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When Porsche ditches engines, will it also lose its soul?

Porsche says silent electric cars can replicate the hair-raising emotion of screaming combustion engines.

The 918 Spyder, Porsche's cutting-edge hybrid electric supercar, in action at the Sepang International Circuit.

"Technical innovation gives a sports car its soul." - Mayk Wienkoetter, spokesman for Electromobility, Future Technologies and Connected Car at Porsche


IT'S night and the floodlights are on, we're screaming down the front straight of a damp Sepang Circuit at more than 250km/h, with the brakes and exhaust pipes glowing red hot from the frantic pace.

Luckily there's a professional at the wheel. Matthias Hoffsummer, the chief instructor for Porsche's driving experience programme, is taking The Business Times (BT) for a hot lap in the 918 Spyder, Porsche's cutting-edge hybrid electric supercar.

"The engine makes 600 horsepower," shouts Hoffsummer over the V8's scream. "The electric motors add a further 282hp!"

That accounts for the rather ridiculous top speed down the rain-sodden straight. The car may not be a racing machine from the historic 24 Hours of LeMans event, but it sounds and almost behaves like one.

Launched in 2013, the 918 Spyder is Porsche's most recent supercar. But what's more significant is that it was also the brand's second full production plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

The whole idea of riding shotgun here is to give us "a taste of the LeMans experience", but also to convince us that the death of fossil fuels isn't going to mean the death of fun cars from Porsche.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) seem like a ready fit for crowded urban landscapes, but where does electric propulsion leave a brand like Porsche, which exists to thrill drivers? As high-revving combustion engines begin a long slide into obsolescence, can BEVs fill the loud, energetic and nostalgia-tined void they will leave behind?

Porsche is working on never leaving that void in the first place.

The sportscar specialist is prepping the Taycan, a four-door BEV grand touring sedan, for a launch in Singapore by 2020. Although fully electric, it won't be inordinately expensive for a Porsche. Insiders told BT it could cost less than the Panamera, a larger car priced at S$370,388 and up, without Certificate Of Entitlement.

And though the Taycan won't have a combustion engine, it still draws heavily on the traditional Porsche recipe of taking racing tech from the track to the street.

"Technical innovation gives a sports car its soul," says Mayk Wienkoetter, spokesperson for Electromobility, Future Technologies and Connected Car at Porsche. "The Taycan will adhere to all of Porsche's key principles. It will be the most high-performing car in its segment."

Porsche says its sporty BEV will have 600hp from dual electric motors, with a 500km range on a full charge. It will also be very quick, accelerating from 0-100km/h in only 3.5 seconds - just one second slower than the 918 Spyder.

Audi and Porsche, both owned by the Volkswagen Group, are collaborating on an electric car architecture named Platform Premium Electric (PPE) for future models, but the Taycan will use technology unique to Porsche.

It will run on a 800-volt electrical system that Porsche perfected on the 919 Hybrid racecars that won at LeMans. In contrast, most current EVs and PHEVs use 400V systems.

Porsche says doubling the voltage lets it use smaller and lighter components, and increases the energy density of the batteries. It also means faster charging: adding 100km of driving range to your Taycan will take just four minutes.

That would require special chargers, but Porsche representatives say it has plans to bring its own fast-charge network to Singapore and Asia.

"The (BEV) segment is gaining importance with much broader product offerings and better public charging infrastructure is in the works now," Henrik Dreier, general manager (Singapore) for Porsche Asia-Pacific, tells BT.

"We will contribute by adding public fast-charging stations to the network, which is important for the customer's peace of mind."

For all that, the distinctive howl of the 918 Spyder's V8 engine at Sepang does bring up something all current enthusiasts must be wondering: can machines with no tailpipes ever sound as good at today's snarling sports cars?

What's certain is that they won't sound the same. "We will focus on creating an authentic sound made by the e-motor itself, not one generated by computer," says Mr Wienkoetter.

But if Porsche does its job right, BEVs should be able to thrill drivers regardless. "I believe in a few years' time anyway, people will no longer worry about EV performance without the sound," he says.


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