2019 Geneva motor show EV roundup
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Startup Piëch Automotive has a unique battery-cell design that is resistant to temperature gain from discharge and quick-charging, permitting air cooling. (Piëch Automotive)

Horsepower and kilowatts compete at 2019 Geneva Motor Show

There still was plenty of old-school horsepower making news at this year’s Geneva motor show in early March, but there was no question it’s fast becoming a kilowatt kinda world. The number of electric and electrified vehicles—concept and production-ready—on display made it abundantly clear that at least in Europe, electrification’s “if” definitely is no longer a question. And the “when” appears to be pretty damn soon.

Although there were legitimate newsmaking vehicle introduction all over the Geneva show, the poster child for Europe’s intensifying enthusiasm for electrification had to be Honda’s E Prootype, a near-production version of the universally-praised Urban EV Concept shown at Frankfurt in 2017. The Urban EV’s funky front bench seat is replaced by a familiar seating setup and the twin suicide doors also have morphed into four conventionally-hinged doors, but the e Prototype remains alluringly proportioned for the European market and its rear-drive layout insinuates Honda may not intend the production version to be a dull urban-transport pod.

But equally significant, Honda used the Geneva show to announce its entire model lineup in Europe will feature some form of electrification by 2025.

Audi chimed in by announcing it will have a full dozen EVs on sale globally by 2025 and unveiled the Q4 e-tron concept, a compact crossover that seems to be the bullseye for merging EV technology (and cost?) with consumer preference on both sides of the Atlantic for crossover packaging. The production version of the battery-electric Q4 is slated for the second half of next year.

Appearing to be in near-production guise and riding on parent company Volkswagen’s MEB EV-specific architecture, the Q4 e-tron concept, Audi said, packs 225 kW (302 hp) in its twin electric motors that of course impart the famed “quattro” all-wheel-drive—although under normal conditions, tractive power is biased to the 150-kW (201-hp) motor that drives the rear axle. The Q4 e-tron’s 510-kg (1124 lb!) lithium-ion battery pack can contain 82 kWh of energy for a maximum driving distance of more than 450 km (280 miles), which the company said is a class-leading figure.

EVs to cover mainstream and niche

Also building on VW’s projected-to-be-prolific MEB platform was the company’s lighthearted ID. BUGGY concept, an EV tribute to the Beetle-based dune buggies closely identified with California beach culture starting in the 1960s. The ID. BUGGY (not sure what the oddly-placed period is about, much less all the capital letters) was shown at Geneva with a 150-kW electric motor at the rear, but VW was quick to mention, “An additional electric motor in the front axle is also conceivable in order to realise a four-wheel drive with an ‘electric propshaft.’”  

Maybe as titillating as the concept itself is the ID. BUGGY as concrete symbol for the company’s recent statement that it will make MEB available to any company—from established to startup—wishing to develop an EV. Meanwhile, to underscore the fun-factor positioning of such a vehicle, VW said it’s the first concept derived from the MEB architecture to deliberately omit any accommodation for electronic driver-assist functionality.

Fiat’s become all but invisible in the U.S. market, but its traditional place on Europe’s small-car game-card means it remains a viable brand for the Continent’s EV expansion. Fiat’s Centroventi concept was another of the Geneva show’s intriguing variations of the EV recipe by showcasing a modular battery arrangement that allows for quick and simple modification of battery capacity. The base battery capacity delivers a range of about 100 km (62 miles), Fiat said, but up to three more battery modules can be purchased or rented to increase range up to 500 km (310 miles).

French maker Citroen had its own quirky EV at Geneva, the Ami One concept. The tiny 2.5-m (8.2-ft.) long, 1.5 m (4.9 ft.) high Ami One has two asymmetrically-positioned seats and a top speed of 45 km/h (28 mph) and range of 100 km (62 miles); recharge time using typically available public charging equipment is about two hours, the company said, with further details of drivetrain to come later. 

Ami’s quirkiest feature probably is the identical doors that open right and left in opposite directions. Other components such as front and rear fenders are also identical to save manufacturing costs. In France, a production Ami One would be graded a light quadricycle, which would not require users older than 16 to have a driver’s license. 

Kia unveiled the Imagine concept at Geneva as its first dedicated EV passenger car. Sized at the upper end of Europe’s midsize C-segment, the company said the husky crossover with intimations of muscle car, “is intentionally designed to not sit within the industry’s predefined vehicle categories.”

Kia didn’t provide detail of the Imagine’s driveline or architecture, but did say it partnered with tire maker Goodyear to create the 22-in. (559-mm) Intelligrip EV concept tires, which are embedded with sensors “to detect road conditions and communicate with the Imagine by Kia to ultimately deliver improved driving performance” and are designed for the unique performance requirement of EVs.

Supercar, super batteries

Far less prosaic than most of Geneva’s EVs was the Mark Zero from European startup Piëch Automotive, co-CEO’d by Toni Piëch, son of gifted engineer and auto executive Ferdinand Piëch who is part of the Porsche family. The Mark Zero’s developers, who started the company in 2016, said in a release—without providing detail—that the concept uses new type of battery cell design that is markedly more resistant to temperature increases from fast-charging and energy depletion temperature increases, keeping temperature hikes to within 10-15 deg.

The batteries are supplied by China’s Desten Group, said the startup automaker, adding that the batteries’ unique properties mean air-cooling is sufficient; the elimination of a liquid cooling system for the batteries cuts approximately 200 kg (441 lb) from the battery pack’s weight and helping keep overall weight of the vehicle to less than 1800 kg (3968 lb).

The unique batteries also help the Mark Zero eschew the now-typical “skateboard” design arrangement for EV battery packs and chassis—instead, the Mark Zero places batteries om a central tunnel area and over the rear axle, which the developers say enables a sportscar-like low seating position and optimized weight distribution.

"We designed a sports car that we would also buy ourselves,” said Toni Piëch in a release. “And we have long talked to many enthusiasts about what's missing in the marketplace. We want to offer a modern classic that is not subject to cycles of consumption.”

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