Porsche takes on Tesla, unveils e-car

Ever since Tesla's Model S went on sale in 2012, the start-up automaker has had the market for high-end electric cars to itself. But that is changing as other automakers start to introduce their own models.

On Monday, at the Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany, Porsche unveiled its all-electric Mission E concept car. A four-door, four-seat luxury performance sedan with futuristic 911 design cues, Mission E will be the first all-electric model Porsche will offer to the public.

Porsche, a German brand, maintains that the vehicle, though it is a concept car, is firmly based in reality and is expected to arrive in showrooms within five years. At the same time, it provides a window into the future of all-electric cars - more range, faster charging and more speed. (HOT WHEELS IN FRANKFURT)

With a debut alongside the latest iteration of the classic 911, the Mission E is meant to convey the message that performance and efficiency are not mutually exclusive. And while the Porsche brand, a division of Volkswagen, is one of the marquee brands in the traditional sports car world, it isn't a complete stranger to electrification. Porsche built three Boxster E cars for public evaluation in 2011. And Porsche currently sells three hybrid models - the Cayenne S Hybrid, Panamera S E-Hybrid and, for those with $845,000 to spend on a car, the 918 Spyder.

Porsche's head of research and development, Wolfgang Hatz, said in an interview on Monday that the automaker's engineers had been monitoring the market for a high-end, all-electric car. "When the time is right, we will be prepared," he said. "We can build a car that is the Porsche of electric cars. The right technology is now available."

Comparisons with the Tesla Model S - which starts at around $71,000 - are inevitable. Like the Tesla, the Mission E concept's battery pack, made up of lithium-ion batteries, is in the floor for a low center of gravity.

And while the Model S uses a 375-volt battery that can be charged to 80 per cent in about 45 minutes using its Supercharging system, Porsche goes bigger with an 800-volt battery.

Porsche claims the Mission E's range is well over 300 miles - surpassing the Model S's 253 miles - even when driving hard, as auto enthusiasts are known to do. Depleted batteries can be recharged to 80 per cent in 15 minutes with Porsche's Turbo Charging system. The charging system's network will take time to develop properly, and the battery's durability must be further tested under performance conditions - two reasons Porsche isn't rushing production. Mission E can also recharge at existing 400-watt charge stations.

The all-wheel-drive Mission E concept - the front and rear wheels steer - includes two permanently synchronous electric motors similar to those used in the 919 Hybrid, the model used to win the Le Mans endurance car race.

And with 600 horsepower, Porsche says the Mission E reaches 60 miles an hour in under 3.5 seconds. Top speed is 155 miles an hour. Porsche engineers estimate that Mission E should complete the Nürburgring, a 12.9-mile racetrack in Germany, in under eight minutes, putting it in the company of gas guzzlers like the Lamborghini Murcielago and Porsche's own 911 GT3 RS.

Hatz promises that the Mission E will have no slump in performance. "This is not a five-minute sports car," he said. "The performance is very powerful and very repeatable." Sustained runs of 140 miles an hour are not important in the United States, but they are on Germany's autobahn.

Mission E will be built on an all-new chassis specifically engineered for electric vehicles. Hatz describes the platform as scalable, which could lead to other electric models, such as a crossover or pure sports car. A fully electric powertrain is not the only advance. Mission E's interior uses eye-tracking sensors and gesture control for the infotainment system, much like the kind found on the Xbox One.

Jesse Toprak, an automotive industry analyst at Toprak Consulting, sees Mission E as a welcome addition to the premium electric car segment that Tesla owns today. "It will definitely be a shot across the bow at Tesla, especially since Porsche already has a large base of enthusiastic owners to tap," he said.
©2015 The New York Times News Service