Oxford, Sept. 27 (U.S.): Speed has always been of paramount importance to supercar makers, and now they are in the race of their lives to become electric before climate policy slashes their combustion engines.
That’s why the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz are turning to startups like Oxford-based electric motor company YASA for expertise and technology to solve the unique challenges of electrifying high-performance cars, Reuters reported.
Batteries are very heavy and electric motors overheat if pushed too hard—big problems for a niche industry that charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for lightweight cars capable of screaming 10 laps of track at full speed.
This year Daimler bought YASA, which has developed a high-performance “axial-flow” electric motor weighing 23 kg (50.7 lb), part of the nearly 300 kg V12 in a Ferrari, and is roughly the size and shape of a steering wheel.
YASA already makes engines for Ferrari, Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg, as well as an unnamed British supercar company. It will now supply Daimler with the high-performance AMG brand, which will soon bear the name Mercedes-Benz.
A few miles from YASA, Saietta has developed a range of water-cooled axial flow motors. The company is preparing to produce engines for the broad Asian motorcycle market, but told Reuters it has built a larger prototype and is in talks with one supercar maker, and that two others have shown interest.
“These manufacturers know the combustion engines forward, backward, and inside out,” said Graham Linden, Saietta’s chief commercial officer. “But they don’t know electric motors and what they’re looking for is someone to hold their hand.”
However, this is uncharted territory, with no clear roadmap for electric vehicles for high-performance vehicles yet. Supercar makers will have to invest billions of dollars to survive the disappearance of combustion engines, without guaranteeing that the technologies they adopt will pay off in the long run.
Supercars and supercars – both sports cars that come close to the level of professional racing performance – are a highly profitable and capital-intensive niche market for automakers.
Consulting firm AlixPartners and data firm IHS Markit estimate that more than 152,000 “luxury” and “ultra-luxury” sports cars ranging in price from £100,000 to £10m ($137,000-13.7m) will be sold globally in 2021, with an expected rise The market is approximately 50% to 223 thousand cars in 2026.
Walmer, the founder of YASA, said his company’s long-term memo from Daimler was aimed at cutting costs in future iterations of its engine so the German automaker could use it across its entire vehicle portfolio as it switches to electrification.
“Auto technology doesn’t scale overnight, you tend to start with the premium niche segments,” says Woolmer.
High-performance electric vehicle makers will have to find ways to develop lighter, more powerful batteries. But since today’s battery technology can’t compete with the continuous power of a gasoline engine, they’re also rethinking everything from electric motors to bodywork materials.
Axial-flow electric motors are flat, round devices–dubbed “pancakes”–that are lighter and more efficient than traditional cylindrical “radial-flow” motors, or “sausages”.
Tim Walmer, who developed the device as part of a doctorate at Oxford University and then founded the company in 2009, said the YASA engine is oil-cooled, so it never overheats and is much more efficient than a conventional engine.
Because the engine is more efficient, it can extend the range of an electric vehicle by up to 7%, or because it uses less energy, it allows automakers to take out some of the heavier batteries and reduce the weight of their vehicle by up to 10%. added.
YASA has a small facility at its Oxford headquarters that manufactures engines for Ferrari’s SF90 Stradale hybrids and 296 GTB hybrids, and test engines for AMG. Daimler is studying how to increase this production in its own plants.
YASA CEO Chris Harris said the German giant’s acquisition of it did not end its work with clients such as Ferrari.
“They want us to continue to work with supercar customers because that’s the lead,” he added. “That technology when it matures deteriorates.”
Michael Letters, Ferrari’s chief technology officer, described the YASA engine in its plug-in hybrid models as “a number one in the auto industry,” adding that the Italian sports car maker would rely on the technical expertise of suppliers in its quest to switch electrification.
Car companies are also looking beyond engines in their weight loss plans.
The chassis and body of the C-Two are made of carbon fiber, and the batteries are part of the bodywork to save weight, said Mate Rimac, chief executive of Croatian electric supercar maker Rimac.
The company, which forms a joint venture with Volkswagen’s luxury sports car unit Porsche and will include the Volkswagen Bugatti brand, also uses “torque vectoring” to boost performance – powertrains in the wheels to aid cornering.
British sports car maker Lotus has developed a new electric platform using lightweight aluminum alloys that reduces the car’s structural weight by 37% and will begin production of its first all-electric sports car in 2026.
Owned by China’s Geely Corporation and Malaysia’s Attica Automotive, Lotus is also an automobile supplier and engineer for other automakers. Managing Director Matt Wendell said the company is in advanced talks to supply the platform to another automaker and has received expressions of interest from several other companies.
“With the cost and speed of electricity, collaboration is the way to go,” Wendell said.
Chinese automaker FAW has teamed up with US-based engineering and design firm Silk EV to form the Silk-FAW project, which plans to build electric sports cars in Italy.
It uses carbon fiber components for the bodywork and is looking to develop a high-revving engine using aerospace-grade copper wire technology to cut engine weight by 20%, although it is also exploring other options.
“Saving weight is more important than a higher level of power,” said Roberto Fedelli, Silk-FAW Vice President of Innovation and Technology.
Reducing weight and using more efficient engines would be enough for most wealthy sports car buyers who use their cars for recreation or for commuting, and are unlikely to want to run multiple high-speed laps around the racetrack.
Those who do can have a long wait.
“Unless batteries go through a massive revolution, they will never hold the amount of energy that a fuel tank will,” said YASA founder Woolmer.
“For the longer races, there will be some time.”