Grand Tour: The Piëch GT
A quick recap to begin with, starting with the 2019 Geneva Motor Show as a point of departure: An imposing, black exhibition stand serves as the launch pad for a striking new automobile brand, one that unabashedly flaunts its name while audaciously taking on the established players – unafraid of looking ahead, innovating, thinking big. The Piëch letters tower above the action in cool silver writing on a black background that is visible from afar in the teeming trade show crowds, boasting an astonishing level of self-assurance near the likes of Bugatti and Porsche. Unlike Piëch Automotive, however, the big name manufacturers have neither a cool bar nor a car that arouses as much curiosity as the Piëch Mark Zero, a picture-perfect sports car concept in matte silver-gray with the clear yet powerful design of a classic grand tourer. Long hood, short rear, flat and wide – absolutely brilliant proportions. Carved from our dreams with relish using a sharp scalpel. Its main features? As little as possible – that seems to be the mantra here. That way you can savor the sports car experience in a genuine and undiluted form, says Toni Piëch, co-founder and CEO of Piëch Automotive. The goal is to transport the driving pleasure of a classic sports car into the electric age. To make this happen, one synchronous motor produces 150 kW at the front axle, while another two synchronous motors with 150 kW of power each provide additional thrust at the rear. Rea Stark Rajcic, co-founder and creative director, sums it up in an unconditionally simple way: “Drivers of our sports car should enjoy every moment they spend behind the wheel.”
The project was born out of a love for the idea of the pure sports car. A modern classic that is not bound by any consumer cycles. If it succeeds, it will have earned the right to call itself an icon, to use the jargon of connoisseurs. Those are noble aspirations. To establish an enduring fascination, Piëch Automotive is utilizing an intelligent modular design that is as progressive as it is timeless. Development is to be carried out in cooperation with innovative suppliers, while production will be handled by renowned external partners, all of whom have made a name for themselves in contract manufacturing for established automotive groups. All in all, a powerful statement from a show car. Piëch was the talk of the town. Our interest was electrified. And how!
That was just under two years ago. And then?
We didn’t hear much more.
A black hole as a vehicle for dramatic effect.
And suddenly it’s back – and what’s more: it drives. Not just from A to B. No, this thing knows how to drive. Wants to be driven. A first worried glance at the design is followed by the all-clear. The design follows the original study to the letter. Nothing was deemed infeasible due to real world constraints, no manufacturing compromises had to be made. On the contrary. A second, closer look reveals the sports car to be even more attractive than the original concept. The delicate baby fat of the show car – which we only perceive now through comparison and hindsight – has disappeared. Everything is even more coherent, more elegant, more powerful and sleek. The design, as much as the concept and the technical details. Everything has been noticeably streamlined. Battery cell development, which had originally commenced in China, has since been relocated to Germany. The development team has moved into a new test center near Memmingen, with a test track and the appropriate logistics, to ensure that everything goes according to plan. The company remains headquartered in Zurich.
The car also has a new project name: Piëch GT. That sends out a clear message: We’re getting serious. Moving ahead. Heading off on a long journey.
A press event in October of this year. At the Memmingen Test and Development Center. The real world car is unveiled. We switch directly to our conversation with Toni Piëch:
Why is Piëch Automotive entering the difficult automotive market after all?
If you look at the situation of many small manufacturers who have disappeared after just a short time, and when you consider the problems many established automotive companies are facing these days, this may indeed seem like a rather daunting prospect. But the automotive industry is undergoing a radical transformation right now – the key word here is disruption – and this holds enormous opportunities for small and agile manufacturers who, like us, can start out without any legacy burdens or past liabilities. That’s what made the whole thing so appealing to us.
What kind of foundations do you need, how much capital is required, where does the know-how come from in order to compete with the big players in the industry?
There is no blueprint for becoming an automotive manufacturer. We started with a core team of around twenty specialists, all of whom have extensive, long-standing experience in the automotive industry. We can also draw on a further group of around two hundred employees. Together, that gives us the necessary expertise. It is not at all our intention to compete with the big players in the industry. We cannot and do not want to do that. What we really want is to keep our overhead costs as low as possible, successfully occupy a market niche and make a profit while we’re at it. In our development, we are working with some innovative suppliers, while production is being carried out by renowned external partners who have all made a name for themselves in contract manufacturing for established automotive groups.
"But the automotive industry is undergoing a radical transformation right now – the key word here is disruption – and this holds enormous opportunities for small and agile manufacturers who, like us, can start out without any legacy burdens or past liabilities. That’s what made the whole thing so appealing to us."
What are you doing differently, better than others?
The new Piëch GT is the embodiment of pure sports car driving pleasure. Our package differs significantly from that of conventional electric cars, which usually have the battery installed in the underfloor area. We use a different arrangement. One part is positioned in the center tunnel, the rest on the rear axle. As a result, we can expect a similar axle load distribution and handling that had previously been the exclusive preserve of classic sports cars. This also enables a low seating position typical of a sports car as well as precise handling with immediate feedback to the driver.
What about the battery and the charging technology?
As an electric sports car, the Piëch GT features an innovative battery that can be charged to eighty percent of its capacity in less than five minutes using the fast charger developed by our partner TGOOD. The result is a WLTP range of around five hundred kilometers. Charging on any standard CCS2 fast-charging station takes eight minutes – also a top figure.
Why, of all things, is Piëch Automotive placing its bets on a sports car concept?
We wanted to rethink the car. This reimagining includes our modular concept, which allows for a wide variety of powertrain options and body designs. Our concept is future-proof. Thanks to the modular design, the software can be swiftly updated and the hardware, like the battery blocks, can be easily replaced. The modular structure also allows for flexibility in the choice of powertrain.
Do you have any further plans?
We do. Three variants are in the planning pipeline. In addition to a two-seater, there will also be a four-seater and a sporty SUV. Other concepts, such as convertibles or pickups, are also conceivable.
Why have you opted for in-house development with regard to the battery?
Together with our Chinese partner, we came up with a solution that enables the battery to charge in less than five minutes. But considering the later series production and the availability of the charging stations, we decided to bring the development to Germany. The compact and robust pouch cells not only enable easier thermal management, but the targeted curb weight of less than 1,800 kilograms, combined with the car’s approximately 450 kW (603 hp), allow the Piëch GT to accelerate from zero to a hundred in less than three seconds. The future clearly belongs to the pouch cells we use – especially in terms of fast-charging capability. We are particularly pleased that the battery was developed to our specifications and can be employed for further commercial use.
Has the financing been secured? How many cars are you targeting in the first year?
The financing rounds have been successful so far, and we can now confidently continue our journey towards market launch. We have focused on various core aspects of the company’s development as well as bringing in international thought leaders and advisors such as STJ Advisors in order to optimally position ourselves for Series B fundraising. Piëch Automotive made a product promise at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show. Today we can proudly state that we can deliver on that promise! The entire vehicle concept, including the powertrain and battery, is in place. We were able to convince our investors that our concept is sound, that we are meeting all the milestones in our product development, and that the core processes work. We are focusing on durability and sustainability and are opening up an additional business case for ourselves with the further development of our own battery cells. The Piëch GT will be produced at the facilities of a renowned automobile manufacturer, and we are already targeting a production volume of twelve hundred vehicles in the first year.