BMW April 2022

Mobility” is the new buzzword in South Africa, with a slew of three virtual conferences on this subject in a seven-week period, as well as Deloitte offering an intensive, four virtual educational sessions on the Future of Mobility at R9 800 (ex VAT) per delegate. This is all very first world and I believe Africa has a lot of (expensive) catching up to do!

Electrification is a major factor in the current vision for the varied aspects of mobility under consideration worldwide. However, I remain cynical about the practical side of electric vehicles in an environment where Eskom – once a world leader in cost efficient electricity generation – cannot even keep our lights on.

I have to admit that my experience of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) has been very limited, consisting of a brief encounter with a Nissan Leaf at the time of the Johannesburg International Motor Show, then driving the Toyota iRoad 3-wheeler at Kyalami earlier this year before meeting up with the ultra-high performance Porsche Taycan (pronounced tai-kaan) sports saloon at its local launch in Johannesburg recently.

The 260 km drive in the four-seater Taycan was a real mind blower. The Taycan name was selected from 600 proposals and it is of Turkish origin, loosely meaning “soul of a spirited young horse.”

The car that I shared with Auto Trader’s Stuart Johnston was the top-of-the-range Turbo S, which can push out over 560 kW of power and 1 050 Nm of torque with overboost and launch control for a scorching 0-100 km/h time of 2.8. sec. and it takes only a further seven seconds to get to 200 km/h.  It runs to a top speed of 260 km/h!

The sensation is shattering as the big car leaps forward with maximum torque from standstill and your head snaps back against the restraint. The Taycan accelerates at 1.2g – more than the force of gravity and faster than a skydiver in freefall – in the first few metres of “maximum attack”.

The Taycan is the first production car to use an 800-volt system instead of the usual 400 volts for most current electric cars. This facilitates quick charging of the 93.4 kWh battery which provides a range of approximately 400 km, depending on the manner in which the car is driven.

The battery can be given a 100 km range boost in just over five minutes using a high-power charging network. A domestic AC power point can be used for overnight charging, but most Taycan owners will use the special high-power unit supplied with the car. The battery carries an eight-year warranty, while service intervals are at every 30 000 km.

“Our car” had 451 km on the range indicator when we set out from the Porsche showroom in Johannesburg and there was still 98 km available after the 260 km journey which included quite a few hard blasts to experience the Taycan’s phenomenal power. However, it must be admitted that when we got lost in the Brits area and started clocking up extra kilometres, I started watching the read out on the number of kilometres that can be travelled before it comes to an involuntary stop. Remember that there is no quick fix if you run out of electric charge you will have to wait for a flatbed recovery truck to fetch the car!

Porsche says it envisages at least 20 000 prospective buyers for the Taycan worldwide, with more than 4 500 having been sold so far this year, despite the pandemic and closure of the factory for a period. Several South Africans have placed orders already.

Most people – even those in the motor industry – think of Porsche as a maker of sports cars, which started with the 356 model in 1948. What is little known is that Ferdinand Porsche, later the founder of the company of the same name, was fascinated by electricity as a teenager.

After installing electricity in his parents’ house in 1893, at the age of 18, he joined a vehicle manufacturer in Vienna and after four years, in 1897, the first car he was involved in designing had electric drive. So, the history of Porsche actually started with an electric car.

In 1898 Porsche designed the Egger-Lohner C2 Phaeton which was powered by an octagonal electric motor and could reach a speed of 25 km/h. (In-house this project was known as P1 – the first Porsche design). The next step came in 1900 when he developed the electric wheel hub motor and the prototype was shown at the Paris Expo that year. It had a top speed of 37 km/h.

He was very industrious and, also in 1900, he designed the world’s first functional petrol/electric hybrid car, the Semper Vivus (Latin for “Always Alive”). The technology, marketed as the Lohner-Porsche system, extended the car’s range by not using a battery to supply the electrical energy. Instead it used an internal combustion engine to drive a generator which then supplied the wheel hub motors with electrical power.

However, the Lohner-Porsche also demonstrated why electric mobility failed over the decades: despite a modest power output the car weighed two tons. In addition, the lack of a battery-charging infrastructure and the short range put an end to electromobility for a long time.

In fact, it was more than 100 years before the Porsche name appeared on a Porsche, with this being the Cayenne S Hybrid in 2010.

The move to electrification in search for mobility solutions is certainly opening up a whole new world!


By Roger Houghton