E-cars go flat out into clean future

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By Thomas Geiger

Charging down the autobahn at full tilt boogie while retaining a clear conscience might seem like mutually exclusive activities. Or are they?

Thanks to a number of new low-carbon German sports cars, this contradiction does not necessarily apply. For the time being at least the privilege will be reserved for an affluent few since these high-tech vehicles don’t come cheap.

To show how the technology works in practice we need to fast-forward to the pitlane on the Nordschleife at Nuremberg's famous race track.

Only a few minutes ago the furious howl of a 12-cylinder Pagani Zonda was ringing out across this course but the next sportster to be put through its paces is virtually silent.

AUDI R8 E-TRON

This green car is a representative of a new automotive era, a car which produces no potentially harmful emissions and yet can sprint from a standstill to 100 kilometres an hour in 4.6 seconds .

The coupe now storming around the circuit at up to 200 km/h is the Audi R8 e-Tron. If it goes into production well-heeled customers will be able to drive this car at full speed without pangs of conscience since the Audi doesn’t burn fossil fuel - it runs entirely on electric power.

In 2013 Mercedes-Benz's in-house tuner AMG will unveil the SLS Electric Drive.

This high-performance machine is propelled by four electric hub motors, providing 550kW and stump-pulling torque to match. Although the batteries weigh more than half a tonne the SLS gets to 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds. Top speed is governed to 250km/h.

Fast and furious motoring quickly drains the batteries of these green supercars. When driven more gently, the Audi can manage 215km before the power pack needs replenishing, while Mercedes quotes 250km between charges for the SLS.

918 SPYDER

Porsche tackles the range problem by using plug-in technology for its 918 Spyder. The petrol-electric is still in the development stage and should enter showrooms in 12 months.

With its twin electric motors generating a total of 180kW, the Porsche can only manage 30km in pure electric mode and top speed is limited to 150km/h. Mated to the electric drivetrain, however, is a 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine that puts out 427kW.

According to project head Michael Hoelscher, the car, which uses a good deal of lightweight carbon fibre, can reach a top speed of 325km/h yet uses no more fuel than a compact for the first 100km of a journey - this equates to a CO2 output of 70g/km.

JAGUAR C-X75 CANNED

Jaguar has surprisingly bucked the trend by announcing this month that work on its hybrid supersports car, the C-X75, is being halted. The company said the move was prompted by the economic crisis. Five working prototypes will be developed up until mid-2013.

The coupe was first shown at the 2010 Paris car show. Jaguar said investment was not wasted since the technology would find its way into other cars. The C-X75 features two electric hub motors and batteries mated to a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. An all-electric range of 60km was cited.

BMW PLUG-INS

Plug-in technology has been chosen by BMW for its i8 which is set to roll into showrooms late in 2013. The car has an electric motor driving the front wheels with a three-cylinder petrol engine hitched to the rear wheels.

Together the two power plants turn out 165kW and take the 2+2-coupe to 100 km/h in less than five seconds. With 35 km of pure electric driving available, fuel consumption for the first 100km is down to 2.7 litres with CO2 output at 64g/km.

However, green supercars don’t come cheap. The Mercedes SLS Electric Drive will carry a price tag of at least €416 500 (R4.7 million) and Jaguar estimated that the C-X75 might even cost €800 000 (R9 million).

RECORD PRICE

Porsche plans to launch the Porsche 918 Spyder with a base price of €760 026 (R8.6 million) which would make it the most expensive German production car of all time.

Despite the price hurdle, interest in these green supercars is apparently considerable. Porsche says it has had 300 expressions of interest for the 918 Spyder.

PAVING THE WAY

Regardless of the ecological and economical aspects, Christian Guhl from Dornier Consulting in Berlin believes green supercars could pave the way for general electromobility acceptance. The cars act as testbeds for more affordable, user-friendly e-cars and help establish the electric car as a desirable consumer item.

Gerd Lottsiepen of the ecologically-minded German Transport Club VCD is of a different opinion. He regards the green supercars as “big boys’ toys” and believes they have about as much to do with sustainable mobility as “teflon frying pans and space travel.” Electric cars should be energy-efficient too, said Lottsiepen. - Sapa-dpa

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