There are a few cars that are icons of the achievements of the internal combustion engine. The ones that every car fan wanted to own. In that group were the beautiful, but often less reliable options from Italy and the one that rose above them all to be the super-car that you could drive every day. Reliable enough for an every day commute, yet powerful enough to compete with the best the Italians had to offer. That car is, of course, the Porsche 911. An iconic car that has both changed dramatically and hardly at all since its introduction in 1963. The technology in a current generation 911 is undeniably cutting edge, but at the same time the silhouette of the vehicle remains instantly recognizable as a 911.
But now there is about to be a monumental shift. Porsche, an icon of the ICE world is pouring billions of dollars into development of electrified vehicles. The first car to come from this investment is currently dubbed the Mission E, and it is a four seat sports car that clearly has Porsche DNA, but is a pure battery EV. Unlike its stable mates from Audi, and the announced vehicles from other luxury brands, Porsche didn’t opt for an SUV or crossover form for their first foray into EVs. They already offer hybrid variants of the Cayenne SUV; an EV variant would have been an easy choice. Instead, they have produced something that stands out from the crowd. A true electric super-car, though not the next 911 (the DNA is more from the 918). Clearly a Porsche, but (in my view at least) a more beautiful one.
An all electric 911 cannot be that many years away, then the petrol heads will have to rethink their opinions of EVs. As will Ferrari and Lamborghini. The future is clearly electric and Porsche at least plans to be leading us there, not following.
The Mission E is not just a generic EV in Porsche clothing for compliance either. There are some true innovations under the beautifully designed skin of this car. It carries two motors, one for each axle, and is powered by lithium-ion batteries the same as most of the other current generation high end EVs (the upcoming eTron SUV for their stable mate Audi being the exception with three motors). Where it differs is in the way those batteries are organized and how fast they can be charged. Most EVs today run at 400 volts; Porsche’s plan is to run the high voltage system at 800 volts, and charge it at that level too.
What difference does that make? The limiting factor in how fast batteries can be charged is heat, and the heat generated by electrical systems is proportional to the square of the current. Doubling the voltage, halves the current for the same power, but generates a quarter of the heat. The electronics for handling 800 volts didn’t exist, but Porsche was able to work with partners to design them. An added bonus is that running the car at 800 volts also reduces the current needed in the onboard electrical systems, keeping the heat down when driving as well. That’s handy if you want to drive it hard around a track, for example.
That fast charge means from 0 to 80% in around 15 minute, or, putting that another way, an extra 15 miles every minute. That’s not as fast as filling a gas tank, but it’s not much longer than a typical restroom & coffee break, every 250 miles or so (3.5 hours at US freeway speeds). Expect to see 800 volt systems appear in other vehicles too, once the required components become more available.
Track & Road
“All that technical stuff is great, but electric cars cannot be serious sports cars, can they?” Of course they can. Obviously, there is a Formula E, but Porsche is not talking about Mission E being about that. They are talking about a no compromises, four seat sports car. One that will be great for that everyday commute, but also handle the track. Tesla’s Model S has been impressing/upsetting drag racers with its ludicrous mode acceleration, but nobody would confuse one with a sports car. Most people looking at the Model S are after a luxury sedan. The acceleration is fun, but I doubt most users will even enter ludicrous mode more than once, if they try it at all. Those looking at Mission E are looking for a true sports car for every day use.
A great example of the difference is the driver’s view. The Tesla interior is dominated by their large, rectangular touch screens. Indeed, the new Model 3 has nothing else. Those displays are gorgeous in their own way, but more like general purpose tablets than purpose designed dials and controls for a driver’s car. The Mission E has all the high tech of high resolution OLED displays, but with a cockpit designed around the needs of the driver. Our Audi has a variant of this, and it is amazingly versatile and yet clear. The videos of the Model 3 I’ve seen online do not suggest it has been designed for a driver at all; to even see the speed the driver use glance to the side where it is one piece of information on a display that more closely resembles an iPad running a navigation app than a car dashboard:
Porsche promise Mission E will have the range, reliability and comfort needed for those daily commutes, as well as 155 mph top speed, 0-60 mph around 3.5 seconds and the balance and low center of gravity of a true sports car. Delivering it has the potential to change opinions of EVs more than most other brands could.