The fog has cleared, the drumming stopped, champagne’s been nibbled, and the sandwiches gone into the bellies, and we can start investigating Porsche’s Taycan without the marketing.
Some numbers have been discussed yesterday, and they certainly are impressive. Some prior feats without much practical use, such as the thirty-something accelerations from 0 to 200 km/h, or the devil’s rid on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, may be nice, and demonstrate the vehicle’s abilities and limits, but they don’t tell us much about the suitability for daily use.
A discussion dealing with the question why the Taycan is barely or not exceeding in range and acceleration Tesla’s Model S has been laser-sharp focusing on the transmission.
It’s certainly surprising to see an electric vehicle with a transmission sitting in between the electric motors and the wheels, where the torque is only indirectly coming to the wheels. The advantage at high speeds to still have good acceleration pales at regular speeds.
Michael Schwekutsch, former VP of Engineering for the drive train at Tesla and who’s now at Apple, mentioned that a Tesla Model 3 with two gears would get a to percent efficiency gain at higher speeds, which are more than wiped out by by the additional transmission losses. Friction clutches, needle bearings, more moving parts, additional gear meshes… And that at any speed. Such a setup makes sense only for big and heavy cars, such as SUVs and trucks.
Schwekutsch also points at the permanent magnet motors – in front and the back – which cannot hibernate with a transmission. They have to be decoupled with a clutch, and then you are losing the instant torque that EVs are known for. Jaguar has learned it the hard way with their iPace trying this.
The decision of using a two gear transmission in the Taycan may have been made by Porsche, because it was more about going to the limits at high speed and giving racers that last bit of torque, and giving less priority to suitability for daily use with range and acceleration from 0. Or there are other reasons that are based on the history of or the power struggle within the company.
However, those small compromises and inefficiencies add up and give an overall disadvantage to the leader Tesla. A few percentage points in the battery, some in a less efficient electric motor with a gear box, then some less mature digital battery management, and you fall behind. And that at a price far north of Tesla vehicles.
While Porsche is willing to go to and try the limits of the technical possible, other manufacturers are stuck in their old thought frameworks. Audi’s e-tron, Mercedes’ EGC and B-class, or Jaguar’s iPace have been restricted intentionally.
We can demonstrate that on the formerly electrified Mercedes B-class, which used Tesla’s electric drive train (back then, when Daimler held shares in Tesla). Because a B-class mustn’t have better performance data than Mercedes vehicles from higher priced and more sporty cars, the performance of the B-class’ drive train was restricted. Customers got a Meh-solution, which didn’t give appetite for more of EVs.
Jaguar’s iPace on the other hand must not be a competitor for their own F-Type, which an electric drive train would easily manage to do.
To get back to the Taycan, let’s take a look at the charging speed. With 270 kW and 100 kilometers in 5 minutes that can be pushed into the vehicle, this really is impressive. But it’s all theory for now. Those charging stations are more difficult to find than a needle in a haystack. There are only a handful of them, in the low two-digit numbers. At the same time Tesla can boast 14,000 super chargers worldwide.
It’s no surprise that Porsche is investing additional €6 billion until 2022. If you want to keep your customers happy with an electric sports car, then the best stitching and fanciest interior are for naught, if you have to spend 3 hours on the highway for charging 100 kilometers, while Tesla drivers are zooming by.
What reason to exist does an autonomously driving sports car have? None. Sure, you can upload Michael Schuhmacher’s or Ayrton Senna’s driving styles, following by lots of puking, once the car drives like them. But a sports car that you can’t drive yourself anymore is no fun. And that’s what Porsche is thinking and thus has not really a plan for autonomous driving – unless we speak of service, where they have been testting autonomous driving on parking lots and workshops.
But that will be a separate conversation.
This article was also published in German.