The global market for electric cars is increasing at a rapid rate. Perceptions are changing, model ranges are growing, policies are shifting, vehicle capabilities are improving and the cars are becoming more accessible.
For many buyers, however, charging and the associated range-related issues remain a stumbling block. A modern electric vehicle (EV) might be capable of travelling upwards of 400km on a single charge, but it will often still require 45-60 minutes of high-power DC charging to top up its battery from empty.
That might not be a problem for the most part, especially if you’re charging while taking a break, but it’s still not as convenient as a five-minute refuelling session that sets you up for a substantial chunk of extra travel.
To tackle this issue, some manufacturers are doubling the system voltage of their electric cars from 400 volts to 800 volts. Doing so grants access to significant reductions in charging time, some weight savings and more consistent performance, making it an appealing move.
Porsche has ably demonstrated the reputed advantages of 800V architectures in its new all-electric Taycan. The company says, at 400V, the charge time for 400km of range would be between 40 and 80 minutes. Using its new 800V architecture and hooked up to an appropriately powerful charger, the required time drops to just 20 minutes.
More to the point, this means that just five minutes’ high-power charging can add 100km to the range of the Taycan, making the electric equivalent of a splash ‘n’ dash feasible.
The reduction in charging time will help allay frustrations about that particular facet of EV ownership, while the ability for short yet effective battery top-ups will further make EVs more viable and appealing.
Porsche also claims the more easily packaged smaller-gauge loom required by the 800V system has saved 4kg. Fractional, at best, but a reduction nonetheless.
This is all possible because switching to 800V allows manufacturers to tackle one of the major limitations in terms of power outputs and recharging rates in EV: the amount of current that can be handled by charging systems and the vehicle infrastructure.
Doubling the voltage, from the conventional 400V to 800V, effectively means that only half the current is required if you wanted to just deliver the same amount of power. The potential benefits are myriad; thinner, lighter wiring can be used, connectors do not have to be as bulky and as heavy-duty, and electrical losses and thermal issues are reduced.
The net result is a solution that permits advantages such as improved charging capabilities without bulky components and wiring, more consistent performance, reduced temperatures and reductions in weight, many of which can contribute to an increased driving range.
This isn’t a new concept, mind, and nor is Porsche the only manufacturer using it.
Croatian automotive manufacturer and technology specialist Rimac, in which Porsche now has a 24 per cent stake and tens of millions in investment, has reportedly been employing 800V systems since 2011.
Audi also utilises 800V architecture in its new e-tron GT, the sister car to the Taycan, while Koenigsegg is employing it in its new Gemera hypercar and electric truck manufacturer Rivian is considering 800V solutions as well.
Component manufacturers such as Yamaha Motor, Delphi and ZF are beginning to introduce high-performance 800V parts, too.
Although the technology is currently limited to higher-end models, some mainstream manufacturers are starting to develop and even introduce 800V systems.
For example, the Hyundai Motor Group’s new Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP), which is used in the new Ioniq 5 and destined for a series of other cars, operates on 800V.
Hyundai claims that an 80 per cent state of charge is possible in just 18 minutes and, as is the case with the Porsche, that 100km of driving range can be added in just five minutes.
General Motors will similarly integrate 800V capabilities into its new-generation electric Hummer range and Volkswagen Group will roll 800V architectures out to larger models underpinned by its upcoming PPE, the first to market being the Audi A6 e-tron and expected to be followed by all-electric versions of the Audi Q5 and Porsche Macan SUVs.
Around the world, electric car sales should top five million units and account for five per cent of the market in 2021.
By 2030, according to technology market analyst Canalys, almost half of new car sales could be accounted for by electric vehicles.
Reducing charging-related issues is only one of the required elements to bolster the uptake of electric cars, though.
In Australia, in particular, a lack of incentives and EV-related targets are causing limited market growth.
Just 6900 EVs were sold in 2020, which was just 2.7 per cent more than the 6718 sold in 2019, according to data from the Australian Electric Vehicle Council.
Such a hike is negligible; in Europe, the EV market share rose from 3.8 per cent to 10.2 per cent in the same year.