ONE GIANT LEAP FOR GERMAN-KIND
With the arrival of its first all-electric production car, arch-conservative Porsche has set a new pace and tempo for the industry’s march towards an alternative-fuel future. In this article, AutoMate’s Harrison Boudakin explores the revolutionary Taycan and why it’s arguably the most significant car to launch this year
Karl Popper’s theory of ‘piecemeal engineering’ – the practice of small measures – has largely defined the last 133 years of automotive progress. With the corporate giants at the helm, the fundamentals of car design have remained constant, instilling a largely evolutionary approach: turn a screw here, carefully open a valve there, but whatever you do, make sure not to rush the change.
But recent happenings – both technological and political – have undermined the status quo. It has been four years since the Volkswagen Dieselgate revelations first broke – barely a week, remember, after the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show closed its doors; and since then, the calculus of automotive progress has changed dramatically.
Whereas in 2015 a future beyond the internal combustion engine was presented as distant at best, today it is spoken of in largely certain and urgent terms. Now, the hum of gentle evolution is being drowned out by an impossible wave of expectation, compelled into existence by lawmakers and politicians who are demanding an electric future.
On top of that, the car industry is facing an insurgency from the disruptive world of Silicon Valley, whose seemingly limitless supply of brains, cash and innovation is leading the world in battery technology and getting us all in a spin about the prospect of autonomous driving.
And if any one auto-manufacturer knows the perils of being caught between the sea-anchor of history and the inexorable tidal-flow towards the future, surely it is Porsche. For more than 70 years the poster child for conservative incrementalism, in recent decades the German brand has grappled with the prospect of reinventing its product line up to remain profitable and future-proof, all the while maintaining its core “sports car” bloodline.
More than once they’ve succeeded in pulling-off this tricky double-act. When the controversial Cayenne SUV launched in 2003, few believed this 2.5-tonne leviathan would go on to become Porsche’s best-selling model – but it did, not only becoming an enormous cash cow for Zuffenhausen but crucially re-defining what ‘Brand Porsche’ meant to the buying public.
The Cayenne’s success also spurred further ventures into areas other than “pure” sports models, such as the Panamera executive sedan and the wildly successful Macan (which overtook its big brother as Porsche’s best-seller).
And now, as the tectonic plates of automotivity jostle ever more vigorously and automakers get set for an uncertain vault into an electric world, Porsche has once again leapfrogged its own evolutionary instincts and come up with a product that represents another turning of the page in the company’s extraordinary history.
It’s called the Taycan and with an all-electric architecture, wind-cheating body sculpture and revolutionary battery powertrain, it’s arguably the sharpest arrow shot across the bows of Tesla by any of the major auto-manufacturers to date.
Straight away, any doubts about Porsche’s ability to design an electric vehicle are banished by Taycan: this is a truly handsome product: obviously Porsche, instantly futuristic and closely aping the Mission E electric concept previewed a few years ago. Undeniably, it’s a highly successful attempt to translate the classic Porsche “form” for tomorrow’s world – not least because it renders a Tesla Model S just slightly frumpy and even, dare I say it, a bit dated.
But it’s only once you peel back the curvaceous formwork that the real genius of Taycan becomes obvious. Packed dense and low with an array of high-performance batteries and brought to life by a world-first 800-volt electrical system, the Taycan represents an enormous flex of Porsche’s engineering muscle, promising over 400km of range and the possibility of truly rapid charge times.
Launched, appropriately, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Taycan will initially be available only in top-spec Turbo and Turbo S models, each with dual motors for all-wheel-drive and offering upwards of 500kw of power. Lower-powered variants will soon follow, but for the moment the most maniacal Turbo S will sprint to 100km/h from rest in just 2.8 seconds, and crucially for Germany’s autobahns, hit 260km/h.
Such a remarkable top speed for an electric vehicle can be attributed to the Taycan’s world-first two-speed gearbox, which also helps Porsche extend the car’s cruising range. What’s more, Porsche is adamant that their decision to use permanent synchronous electric motors, rather than heavier and less consistent asynchronous units, is the key reason why Taycan is a step beyond rivals when it comes to delivering reliable high performance under even the most arduous conditions.
Indeed, Porsche has taken full advantage of the dynamic opportunities made available by the switch to full-electric power. Throttle response, they claim, is five times quicker than a traditional internal-combustion-engine vehicle, traction control 10 times faster, and limited slip differential responses more than 50 times more rapid. Thanks to the low-set battery pack, Taycan also claims a lower centre of gravity than any other road-going Porsche, while three-chamber air suspension and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control all but entirely neuters body roll, even at maximum lateral load.
And yet even with this compelling concoction of ingredients, taken as a whole the Taycan somehow still manages to be so much more than the sum of its parts.
In one sense, this car is ostensibly an opportunity to prove that Porsche can now dance to the beat of a different tune; that going forward, the righteous symphonies of ‘clean’ and ‘green’ will set the pace and tempo of the company’s future passage.
But beneath this roaring symbol-clash of ecological saintliness, there is another aura surrounding this car: one that will doubtless bring a wave a reassurance to anyone who fears a future where the car is no longer an object of abject enjoyment.
Put simply, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Taycan has been designed to quicken the pulse and titillate the senses; its presence confirming – happily – that the automobile is still a monument to the artistry of perfected engineering.
And so for all the talk that the industry is about to double-pike into a dark and uncertain era of “change,” the reality is that one crucial element of the automotive equation really hasn’t changed at all:
The fun quotient; the percentage of amusement that gives a pulse to what are otherwise just lifeless pieces of machinery – that is still there. And so thankfully, what the Taycan teaches us perhaps more than anything else, is that the relentless thud of this automotive heartbeat shows no signs of fading anytime soon.
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