Is Vanda The Leader Of Electrically Powered Supercars?

‘IN SOME WAYS IT IS A LITTLE easier to make a new supercar today with electric technology. What is challenging from an engineering perspective is putting the average user in mind – who’ll get in, start up and drive at whatever speed for as long as they want to drive. That’s the challenge: range versus weight. Developing an electric vehicle is more straightforward, though, without spending tens of millions developing an engine.’

Ian Cluett is head of programmes at Williams Advanced Engineering, the team behind one of this year’s Geneva motor show stars, the Vanda Dendrobium. The new Singaporean supercar was one of several at Geneva that used electricity rather than combustion for propulsion, but surprisingly Cluett had never before considered our question: is developing an electric supercar easier than developing a conventionally powered one?

Given the glut of electric supercars to have debuted over the past 12 months, each boasting a 0-62mph time beginning with a 2 and asphalt-rippling torque figures, it’s not hard to imagine we’ll see an increasing number of electric rather than petrol-powered performance cars in the coming years. And it’s not so much an environmental imperative as it is down to the physics of electric propulsion: so prohibitively expensive is the process of developing and type-approving a conventional powerplant with Chiron-troubling performance, electric power seems increasingly attractive.

Producing an electric car with more power and more torque boils down to incorporating bigger electric motors and managing the temperature of the batteries that feed them. Projected performance figures for the Dendrobium are predictably impressive: a top speed of over 200mph and a 0-62mph time of 2.7 seconds. Power and torque figures aren’t yet quoted, mainly because Vanda and Williams haven’t yet finalised the specification. The prototype shown at Geneva uses a single, rear-mounted motor, but the production car will have another powering the front wheels.

A range isn’t quoted, either: by the time the Dendrobium reaches production, Williams expects battery technology to have moved on further, rendering any current guesses moot. Cluett does have a weight target though: a competitive 1750kg. The car looks impressive in the carbonfibre, as you’d expect with a name like Williams behind it. Far from being a cobbled-together showpiece, it’s a working prototype (albeit not at full performance just yet) with a Bridge of Weir hide-trimmed cabin, intricate details and a crowd-pleasing trick – the rear-hinged doors open like the petals of the flower from which the Dendrobium gets its name.

Unique entrance options were a recurring theme among Geneva’s electrically powered stars, from the Techrules Ren’s three-canopy cockpit to the Pininfarina H600’s pillarless clap-hands doors. Techrules, a Chinese R&D firm, commissioned Giugiaro to style its car, which uses a brace of range extending turbines as part of an electric drive train. The key figures here are 1269bhp and 1725lb ft across two axles, 2.5 seconds to 62mph, and 199mph flat out.

Coincidentally, Pininfarina’s handsome hybrid-powered saloon concept also posits the use of a turbine, with 20,000 hours of maintenance-free running promised and the ability to run on pretty much any fuel. Squint and it could be the next Maserati Quattroporte. German firm Artega is in on the electric act, too, with the Scalo Superelletra. Expect 50 cars from 2019 (if Artega manages to remain afloat – of which there’s no guarantee), a Dendrobium-matching 0-62mph time and sleek coachwork by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera.

Bentleys EXP12 Speed 6e is almost conventional in comparison. Effectively an electric, convertible version of the EXP10 Speed 6 unveiled at the 2015 Geneva show – and featuring an aged red leather and copper-finished interior that suggests someone in Bentley’s design department is reading too many steampunk novels – it’s a sign of Bentley’s intention to offer more electrification across its range. Despite its concept look, the styling of this year’s new Continental GT won’t be hugely different.

Continuing the electric charge is Renault, still exercising its policy (seemingly shared with Peugeot) of introducing achingly desirable concept cars that haven’t a hope in hell of ever reaching production. Latest to give the netherworld a chill is the Zoe E-Sport, which takes the meek and mild Zoe EV and splices in a pair of Renault’s Formula E motors for 456bhp and all-wheel drive. It looks brilliant. Chances of production? That clanking sound you can hear is Satan turning up the central heating.

Thankfully, both Ford and Toyota have announced spicy hatchbacks that you’ll actually be able to drive, and possibly even afford. Dressed in blue is Ford’s new Fiesta ST, which trades the existing which made its first European appearance in Switzerland, is up to 180kg lighter than the already-fleet outgoing model. It’s also lower, wider and shorter, and could pack as much as 140bhp in Sport form.

Ruf’s latest CTR – a tribute to the famous Yellow Bird of 1987 -makes five times that output. To call it a 911 would be a great disservice, given it has an entirely bespoke carbonfibre monocoque, carbonfibre bodywork, pushrod double-wishbone suspension front and rear, and a custom six-speed gearbox for its 3.6-litre, twin-turbo powerplant. Geneva’s most desirable car?

Over at Aston Martin, the British firm’s upcoming hypercar made its first public appearance and did so with a new name: Valkyrie. Alongside it were the first models in Aston’s new AMR line, a series that draws closer links with its racing efforts. Makes plenty of sense with the Vantage AMR Pro, which has 500bhp and wears Michelin’s Cup 2 tyres. Less so the Rapide AMR, though there’s a curious kind of appeal to a Rapide with carbonfibre seats and an enormous neon lime stripe down the headlining.

Across the way at Ferrari was the new 812 Superfast. Its 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 howls to the tune of 789bhp at 8500rpm, with 526lb ft at a heady 7000rpm, punching it all the way to 211mph and breaking the 62mph mark in 2.9sec. The F12tdf’s Virtual Short Wheelbase four-wheel steering returns, as does the astonishing, hero-making Side Slip Control.

Whether the fully electric power steering system – the first such setup in a Ferrari – is true to Maranello’s usual dynamic standards remains to be experienced. Lamborghini has been grabbing the limelight in a different way, comprehensively smashing the Nurburgring Nordschleife lap record with its Huracan Performante. It nips 40kg off the weight of the standard car and has an extra 29bhp, taking the total to 631bhp. ‘Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva’ -active aerodynamics, to you and me – are as much responsible for its lap time though, a ludicrous 6:52.01.

The man who set that time is Italian GT3 racer Marco Mapelli, who’d already confirmed his star status by sliding the Aventador SV to a 6:59 in 2015. The Performantei time is around five seconds quicker than Le Mans-winner Marc Lieb’s lap in a Porsche 918 Spyder, which goes some way to illustrating Mapelli’s commitment. Rumours that Lambo’s footage was sped up seem to have been unfounded – Porsche Motorsport boss Frank Walliser told evo’s Dan Prosser that he put the time down to little more than four years of extra tyre development.

Other Geneva stars included the new Pagani Huayra Roadster, which has 753bhp, an 80kg weight saving over the coupe and a £2million price tag. The Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo is undoubtedly the best-looking Panamera yet – and the first to offer a full five seats.

The new Audi RS5 is similarly appealing, even if it drops an eight-cylinder engine for a twin-turbo V6, but the Q8 sport concept – a revision of the Q8 shown in Detroit – seemed lazy, with just a colour change and a new grille to differentiate it from the non-sport concept at the American show. Much better, and one of Geneva’s sure-fire stars, is the Mercedes-AMG GT Concept. Think four-door, four-seat AMG GT and you’re not far wide of the mark. There’s 800bhp from a turbocharged V8 with – as is clearly becoming the norm – a little assistance from electrical power.

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