Tesla gets a lot of news coverage. Depending on your viewpoint of the company, it’s either a media darling and Obama-era weakling, or it’s a misunderstood visionary of the future for mobility. What may seem to bolster the latter of those two versions is the fact that “legacy” or established automakers are making serious movements toward electrification. One big player in the electric car market will be Porsche.
While Teslas have wowed people with their amazing straight-line acceleration, semi-autonomous drive capabilities, and crazy falcon wing doors, Porsche will add a different flavor to electric vehicles.
Porsche: Tech Leader
Those who aren’t really familiar with the automotive industry and its history might view Porsche as a backwards-thinking, old-school automaker. That’s not an accurate portrayal. This is a company that has built highly innovative vehicles for their time, most notably the 959 and 918 Spyder.
At the same time, Porsche hasn’t forgotten its roots. Even though it sees electrification and even autonomous driving as waves of the future, the automaker also remembers the simple joy of flat-out driving. Just like how some people ride horses for pleasure and not out of necessity today, people in the future will drive without electronic aids for the challenge and fun of it.
To develop electric car tech even faster, Porsche is teaming up with Audi. They’re working on the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) so getting future EVs on the market will cost less money and time. Porsche is dumping over six billion euros into electrification by 2022, so the combined investment is huge.
Of course, Porsche and Audi have worked together on all kinds of projects, including other vehicle platforms. I can tell you from personal experience the results of these partnerships have been phenomenal. The Porsche Mission E and Audi E-Tron won’t use the PPE platform, but we should see the first batch of models that do in late 2021.
A Strong Foundation
Why has Porsche taken so long to jump into the electric car market? The Mission E, a car we’ve already seen in concept form, is set to debut in production form next year. Meanwhile, Tesla, Nissan, GM, and even BMW are churning out an increasing number of electric vehicles.
Earlier this year, Porsche released official information about its electrification efforts. In it, the company talks about how there have been “decades of combustion engine optimization.” If you’ve ever owned a car with an old carbureted engine, you might more fully understand that statement. It then says that automakers who have a reputation must produce electric powertrains that “guarantee the highest possible driving performance over long periods of time.”
Porsche has a reputation to defend. The brand often scores high in initial quality and reliability studies. I’ve known numerous Porsche 911 owners who drive their car every day with few problems. That’s amazing for a performance vehicle.
By taking its time, Porsche is working to ensure its electric vehicles live up to high standards. Tesla likes to throw things out there, then perfect them, much like how Microsoft did business in its heyday. That builds up a different kind of reputation.
Electric car advocates don’t like it, but most people still have range anxiety. Have you ever been stranded by a car that ran out of gas? I haven’t, but on road trips I don’t like my fuel level to dip too much below half a tank because quite frankly I have range anxiety. That could be born out of living in the West, where you can go long distances without seeing a gas station or other signs of civilization. Why shouldn’t people be anxious about being stranded without a way to charge their EV?
In addition, if you accelerate hard in a Tesla, BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, etc. range becomes greatly reduced. Sometimes you need to get moving quickly, like when merging onto the freeway. After a few hard accelerations, electric cars can even become slower. Porsche says it’s working on overcoming these deficiencies.
What’s more, Porsche is working on ways to make all-wheel drive better. Thanks to the nature of electric motors, the all-wheel-drive system can send power to individual wheels in different ways that isn’t possible with combustion engine setups. Exactly what form that takes with the Mission E and future Porsche EVs will be interesting. What you should take away right now is that Porsche electric cars not only will be fast in a straight line, they’ll also carve up the road. That’s good for performance and safety.
If you think of electricity as a form of fuel, it’s easier to see the challenges facing electric cars. After all, with gasoline or diesel, you can find what you need quickly and easily, at least if you’re in civilization. Electric car chargers are not nearly as available. You need to keep an EV plugged in for far longer than you need to fill up a car’s tank. People simply aren’t going to be clamoring for electrics until they can enjoy a similar experience.
To solve that problem, Porsche points to the joint fast-charging network being created by the Volkswagen Group, BMW, Ford, and Daimler. It will be established in Europe, but similar ventures can and should be set up in North America, Asia, and elsewhere.
As a means of harnessing the extra power, Porsche has created a special charging station that has a voltage of 950 V and can provide charging performance up to 350 kW. That means recharging a car in under 20 minutes. It’s still a far cry from what you can do with gas or diesel, so the tech will probably still be a fringe element, for now.
Admittedly, the lack of charging options and slow nature of replenishing batteries is the biggest challenge facing electric vehicle adoption right now. While Porsche’s solution is the best yet, it’s not nearly good enough. At least the company seems to understand that, instead of making excuses.
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