Electric vehicle start-up is going to teach old dogs new tricks
With premium EVs now producing more power than a Formula One car, and enough range so you’ll want to stop before they do, the number of ways a car maker can differentiate its product have diminished. Without the distinctive sounds and characteristics of an internal combustion engine, the opportunity to reflect individuality boils down to design.
Ultra-premium EV start-up Aehra (pronounced "era") is planning to do it with Italian flair and design and good old fashioned common sense … and the debut of its second new car design, at the Milan Auto Show last Friday, demands we take notice.
The thing about "common sense" is that it really isn't all that common at all, and although traditional vehicle manufacturers have been trumpeting for decades about the coming “freedom of design” offered by the new and liberating electric vehicle architecture (no massive engine and gearbox and traditional drive-train tunnel to dictate the layout), both Aehra’s saloon (at left) and SUV (at right) offer substantially more cabin space than any SUV currently available, without being larger externally.
The formula is grade-school simple and is so compelling that it is certain to force a rethink by Aehra's time-honored competitors. What Aehra has done is begin with a long wheelbase and short overhangs (the amount of car that sticks out beyond the wheels), utilize the flat floor enabled by the everything-by-wire architecture, and use ALL of the space wisely.
Aehra spokespersons have consistently emphasized how large the SUV's internal space is. One of the oft-heard phrases uttered in interviews by Aehra execs is that the Aehra SUV can accommodate four professional basketballers (that is, 4 X seven-foot-tall people) in complete comfort - in a vehicle that is the same size externally as existing SUVs. When we get a chance to run a tape measure over the internals of both cars, we'll report back as to how well it compares to the current crop of premium SUVs, but until then, we are prepared to take Aehra's word for it.
The ambitious Italian-American car manufacturer is preparing to open its order books in 2024 and begin delivering cars in 2026, so it is beginning to crank up the publicity machine as those dates approach. It showed the SUV in late 2022 and has been doing the executive interview roadshow and incremental release of details in the first six months of 2023.
If the Public Affairs campaign has been bringing the pot to a boil, the lid came off completely last Friday with the first imagery of the Aehra sedan released. The performance-focused electric saloon will compete directly against the Porsche Taycan, the Tesla Model S and Mercedes-AMG EQS.
The new Aehra models will use advanced composite SMC construction (SMC - Sheet Molding Compound which presses out cars like they do from steel) that will have greater strength and torsional rigidity and be some 15 to 20 percent lighter than cars of a similar size. It will also enable the production process to be scaled for greater numbers, increasing margins. The saloon and SUV will share the same 3.0m-long monobody platform.
With light weight, a low frontal area and obviously excellent aerodynamics, the saloon's 120kWh energy reservoir is estimated to be good enough to take it 500 miles between recharges. Aehra has sought out a long term partnership with Austrian battery manufacturer company Miba to ensure it can offer the very best energy storage available on an ongoing basis.
Miba claims its NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) batteries can initially offer "ultra-fast charging at up to 350 kW and a peak voltage of up to 925 volts providing a range of up to 800 km with as much as 120 kWh", but quite clearly, that bar will keep getting raised as technology's progress is hastened by competition. Like other vehicles with massive power storage are expected to offer in the near future, bi-directional charging means the saloon and SUV will offer customers the ability to return electricity to the grid and power their homes. This will prove particularly useful to customers who power their homes using solar energy harvested from photovoltaic panels.
In announcing the battery partnership with Miba, Aehra's Chief Engineering Officer (Franco Cimatti) said, "Most home batteries are rated at 10 to 15kWh, which is fine in the summer months but can prove problematic during heavy winter snow falls when the photovoltaic panels become covered in snow and are temporarily unable to generate energy. But if you have a car sitting in your garage with a 100 to 120kWh battery, that energy can be utilized to power a home for up to ten times longer than a conventional house battery."
The cars will share a three motor power train, with two power units on the rear axle and one up front, but an electric motor partner has not yet been announced. What is known is that the three motors will have a total output in the ballpark of 800 horsepower, so it won’t be Aehra’s fault if the kids are late for school.
One of the most interesting aspects of the new manufacturer's philosophy is its commitment to source the finest OEM components and share them across its model range. Aehra has already acknowledged that the Aehra saloon and SUV will share 70% of their components, and that trend can be expected to continue as the model range evolves.
There is known to be a third Aehra model yet to break cover, which has so far just been designated as a 2+2 Grand Tourer, and all three cars are destined to sell in the ultra premium range of EUR €160,000 to €180,000 (loosely, USD $175,000 to $200,000).
Aehra's aim is to rapidly scale total production of the three-model range to 25,000 sales apiece by mid-2027.