This electric grand tourer will be a ton of fun to drive, with three motors combining for 450 kW (603 hp) and a lightweight body built for beautiful handling. But its biggest contribution could come from its high-capacity battery, which boasts some of the most extreme fast charging capabilities we've seen.
A little family history
Piëch founder, Anton Piëch, is one of 12 children of Ferdinand Piëch – the man who took Audi to new heights in the 70s and 80s, then presided over Volkswagen between 1993 and 2015, turning it into the juggernaut it is today and earning himself the title of Car Executive of the Century in 1999. For reference, the previous Car Executive of the Century was a fellow named Henry Ford, so he's in decent company.
Ferdinand's father (another Anton Piëch) married into the Porsche family two generations ago, but this new branch seems to be keen to continue the Porsche family naming traditions; looking back up the family tree it's nothing but Ferdinands and Antoniuses all the way back to a Wenceslaus Porsche some 230-odd years ago. In recent years, the Piëches and Porsches have been engaged in a bitter family feud over an automobile empire worth billions, largely driven by the relentless and ruthless ambition of Ferdinand Piëch –and apparently fanned by his interests outside the boardroom.
Young Anton, the man at the center of our story today, is half Piëch and half Porsche, born out of a scandalous 12-year affair Ferdinand embarked on with Marlene Porsche, who was married to his cousin Gerd Porsche at the time. He later ditched her for a nanny, adding fresh salt to the family wounds.
So young Anton's very existence may be something of a sore point in this royal family of German automakers. His veins are thick with blood from Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Bentley, among other brands his father corralled over the years. No pressure, then, as he strikes out on his own venture: an electric sports car company bearing the family name.
The Piëch Mark Zero
Scheduled for an unveiling in the next couple of days in Geneva, the Mark Zero is a sleek and sexy Swiss sports GT car with a fully electric powertrain. Each of its rear wheels gets a dedicated 150-kilowatt synchronous electric motor, and there's an asynchronous 150-kW motor for the front axle too. The car's total weight is kept under 1,800 kg (3,970 lbs).
Conceived as a "modern classic," the Mark Zero is designed to be modular, such that motors and batteries can be upgraded as future technology improves the state of the game. It could also be released in the future with a range of different powertrains, from hybrids to hydrogen fuel cells to full internal combustion options.
Piëch has put handling at the forefront of its efforts, locating the heavy battery packs in the center tunnel and around the rear axle in such a way as to recreate the weight balance of a typical mid- or rear-engined sportscar. Getting the batteries up out of the floor area also lets the Mark Zero run nice, low sports driving seats.
Desten's remarkable extreme fast-charging battery pack
The car alone would be worthy of attention; it looks like a serious contender in the developing electric sportscar market. But this thing may end up being as much of a publicity stunt for its battery pack as anything else.
Piëch hasn't released any details on the size or capacity of its battery pack, other than an impressive 500 km/311 mile WLTP range – WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, representing a closer match to real driving conditions than the old NEDC test cycle.
But the team is making extraordinary claims about charging, saying the Mark Zero is capable of blast-charging from 0 to 80 percent of its full capacity in 4 minutes and 40 seconds. The battery is built by Desten Group, Limited, a Chinese/German operation based in Hong Kong.
Desten is cagey with details about its batteries, but claims "exceptionally high charge rates, 10C or higher," as well as power density in excess of 1600 watts per kilogram. The company says its cells can be fast charged and discharged 5,000 times before they drop to a capacity of 80 percent, suggesting excellent longevity particularly if the cars are charged slowly overnight most of the time.
Desten also claims that even under extreme rapid charge rates, its cells "heat up very little while charging," meaning that Piëch and other companies that may employ them can save significant weight by ditching any liquid cooling systems that may be needed for other batteries.
The range figures quoted by Piëch would suggest a battery capacity somewhere around the 100 kilowatt-hour area, so an 80 percent charge represents about 80 kilowatt-hours' worth of energy jammed into a battery in less than five minutes. That's kind of outrageous - Switzerland's ABB currently claims the title of world's fastest DC fast charger with a 350-kilowatt setup that can give you 120 miles' worth of range in 8 minutes. The Piëch press release is claiming 240 miles of charging in a touch under five minutes – a rate nearly three and a half times faster.
One shudders to think what kind of heavy duty charging equipment you'd need for such a job, let alone charging equipment that can be safely handled by Joe public. But Piëch and Desten claim that the "necessary charging infrastructure" will be supplied by Qingdao TGOOD Electric Co. Ltd, another Chinese/German company.
A healthy degree of skepticism is appropriate here until we see that kind of charging in action, but if these guys have genuinely nailed this kind of fast charge technology, the Piëch Mark Zero and the consumer cars that follow (two-seat, four-seat and sporty SUV models are in development) could be among the first EVs on the road that genuinely neutralize the fast-fueling advantage of gasoline cars.
Next stop: affordability. Hopefully it doesn't take too long.