To the uninformed outsider, the transition from petrol and diesel power to electric might not seem like such a big deal - just fit motors and batteries instead of engines and fuel tanks, right?
A visit to Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart and Porsche’s new ‘factory within a factory’ tells a very different story. Here, the German sports car maker is investing €6 billion in going electric, with several all-new, battery-powered vehicles due between now and 2022. They will be built using a new production method, dubbed Porsche Production 4.0, and the range is expected to include a mid-engined sports car, an SUV, a crossover, and the company’s first electric vehicle, the Taycan.
Pronounced ‘Tie-can’, this car has demanded the hiring of 1,200 new employees and is described by Porsche as offering the driving position of a 911, but with much of the practicality of its saloon car, the Panamera. To be launched in late-2019, the Taycan will produce 600 horsepower, have five seats, and employ an innovative new 800-volt power system which will see its batteries refill at a rate of 100 km (62 miles) of range per four minutes of charging - considerably quicker than what Tesla’s Supercharger network is capable of today.
Porsche is developing its electric road cars with learnings acquired from the 919 Hybrid Le Mans winner, and Formula E, the all-electric race series it plans to enter from autumn 2019.
The biggest shift in automotive history
“We are experiencing probably the biggest shift ever in our history,” Lutz Meschke, deputy chairman of the executive board and head of Porsche’s finance and IT department, told journalists visiting the Zuffenhausen facility.
Meschke added that electrification, digitisation and advances in autonomous driving are “mega-trends which none of us can in any way budge or side-step...We will be investing massively in electrification and digital services.”
Porsche’s electrification plans are focused on the Taycan for now, which has received over 10,000 preorders and will be built at a rate of 20,000 per year initially, with plenty of capacity to ramp up if customer demand is sustained beyond the 2019 launch. Next, Porsche is expected to turn to a car currently wearing the codename ‘Mission E Cross Turismo’, an electric crossover which was revealed in concept form in early 2018 and will share the Taycan’s platform, but dressed in more outdoorsy, family-friendly clothing.
“After Cross Turismo,” Meschke said, “we will think about a sports car that is EV [an electric vehicle]...in the mid-engine range there could be an EV candidate [from existing prototypes]. The next 911 is hybrid-ready, but won’t be offered as a hybrid at launch...It would [also] make sense to have an EV offering in the SUV segment in the near future. Shall we say, around 2022 at the latest.”
That “mid-engine range EV” Meschke speaks off has not been mentioned publicly by Porsche before, and could mean the company is planning to introduce an electric version of its Boxster or Cayman sports cars, both of which sits their engines behind the driver.
Returning to the present, and Porsche is currently producing Taycan prototypes at a rate of around two per day. In all, the company expects to build 200 test cars, which will be driven all over the world to produce the final model, ready for mass-production.
So many test cars are needed because charging them takes longer than refuelling a conventional fleet of prototypes, but also because entering the electric car market from scratch is a technological minefield. How will cold weather affect range? How will hot weather affect the motor’s performance? Will continuous high-speed driving on the Autobahn damage anything? Will lapping a racetrack cause the battery to overheat?
Building a charging network
But, even after these questions are answered, an electric car on its own won’t be enough to overcome Tesla, the current luxury EV king. Porsche needs a high-speed charging network to lure drivers out of Teslas (and its own Panamera), and into the Taycan.
This is where Ionity comes in. Ionity is a joint venture to build a Europe-wide electric vehicle charging network. Car makers involved in the project include BMW, Ford, Daimler and VW. Include all of their respective brands, and that extends to Mini, Rolls-Royce, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Smart, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, SEAT, Lamborghini, Skoda, and Porsche.
Ionity is planning to install 400 fast-charging stations across Europe by the end of 2019, located on highways and at main traffic hubs. The stations will be an average of 120 km (75 miles) apart, and have six charging cables each, capable of delivering power at 350 kW, double what Tesla currently provides at its Supercharger stations.
At this rate, The Porsche Taycan (and other cars compatible with the fastest Ionity chargers) could receive up to 300 km of range in as little as nine minutes.
Right now, Ionity has 14 stations up-and-running, with a further 24 in construction. The cost is currently a flat rate of €8 (£8 in the UK and 8 Swiss Francs in Switzerland) per “charge event”, no matter how long you charge for; this is likely to change once the system is fully operational.
Over in the US, a similar initiative is underway. Called Electrify America, the charging network is partly funded by $2 billion from Volkswagen as part of its settlement after admitting to the ‘dieselgate’ emissions scandal.
Across the US, 484 stations will be installed by the summer of 2019, totally some 2,200 chargers. Three hundred stations located on highways will offer 350 kw charging, with 184 stations built in metropolitan areas serving up 150 kw. No two stations will be located more than 120 miles apart, but on average they will be within 70 miles of each other.
Given Porsche is claiming a range of over 500 km (311 miles) for the Taycan, the dreaded ‘range anxiety’ associated with EVs could soon be a thing of the past.
How to make an electric car feel like a Porsche
A problem being tackled by all traditional carnakers is, how do you make an electric car feel - how do you give it a character, a personality in keeping with your brand? Being first to crack the market, Tesla can get away with claiming the full-torque, insanely-fast surge produced by all electric cars for itself. Meanwhile, Jaguar has given its electric I-Pace a futuristic soundtrack which varies with speed, or can be switched off.
Porsche says the Taycan and its future relatives will still “feel” like a Porsche, delivering a “typical Porsche driving experience”. They’ll also produce a captivating soundtrack from their electric motors, but without filling the driver’s ears with the recorded burbles, snarls, pops and bangs of an internal combustion engine.
Robert Meier, director of Porsche’s electric vehicle product line, said: “We don’t want to imitate V8 engines, [because] that doesn’t make sense. We take the sound from the electric motor and change it, then filter out the sounds of the dentist. We then get a low and very sporty sound which we play in the car, depending on the speed, performance mode, and acceleration of the car.”
Get ready to pay for over-the-air upgrades
Porsche sees future revenue coming from the increased digitalisation of cars, where features can be bought, then downloaded and installed onto the car after it has been purchased. Tesla already does this with its Autopilot driver assistance system, and has experimented with letting drivers pay to unlock more of their car’s battery capacity.
Porsche’s Meschke sees this as an important - and not insubstantial - part of the company’s future revenue model. “Digitisation is something that keeps us very much on our toes. We will see connectivity go hand-in-glove with electric cars, and with Taycan you will be able to order [new] functions on-demand.”
Meschke explained: “Functions on demand will be a door-opener for us, functions will be ordered one-by-one. So, in the life cycle of the car, the owners can buy extra service, like extra power, a tighter driving dynamic...that’s the major first step.”
To be revealed by Porsche in 2019, the production version of the Taycan is expected to differ surprisingly little from the concept shown in this article. The car will see its backwards-opening rear doors replaced with conventional items, but the overall look - and the futuristic, touch screen-covered cabin, is expected to remain.
Early-starting Tesla may lead the luxury EV market for now, but the might of the VW Group is about to level the playing field.
Writer: Alistair Charlton