There's a whole new Porsche hidden somewhere in the depths of this construction site, and the German auto maker is betting the farm on it.
We've seen the all-electric Mission E at auto shows in one form or another since 2015. Just this month, its concept made its debut as the Cross Turismo crossover at the Geneva auto show, where Porsche made bold claims about its range of more than 500 kilometres and its fast-charging time of 100 kilometres in less than four minutes. Oh, and its acceleration from zero-to-100 km/h in 3.5 seconds.
All easy to say, but much more of a challenge to actually pull off in time for the vehicle's production late next year. Porsche is absolutely serious, though, and just doubled its investment in electro-mobility to €6-billion by 2022. Within three years after that, it expects at least one-quarter of its vehicles to be either fully or partially electric.
"Make no mistake, the train of electro-mobility has started, clearly," says Detlev von Platen, Porsche's executive head of sales and marketing. "And the infrastructure will come faster now [for charging]. Think of all the Costcos and Targets in this world. I would be immediately investing in infrastructure to make sure people come to charge, even for free, at my parking lot. They will have 15 or maybe 30 minutes to wait, to maybe shop at Costco or Target."
That's the problem. People are used to gas-and-go, where it takes just a few minutes to fill up and drive for hundreds of kilometres. Many believe this benchmark is one of the tipping points for electric vehicles – regular people will start to buy
EVs when they can be charged as quickly and easily as gassing up the family car.
The Mission E's battery (its hundreds of individual cells are made by South Korea's LG) can be charged at an 800-volt charging station, which rams in enough power to fully recharge the vehicle in about 15 minutes. The challenge is to make sure the battery is not damaged by this extreme rate of charging, and that it's capable of taking the hit time after time, year after year, without deterioration.
In fact, Porsche is expecting that most, if not all, of the owners of its expensive cars will have a home charger in their garages – not for them the ignominy of having to park every night on the street like most city drivers. At home, the much less powerful residential charger will take several hours to pump its juice but there will be less of a rush to charge the car: Owners will just top up the car each night, and commercial fast-chargers will only be needed for longer trips, or for when they forget and run the battery low.
In fact, they won't even need to remember to plug it in, because the Mission E will have a battery that charges wirelessly. Just park over the home-charging pad in the driveway or garage floor and everything will be automatic.
If this sounds utopian, it's because we're not quite there yet – but we will be. A couple of years ago, General
Motors's chief executive Mary Barra famously said the automotive industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than in the previous 50, and Porsche's CEO now has his foot just as hard on the throttle.
"The coming years will change more than in the last 50 years combined," Oliver Blume says. "This is about the electrification of drives, the digitalization of processes and products, and network global services. We think these technological advancements open up significant opportunities for a sports-car manufacturer."
So Porsche is spending a billion of its euros to construct a new CO2-neutral assembly plant alongside its existing plant outside Stuttgart. It will build the Mission E here, where it already makes all the world's 911s and almost all its Boxsters and Caymans. It will add 1,200 new employees to a global work force that's already more than doubled since 2012. In its first year of production, it expects to sell 20,000 Mission E vehicles.
Porsche is also investing in a public 800-volt fast-charging infrastructure to support the Mission E, but unlike Tesla, the charging stations will not be exclusive to just one brand – they'll accommodate all EVs. Porsche, don't forget, is one of a dozen manufacturers owned by Volkswagen, and VW is sharing the liability in Europe with Daimler (which makes Mercedes-Benz), BMW and Ford. Heavy hitters, all of them.
Those makers are all-in with establishing a charging company named Ionity, which will supply 400 stations in Europe by 2020, each with six to 12 individual chargers. In North America, the Electrify America company is just as ambitious, with plans for 650 stations.
The Mission E will sell for about the same price as a Porsche
sedan, which currently starts at just under $100,000. It will be a four-door vehicle – more than half of all
are now four-doors and the bestseller is the
compact SUV – though a coupe may arrive later. And, according to everyone who is anyone at the company, it will be "a true Porsche."
We don't yet know its final name – Mission E is just a working title – and we don't know what it will sound like. Electric vehicles make almost no noise, after all.
"It's an issue for us," says Blume, who promises there will be no artificial sound of a gas engine created in the cabin. "But we're a generation who has grown accustomed to it over decades. The sound doesn't really contribute to the speed and dynamics of a car. Maybe future generations won't associate that sound with that vehicle dynamism."