16 powerplant," Frank Heyl, Bugatti's design director, told ABC News about the Mistral. "Bugatti is an established brand with established DNA."

Enthusiasts were caught off guard when Croatian electric automaker Rimac took control of Bugatti in 2021, setting off a frenzy among customers that Bugatti's massive 8.0-liter engine would be immediately swapped with an electric powertrain. That shift is coming, executives said. Until then, owners can awaken the raucous engine (1,578 horsepower) with each stab of the throttle -- a gratifying example of engineering perfection.

"When you sit in the driver's seat and have the intakes right behind your head, you hear the induction noise of the turbos going 'Shooh' and when you lift the throttle 'Phhhhhh,'" Heyl said. "This inhaling and exhaling sounds a bit like Darth Vader."

Owning a vehicle with a large, powerful engine has long been a status symbol for drivers. Yet these gas-guzzling vehicles -- trucks included -- are now scorned by an industry that's quickly replacing them with fewer cylinders or electric motors. Bugatti will soon cease production of its storied W16. Production of Bentley's mighty W12 engine will finish next April. Audi recently said "Tschüss" to its euphoric V10.

"When enthusiasts hear that gas engines are going away, they think, 'They'll take my Lamborghini and put me in a Nissan Leaf,'" Jonny Lieberman, a MotorTrend TV host and editor, told ABC News. "Few people think an electric vehicle is engaging to drive -- but it is. Electric sports cars are coming."

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

"It will be interesting to see how the electric Cayman is perceived," he noted. "The Porsche Mission R was incredibly potent as a sports car."

Doug DeMuro, a popular YouTube car reviewer and founder of Cars &, said electric cars are generally cheaper -- and faster -- to make. Moreover, younger drivers prefer a Tesla or Rivian, he said.

"Automakers are not changing route. They've resigned themselves to an electric and plug-in hybrid future," DeMuro told ABC News.

Germany automaker Audi decided to stop producing its potent, naturally aspirated 10-cylinder R8 supercar this year after introducing the model to American drivers in 2008. The mid-engine R8 was a halo car for the brand and won every major endurance race it entered. Customers raved about its dual personality: track star and everyday commuter.

"There had never been a concept like this in the brand's history. There were no role models," Frank Lamberty, first generation R8 production car designer, said at its farewell celebration at Laguna Seca Raceway in August.

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

Lamborghini does not need an electric model to juice sales; it delivered 5,341 vehicles globally in the first six months of 2023, a sales record. Its Urus and Huracan models are completely sold out.

"Customers need 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. "The dealers are profitable and don't have to make discounts."

Bentley Motors and Mercedes, two brands known for their high-performance engines, have been aggressively transforming their lineups to include more electrics. The company said it's phasing out its W12 and V8 product portfolio to become a fully electric automaker by the end of the decade. Its sublime Continental GT Convertible Speed that features a 6.0-liter W12 engine is still available -- for now.

"The Bentley W12 is the greatest gasoline engine I have driven. It's the best powertrain ever developed," said DeMuro.

Lieberman agreed, saying, "I will miss the W12."

Mercedes continues to produce sports cars with AMG 4.0-liter V8 Biturbo engines before it fully transitions 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 sporty coupe burbles, crackles and pops with each downshift, a felicitous experience for driver and passenger alike.

Ryan Lanteigne, a test driver for Rimac, has driven Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches over his career, pushing each one to its limits. Like many enthusiasts, Lanteigne "loves" a high-revving V8 and V10. Then he started driving the Rimac Nevera, a $2.2 million electric hypercar that goes 0-60 mph in a blistering 1.74 seconds. The GT makes 1,914 horsepower and has broken 20 acceleration and braking records in a single day.

"The performance is going to surprise enthusiasts," he told ABC News. "You can get hard on the throttle -- the back end does not start to rotate, there's no wheel spin. The 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's driven the Pininfarina Battista, another electric supercar, argued that ICE aficionados are missing out on electric sports cars.

"People are scared into buying them," he said, adding that the Battista handled "fantastically" and made Bugatti's Chiron "feel combatively slow in terms of acceleration."

"Enthusiasts hate electrification ... there's a big campaign against it," Lieberman went on. "There's a lot of ignorance -- not experiencing something and immediately dismissing it."

Ferrari and Lamborghini still seem committed to big engines, with the plug-in hybrid Revuelto featuring a brand new V12. DeMuro predicted the last great 12-, 10- and eight-cylinder sports cars would go up in value over the next 10 to 15 years. By then, racetracks and highways will be dominated by silent machinery that can break 0-60 mph records without turbo lag or carbon emissions.

"For enthusiasts, there's 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. Electric is the future."

Lamberty, who traveled from Germany to California to send off the R8 in-person, said he was the "luckiest man in the world" to be a part of Audi's racing history. Crouching down low to get a last look at the car, his hands gliding along its curves, Lamberty was eupeptic that the R8 would continue to mesmerize drivers years after its retirement.

"What do I want people to say? 'Wow, that is a cool car. I'd like to have it,'" Lamberty told ABC News. "Then you know you touched the soul of the people."