Tesla can take credit for proving to the world that electric cars can be fun, and faster than their internal combustion engine competitors. But while Elon Musk’s company is now set on showing EVs can also be affordable and accessible for the masses, with the minimalist Model 3, others are taking batteries and motors in the opposite direction.
The latest automaker to promise an electric car that’s excessively fast, luxurious, rare, and expensive, is Pininfarina-Automobili. The European newcomer’s vehicle, codenamed PF0, will go into production in 2020 and cost between $2 and $2.5 million. If you’ve got the cash, you get a hypercar that can reach 60 mph in under two seconds, top out at 250 mph, and offer 310 miles of driving between stops to recharge the batteries.
Another advantage to being the sort of person who can afford the PF0: You get to see what the thing looks like. So far, Pininfarina has only shown teaser images of the vehicle, which reveal a low car with the wheels pushed out the corners (a design allowed by using electric motors instead of an engine and driveshafts) and little else. When Pininfarina unwraps the actual sheetmetal at next month’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it will only invite potential buyers (ie, the rich). Everyone else will have to wait until the Geneva Motor Show in March 2019 to see it in full.
Yet the new automaker’s team promises a design that improves on todays’s EVs. “One of the main differences is a big central tunnel, because most of the battery will be between driver and passenger,” says design chief Luca Burgogno. Most other EV makers have opted for the Tesla-esque concept of a skateboard platform, with all the batteries under the floor, but Burgogno says that makes too high a profile for a hypercar.
If the name Pininfarina sounds familiar, you’re probably an Italian car connoisseur. “We claim to be a startup, but with 88 years of history,” says CEO Michael Perschke. That’s because Pininfarina has existed as an Italian design house since 1930, penning and helping build iconic cars for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, and so many Ferraris—64 in all—that it’s credited with helping shape the brand. It also worked on the sharp lines of the Cadillac Allenté, sold in the late-80s.
Pininfarina even went down the road of building an all-electric car with its own badge on the hood in 2008, which was supposed to go on sale in 2010. (If you want to see how far electric cars have come, check out the specs promised back then. 0-30 mph in 4.9 seconds, 125 miles of range, and a top speed of 80 mph.) Then the global financial markets melted down. By the time Indian conglomerate Mahindra bought the company in 2015, Pininfarina was $125 million in debt.
The reborn company still works as a design house for other manufacturers, but now it has new plans for its own line of vehicles. The price of the PF0 might be up there in the multi-millions, with the likes of the Pagani Huayra Roadster, but the eventual plan is for a range of all-electric cars, including luxury SUVs. Instead of chasing Tesla or Chevrolet into the high-volume, low-priced end of the market, it will model itself on Porsche or McLaren, automakers that offer vehicles for lawyers and doctors as well as oil tycoons. “We will become more affordable, but still be a luxury brand,” says Perschke. “Just like Rolex doesn’t sell plastic watches.”
Other niche players have caught on to the idea that high-performance and electric propulsion are far from mutually exclusive—and may soon become synonymous. Croatia’s Rimac builds EV powertrains (including the one installed in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding Jaguar E-Type), and its own Concept One and Concept Two (1.85 seconds 0-60), Tesla has promised a new Roadster (0-60 in 1.9 seconds), and another Indian company, Vazirani Automotive, just revealed a turbine-electric hypercar at the UK’s Goodwood Festival of Speed (0-60 TBC).
Pininfarina’s long history and new owner give it a solid shot at forcing its way into a competitive market. “We think we are the correct brand to propose this new idea of sustainable luxury,” says Burgogno. He has already recruited staff from Bentley, Bugatti, McLaren, and Ferrari. The time may finally be right for a Pininfarina badge to take the place of the prancing horse, or Winged B, or even the chromed T, on the hood of an electric.
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