An all-electric version of the Aston Martin Rapide saloon has been unveiled – and insiders have hinted that in its most extreme form it could be developed with four-wheel drive and up to 1000bhp.
Called the Aston Martin RapidE, the new model is set to go on sale in around two years' time. Targeted first at China as a way of meeting pressing fleet average CO2 regulations, it has been developed by Williams Advanced Engineering in Grove with assistance from a Shanghai-based investment partner, ChinaEquity. Aston Martin eventually intends to offer the car for sale around the world.
Speaking exclusively to Autocar before the RapidE’s unveiling, staged as part of a UK-China creative summit to coincide with the UK visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping, Aston CEO Andy Palmer revealed that the car would potentially be available in two versions, the first of which will be a rear-wheel-drive model with similar power to the existing 550bhp petrol Rapide. That should have what Palmer describes as a “reasonably driven” range of about 200 miles.
However, the headline-grabber will be a shorter-range, super-performance version of the RapidE with a separate electric motor driving each of its four wheels, and a total of 800 to 1000bhp on tap. “We’re going to need the traction of all four wheels to deal with the torque,” said Palmer, who added that this second project will be developed after the first is launched.
In Track mode, the car will be capable of lapping the Nurburgring very quickly indeed, Palmer said, although he declined to specify a target time and cautioned that, when driven hard, the car's range will obviously be much shorter. The four-motor set-up should allow the RapidE the latest in traction-keeping torque-vectoring and regenerative braking systems, all of which will help its ‘Ring performance.
The RapidE’s styling hardly varies from that of the existing V12-powered Rapide S - apart from some special exterior graphics and some distinctive blue 'RapidE' badging. However, under the bonnet, the familiar V12 is replaced by a mass of Williams-developed power electronics, above a battery bank mounted along the car’s backbone.
Williams is one of the UK’s foremost developers of electric vehicles, having won plaudits for its development of the batteries used in latest single-seat Formula E racing cars. ChinaEquity, described by Palmer as “a business we know well”, is already an investor in Invest Industrial, which is one of Aston’s owners, and is believed to be putting up £50 million to make the RapidE project a reality.
Prices for the RapidE are expected to start at around £200,000 – up from around £150,000 for the standard car – although the top-spec version will be more expensive. If the car is well accepted by dealers and customers, Aston’s plan is to build about 400 cars a year, using the existing Rapide facilities at Gaydon.
“We are aiming to sell around 100 RapidEs a year in China and are pretty sure there will be a demand for cars in those numbers,” said Palmer. “We see luxury electric vehicles as an intrinsic part of our future product portfolio and welcome ChinaEquity into the next phase of product development.”
Palmer believes Tesla’s experience of selling around 35,000 battery-powered cars worldwide at roughly £100,000 each makes his plan of selling just 400 more upmarket models look realistic.
Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer
Do you believe the RapidE can carry on the performance traditions of Aston Martin?
“I certainly do. We already know electric powertrains combine luxury and performance extremely well, something our Rapide S achieves already. We think RapidE will fit the family very well.”
Do you have a running prototype?
“We do, and its performance is extremely impressive, even before the real work of refining it begins.”
Is this a car you’ve had to develop quickly, to meet Chinese regulations?
“There’s no question we’ll find it beneficial to our business in China, but it’s part of a long-term commitment from Aston Martin towards developing low and zero-emissions cars.”
Do you have the capacity to build it at Gaydon?
“We would build it in Gaydon, yes. But it’s a well-known fact that we will soon need to choose a new factory location to make our expanding product range, including the DBX crossover, which may also have electrified versions.”