Going electric is like settling for becoming a bumper car.
Maybe the worst thing about this electric car business is the way it will — if it succeeds — homogenize cars, make one just like another in every meaningful way. Think about bumper cars. You pick a different body or color — but the cars are all exactly the same.
So it is with electric cars.
A motor is, after all, a motor. One spins the same as the others.
Unlike engines — which reciprocate. And which can be (and have been) made in an almost infinite variety of ways: Fours and sixes and eights and tens and twelves; in-line, 90 and 60 degree V. Horizontally opposed. Overhead valve and overhead cam.
Big and small block. Fuel-injected or turbocharged.
This variety having endowed the cars they powered with distinctive character. Consider, for instance, the Ford small bock V8. Nothing in the world sounds like a solid lifter-cammed 289 HiPo drawing air through a Holley four barrel.
Or — on the other end of the spectrum — the classic VW Beetle’s air-cooled flat-four. Not another car on Earth sounds like a classic Beetle — which even non-car people can ID by ear. This was a big part of the Beetle’s charm, the quality that endeared it to generations — notwithstanding that it was slow and effused more environmentally unfriendly compounds than the Exxon Valdez (almost).
Point being, for more than 100 years now, the engine has been the literal heart of the matter; the element that defined not only the car it powered but the brand it represented. Think E-Type Jaguars and the mechanical music made by the straight six. The contumacious bark of the Dodge Viper’s outrageous V10.
Rocket Oldsmobiles. Wankel Mazdas.
VTEC Hondas that spin to 9,000 RPM.
Benz diesels that chuff to life no matter what.
I just spent a week test driving the Fiat 124 Spider (reviewed here) which is a Mazda Miata in custom-made Italian sheetmetal threads. With one key difference. It has a different engine — smaller and turbocharged. And this makes it a different car, not just a skin job bumper car — as would be the case if it had the same engine as the Miata.
Or — far worse — an electric motor.
Which brings up, among other things, Porsche.
It stood alone as the only major car company to not embrace the electric car tar baby. And for a damn good reason.
What would Porsche be — the cars and the brand — without the uniquely Porsche boxer sixes that power them? What would make an electric Porsche any different from, say, a Tesla?
Which, for the record, sells cars that are bullet-quick. Quicker than most Porsches, in fact. The Tesla Model S is capable of accelerating to 60 MPH in about 3.5 seconds. It will not do so more than a few times, of course — not without running down its electric battery pack. But the point here is it is very quick, even if only briefly. The only Porsche (production model) that can match its acceleration is the 911.
But Porsche brings other things to the table — and not just being able to refuel in less time than it takes to run to the men’s room (as opposed to the minimum best-case 30-45 minute partial recharge that comes with the keys to an electric car).
Ever start a Porsche?
Ever turn on an electric car?
It is the difference between actual sex and Internet porn.
The Porsche is a machine that comes to life. The electric car is an appliance that moves.
The Porsche makes a sound like nothing else — because nothing else has a Porsche engine powering it. The electric car makes very little sound — a slight whirring is typical — and it sounds like every other electric car because all electric motors are fundamentally the same thing. Whether it’s a Prius or a Tesla or a bumper car at the amusement park. One electric motor may be larger and make more power than another, but the guts are the same. There is a magnetized case and a rod that spins within, the electromagnetic field imparted by current fed into the thing causing the rod to spin.
Key thing — electric motors, unlike engines, do not produce the power that propels the vehicle. They are basically transmissions. They translate the electric power of the batteries into rotational force, applied directly to the wheels, which move the car. An internal combustion engine creates the power that moves the car. It does so via a magnificent concatenation of explosions and inhalations and exhalations which give a particular engine its unique voice — and its unique character.
Porsche used to grok this.
The company resisted the mania to electrify. Perhaps because its execs understood that without internal combustion — without that Porsche flat six — a Porsche becomes something less than a Porsche.
An electric Porsche — no matter how quick — is just a very quick Prius, after all. A bumper car.
No more shifting, either — because electric cars have just one forward speed. No more heel and toe work, no more rev-matched anything. Just… whirrrrr.
And why spend Porsche money on that?
Porsche was the final watertight bulkhead. But the metal is buckling, the last critical compartment has begun to fill up. Bowing to political pressure, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume just recently announced that he expects half of Porsche’s total production to be electric by model year 2023. The first electric Porsche — the Mission E — is on deck for 2019.
It will be der untergang for Porsche.
Blume has decided to ignore the fact that Porsches — unlike electric cars — are selling gangbusters: 237,778 of them last year, a record and almost 40,000 more cars than Porsche had hoped to sell annually by 2018.
These are cars Porsche makes money on — which sell, in the honest meaning of that word.
Every market indicator indicates that most people are not interested in electric cars. Especially Porsche people. If they wanted an expensive (and quick) electric car, they’d buy Teslas, after all.
And Teslas — like all electric cars — require an elaborate scaffolding of government mandates and subsidies, without which almost none would be manufactured, let alone “sold.”
So why the selbsmordt?
Blume, like every other car company CEO — and especially German/European car company CEOs — is bowing to political pressures. Electric cars are being mandated into existence by the government — most aggressively by European governments, which have passed into law internal combustion No Go Zones. The only cars permitted in certain areas are electric cars. This is going to expand, if the cancer is not irradiated and cauterized.
And it will be the end of Porsche, which becomes just another brightly painted shell — a very expensive bumper car — in an elektrische zukunft.
Blume probably understands this perfectly. But can’t say so publicly. It may be his fate to preside over the demise of one of the most storied and magnificent car companies of them all.
Anneli Salo/Creative Commons