Full speed ahead with electric power

From compact cars to sports cars: German automobile manufacturers are making electric mobility suitable for everyday use with new models.

At auto shows in the past few years, the German car industry has caused a sensation numerous times by presenting new electric vehicles. It already offers thirty electric car models. By 2020, this number is expected to triple. Customers will have a wide choice, from compact cars to SUVs. At the close of 2016, the business magazine “Impulse”, among others, presented the latest electric vehicle plans of Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW and Opel. The headline: “Here are the German Tesla Killers”.

One of these Tesla killers, the Opel Ampera-e, will be introduced to the market later this year. This electric car will have a range of more than 500 kilometers. More and more sports cars are taking over the market as well. The BMW i8 sports car is a plug-in hybrid with a futuristic design and an acceleration rate of 0 to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds, all of which comes with the fuel consumption of a compact car. Porsche is venturing into this field now as well, having started work on the first all-electric sports car in the company’s history. The “Mission E” should be rolling off the assembly lines by the end of the decade. “The time has come,” says Dr. Stefan Wale, director of the program for this Porsche model.

Anyone who has been behind the wheel of an electric car knows that they offer a tremendous driving experience. In contrast to normal cars, which require a certain amount of time to build up power and torque, electric cars accelerate extremely quickly from a standing start. An electric powertrain therefore seems like it was created just for sports cars. So why did German manufacturers in this segment not take this step earlier?

“We have been busy with the electrification of the powertrain for many years, but the technological requirements necessary to meet our demands for a Porsche were not available for a long time,” says Stefan Wale. He states that the necessary components will be available at the end of the decade. The California start-up Tesla reached a relatively high range simply by connecting many batteries in a large battery pack. This is not very technologically innovative, and it is expensive. German manufacturers such as Porsche, however, use their engineering skills to find truly innovative solutions.

Source: Porsche

Source: Porsche

One challenge, for example, is to ensure that the vehicle can also harness its full power in situations with repeated accelerating at short intervals. Most electric drives still fail in this. To solve the problem, Porsche is focusing on so-called “permanently excited synchronous motors” (PSM) for Mission E. These motors have the necessary level of efficiency and a high power density. Porsche has already gained experience with PSM in motorsports: this type of engine went into action in the Porsche 919 hybrid, a Le Mans race winner. The 600 hp Mission E will be able to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 3.5 seconds.

Another challenge is the suitability for everyday use. Driving a car is only really enjoyable when you do not have to constantly worry about the next charging station. With the Mission E, Porsche will use 800-volt charging technology instead of the usual 400 volts. “This will enable extremely short charging times and reduce weight because lighter copper cables with a smaller cross-section can be used,” says Weckbach. The sports car is expected to need 20 minutes to be charged with enough power for 400 km.

Porsche is an example of the innovative solutions the German car industry is developing for electric vehicles of the future. By 2020, the company will have invested more than 40 billion in alternative drive systems. This includes not only research and development investments, but also expenses for production and tools. Porsche alone has invested around 700 million euros into production of the Mission E at its headquarters in Stuttgart and created more than 1,000 additional jobs.

For electric vehicles to develop their full potential, the charging infrastructure must be expanded accordingly. Porsche’s parent company Volkswagen therefore announced a joint venture with BMW, Daimler and Ford at the end of 2016, the goal of which is to build up a powerful charging network in Europe. By 2020, customers should have access to thousands of powerful charging points where charging is as convenient as refueling at conventional gas stations. With this network, the road could finally be clear for the breakthrough of electric mobility.