Oxford, England – Speed has always been paramount for supercar makers, and now they’re in the race of their lives to go electric before climate policy cuts their combustion engines.
That’s why the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz are turning to start-ups such as Oxford-based electric motor company YASA for expertise and technology to solve the unique challenges of electrifying the highest-performance vehicles.
Batteries are immensely heavy and electric motors overheat if driven too hard – big problems for a niche industry that charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for lightweight cars capable of screaming round 10 laps of a track at full throttle.
This year Mercedes-Benz bought YASA, which has developed an “axial flux” high-performance electric motor that weighs 23kg, which is a fraction of a near-300kg V12 engine in a Ferrari, and is about the size and shape of a steering wheel.
YASA already makes motors for Ferrari, Koenigsegg, plus an unnamed British supercar company. It will now supply the high-performance AMG brand.
Based just a few miles from YASA, Saietta has developed a range of water-cooled axial flux motors. The company is gearing up to produce motors for the vast Asian motorbike market, but told Reuters it had created a larger prototype and was in talks with one hypercar maker, and that two others had expressed interest.
“These manufacturers know combustion engines forwards, backwards and inside out,” said Saietta Chief Commercial Officer Graham Lenden. “But they don’t know electric powertrains and what they’re looking for is someone to hold their hand.”
Yet this is uncharted territory, with no clear road map to electric for high-performance vehicles yet. Supercar makers will have to invest billions of dollars to survive the disappearance of combustion engines, with no guarantee that the technologies they adopt will pay off in the long term.
Weight is the enemy
Supercars and the highest-end hypercars – both sportscars that verge on professional racing level performance – are a highly profitable, capital intensive niche market for carmakers.
YASA founder Woolmer said, though, that his company’s long-term brief from Daimler was to bring the costs down in future iterations of its motor so the German carmaker can use them across its entire car …….