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Porsche and electricity: Closing the Circuit

Everyone's talking about the Taycan right now. »The first all-electric Porsche,« they say. That's only half true. With the »Lohner-Porsche«, Ferdinand Porsche implemented the idea of an electric car thirty years before the company was founded. We go in search of clues.

Text: Alfred Rzyski Photo: Porsche 18.09.2019 3 min

Swim with the current? That never was Porsche's thing. Driving with the current is more like it. See: Taycan. The recently introduced sports car is not the first purely electrically powered vehicle with the name Porsche. This tradition was founded more than a hundred years ago by the so-called »Lohner-Porsche« at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900.

Through experiments with electric circuits in his parents' house, an internship at the electrical engineering company »Béla Egger & Co.« and the first electric vehicles, Ferdinand Porsche comes to the carriage builder Lohner in 1899, who, in view of falling sales figures, was looking for a new drive for his horse-drawn carriages. Together with the young Ferdinand, the so-called »Lohner-Porsche« is created just in time for the 1900 World Fair in Paris, to prepare the established company for the future - a situation similar to that at Porsche almost 120 years later. Its drive is also purely electric: Long before Porsche's own sports car brand was founded, the six-cylinder boxer was born and Porsche called Stuttgart his home, the alternative powertrain made its way into automotive engineering and the history of Porsche.

At the turn of the century, the innovative vehicle amazes the world public with an innovative wheel hub motor, i.e. a drive that, in contrast to the contemporary competition and its own predecessors, managed without belts, chains and transmissions. The power directly affects the wheels and is unbeatably efficient at its time: 83 percent efficiency is beyond doubt impressive. With a system voltage of 80 volts, the two internal-pole electric motors operate on the front axle and accelerate the vehicle to a decent 35 kilometers per hour, all that with a range of around 50 kilometers. It is trendsetting in its time, but has not yet reached the breadth of society.

With a total power of just 5 hp, the two wheel hub motors are nevertheless a quantum leap - and the starting point of a rapid development: Porsche recognizes the challenge of range in electric mobility at an early stage and adds up to it in the same year by further developing the concept and designing the world's first hybrid vehicle, the »Semper Vivus«. Its front wheels with proven electric wheel hub drive are powered by a combustion engine that creates the needed electricity - so the Lohner-Porsche is another step ahead of pure electric vehicles, because with a range of 200 kilometers it has to charge less frequently. Then just as today, the trump card.

Not wrapped at all: With improved, wider windings of the electric motor, Porsche was able to reduce the weight of its now patented drive in 1902 without sacrificing performance - the smaller diameter of the motors pays off and the tires, which had often been maltreated up to then, now hold up without any problems. And development is also picking up speed on the racetrack. Just like at the Exelbergrennen 1902, where Porsche's own development can prove itself successfully under competitive conditions - the young designer at the wheel of his »Mixte« wins in the big car class. And thus proves to the public the efficiency of the mixed drive. Even Emperor Franz Joseph gets enthusiastic about the unique vehicle, but the electric drives start falling behind more and more under the enormous pressure of the much cheaper combustion engines.

After a long slumber, the electric technology returns over a century later to the now independent sports car manufacturer Porsche: In the Taycan, the electric motors move from the wheel hubs back into the chassis, and a combustion engine is completely dispensed with. Instead, the system voltage increases tenfold from 80 to 800 volts and both charging, and the vehicle itself are faster than ever. With the equivalent of 761 hp in overboost, the Taycan catapults itself from 0 to 100 in 2.8 seconds and is ready for 100 more kilometers in just 5.5 minutes charging time. What will the future bring? The certainty that Porsche will not simply continue to swim with the current. Rather, it drives with it.