SEAT announces first EV; Altea XL Electric driven

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

SEAT announced today that it is to launch its first electric car in 2016, a plug-in hybrid in 2015, and that a 12-car test fleet of EVs and plug-in hybrids is going out to Spanish governmental institutions for real-world evaluation. The Altea XL Electric and Leon Twin-Drive plug-in hybrid have both been developed and built at SEAT’s Technical Centre at Martorell, near Barcelona, and when production begins the Martorell plant is set to make these vehicles. The production models will be variants of conventionally-engined cars in the SEAT range rather than stand-alone models, and will be built on the same lines.

Speaking at a conference at Martorell earlier today, SEAT president James Muir said that “the parallel strategy of developing two different technologies will put us in a position to meet customer needs in the future.” Whilst the core tech is essentially the same as that of the other plug-in Volkswagen Group models – due to economies of scale and development costs – SEAT has been tasked with making the e-powertrains accessible and affordable for the mass market.

Five Altea XL Electric prototypes are going out on test. These have an 85kW (115hp) motor delivering 270Nm of torque from start-up and a top speed limited to 135kph; recharging takes eight hours from a domestic supply or two hours on a fast-charger, and there are solar cells on the roof collecting energy to power the ventilation system. The batteries are housed under the rear seats and in the transmission tunnel, and luggage space or rear legroom are unaffected. Aside from its dash displays, the Electric’s interior is much like that of any other Altea.

Transmission is by a single-speed reduction set-up, with a selectable ‘S’ mode giving extra engine-braking to augment energy capture under deceleration. This feels somewhat disconcerting at first – the car slows very abruptly when you ease off the throttle – but is an effective way of boosting range; a further selectable ‘range’  mode, which limits top speed to 115kph, turns off the air con and heating, and remaps the throttle response, is an extra “emergency measure”, say engineers, to get you to a charging point as energy-efficiently as possible.

A central screen displays data and a graphic diagram depicts energy flow around the powertrain – when the battery is being charged from regenerative braking, for example. Drivers can monitor their car’s state of charge remotely via a phone app: this also allows them to pre-cool the interior or time their car to start recharging at night on a favourable electricity tariff.

At this point, the Altea XL Electric promises perfectly usable performance and a pleasant driving experience, and it feels a complete and near-production prototype; SEAT is ready to accelerate its introduction if this  is expedient. Company forecasts for near-future  EV sales are relatively modest (3-5% of sales in the next five to six years, says Muir), however, and there are issues still to be resolved, namely recharging infrastructure. This is being tackled by an initiative called Cenit VERDE, a partnership led by SEAT which includes technology companies, universities and research groups across Spain.

“We know that customers want to reduce their carbon footprint”, said Dr Matthias Rabe, vice-president for research & development, “but they will not compromise for daily driving, and we need to understand how they use their cars.” Work to be done, then, but consumers can expect affordable electric options in the SEAT range – an electric Mii city car is a likely contender – from five years’ time.

*More on the Leon TwinDrive to follow, plus more on SEAT’s e-mobility strategy at The Charging Point, to come.

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