© Reuters. Two electric cars will be parked at YASA headquarters and manufacturing facility in Oxford, UK on August 24, 2021. Picture from August 24, 2021. REUTERS / May James
By Nick Carey and Giulio Piovaccari
OXFORD (Reuters) – Speed has always been of paramount importance to supercar manufacturers, and now they are in the race of their lives to go electric before climate policy turns off their internal combustion engines.
That’s why companies like Ferrari (NYSE 🙂 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 the most powerful vehicles.
Batteries are immensely heavy and electric motors overheat when driven too hard – big problems for a niche industry that charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for light cars that can screech 10 laps of a distance at full throttle.
That year, Daimler bought YASA, which developed a high-performance “axial-flux” electric motor that weighs 23 kg (50.7 lb), a fraction of a nearly 300 kg V12 engine in a Ferrari, and roughly the same size and shape of a steering wheel.
YASA already produces engines for Ferrari, the Swedish supercar manufacturer Koenigsegg and an unnamed British supercar company. It now supplies the high-performance brand AMG at Daimler, which will shortly take on the name of its car dealership Mercedes-Benz.
Just a few kilometers from YASA, Saietta has developed a range of water-cooled axial flux motors. The company is preparing to produce engines for the vast Asian motorcycle market, but told Reuters that it has created a larger prototype and is in talks with a hypercar maker, and that two others have expressed interest.
“These manufacturers know internal combustion engines forward, backward, and inside out,” said Graham Lenden, Saietta’s chief commercial officer. “But they don’t know about electric drives and are looking for someone to hold their hand.”
However, this is new territory; there is still no clear roadmap for electromobility for high-performance vehicles. Supercar manufacturers will have to invest billions of dollars to survive the disappearance of the internal combustion engine without the technologies they deployed paying off in the long term.
WEIGHT IS THE ENEMY
Supercars and high-end hypercars – both sports cars that come close to the performance of professional racing – are a highly profitable, capital-intensive niche market for automakers.
The consulting firm AlixPartners and the data company IHS Markit estimate that by 2021 there will be more than 152,000 “luxury” and “super luxury” sports cars with a price of 100,000 to 10 million% to 223,000 cars in 2026.
However, YASA founder Woolmer said his company’s long-term mandate from Daimler was to cut costs on future iterations of its engine so that the German automaker could use them across its range of vehicles as it switched to electric.
“Automotive technology doesn’t scale to volume overnight, you start with the premium niche sectors,” says Woolmer.
Ultimately, manufacturers of high-performance electric cars will have to find ways to develop lighter, more powerful batteries. However, since today’s battery technology cannot keep up with the continuous output of a gasoline engine, everything from the electric motor to the body material is being rethought.
Axial flux electric motors are flat, round devices – known as “pancakes” – that are lighter and more efficient than traditional cylindrical “radial flux motors” or “sausages”.
YASA’s motor is oil-cooled, so it never overheats and is far more efficient than a conventional motor, says Tim Woolmer, who developed the device as part of his doctorate at the University of Oxford and founded the company in 2009.
Because the motor is more efficient, it can increase the range of an electric vehicle by up to 7%, or because it uses less power, automakers can take out some of the heavy batteries and reduce the weight of their vehicle by up to 10%, he added.
YASA has a small facility at its Oxford headquarters where it makes engines for Ferrari’s SF90 Stradale hybrids and 296 GTB hybrids and tests engines for AMG. Daimler is investigating how this production can be scaled up in its own plants.
Chris Harris, CEO of YASA, said the takeover by the German giant didn’t stop working with clients like Ferrari.
“They want us to keep working with our supercar customers because that’s the lead,” he added. “This technology, as it matures, cascades.”
Michael Leiters, Ferrari’s Chief Technology Officer, described the YASA engine in its hybrid models as “Automotive First”.
WANTED: BATTERY EVOLUTION
Auto companies are also looking beyond engines in their weight loss plans.
Mate Rimac, CEO of Croatian electric hypercar maker Rimac, said that the chassis and body of the C-Two model are both made of carbon fiber and that batteries are part of the vehicle structure to save weight.
The founding company https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/porsche-ag-croatias-rimac-set-up-jv-involving-vws-bugatti-brand-2021-07-05/ #: ~ : text = To% 20be% 20set% 20up% 20in, want% 20also% 20lead% 20the% 20JV a joint venture with Volkswagen (DE 🙂 luxury sports car unit Porsche, which will also include the VW Bugatti brand, also uses ” Torque vectoring “to increase performance – motors in the wheels help when cornering.
British sports car maker Lotus has developed a new electric platform made from lightweight aluminum alloys that reduces the structural weight of the vehicle by 37% and will begin production of its first fully electric sports car in 2026.
Lotus is part of China’s Geely and Malaysia’s Etika Automotive and also works as an automotive supplier and engineer for other automotive manufacturers. The company is in advanced talks to ship the platform to another automaker and has received expressions of interest from several others, said managing director Matt Windle.
“Given the cost and speed of electrification, collaboration is the way to go,” said Windle.
Chinese automaker FAW has teamed up with U.S. engineering and design company Silk EV to create Silk-FAW, which plans to build electric sports cars in Italy.
It uses carbon fiber components for the vehicle chassis and is looking for a high speed engine with copper wire technology from the aerospace industry to reduce the weight of the engine by 20% but is also looking into other options.
“Weight savings are even more important than higher levels of performance,” said Roberto Fedeli, Silk-FAW vice president for innovation and technology.
Weight savings and more efficient engines may be enough for most wealthy sports car buyers who use their vehicles for recreation or commuting and are unlikely to want to take multiple high-speed laps of a racetrack.
Those who do can wait a long time.
“If batteries don’t go through a massive revolution, they’ll never carry the amount of energy a fuel tank can carry,” said YASA founder Woolmer.
“It will take a while for longer races.”
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