Just what the world needs — another electric supercar from a mysterious Chinese company no one has ever heard of. No, it’s not Faraday Future, Atieva, 2050 Motors, or NextEV this time. This company is called Techrules, and its ground-breaking, earth-shattering, never-seen-anything-like-it car is named the Turbine Recharging Electric Vehicle, or TREV. Supposedly, it will be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March. For now, all we have to go on is this “Flight of the Valkyries” style logo.
Techrules is a new automotive research firm based in Beijing. Its stated goal is to “develop disruptive powertrain technologies,” according to Britain’s CAR magazine. It’s a subsidiary of TXR-S, which specializes in aerospace, high-tech materials, and biogas. The TREV may or may not be vaporware. We should know soon enough. The only information released so far says the car will have 1,030 hp — so much for those wimpy other cars that can only manage 1,000 horsepower! It’s stated range is 1,242 miles.
Gas turbine range extender engines have been tried in battery-powered cars before, most recently in the still-born Jaguar C-X75 concept that went public in Geneva six years ago. The idea makes sense, but the Jaguar was oh-my-god expensive at a time when the world was still in the grip of a global economic meltdown. Actually, the world is still in the grip of a global economic meltdown, although you would never know it, based on the number of supercars and megayachts begin produced.
Talk of gas turbines may seem like science fiction to some, but the company most actively promoting then today is Wrightspeed in San Francisco. It is headed by Ian Wright, one of the founders of Tesla Motors. Wright sold his shares in Tesla and went off to pursue his dream — electric garbage trucks. Sure, go ahead and snicker. How could anyone be so stupid as to walk away from one of the best investment opportunities of the 21st century?
Wright has no regrets. Like Musk, he sees electric vehicles as the cure for pollution-belching, fossil-fueled cars and trucks. But he thinks it is better to start by cleaning up heavy truck emissions first rather than building premium sedans for well-heeled venture capitalists, litigators, and investment bankers.
Wright and his team of engineers have developed a new, highly efficient gas turbine they call Fulcrum. It operates at a steady 100,000 rpm regardless of what speed the vehicle is at. Wright says Fulcrum is 30% more efficient than any other turbine and has three times the power output. It runs so clean it meets all of California’s rigorous emissions standards without a catalytic converter. It can run on diesel, CNG, LNG, landfill gases, biodiesel, kerosene, propane, heating oil, or any other combustible fuel.
Wright says each of his heavy-duty electric garbage trucks can save fleet operators up to half a million dollars in lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to a diesel-powered vehicle over its useful life. That’s the kind of economic argument fleet operators will find hard to ignore.
Will the new TREV turbines be similar to those Wrightspeed has developed? If so, they could signal a significant shift in plug-in hybrid technology while we wait for breakthroughs in batteries to reach production in a decade or so. The Wrightspeed Fulcrum weighs only 250 pounds. The Tesla 90 kWh battery weighs more than 1,200 lbs. What if an electric vehicle could have a range of over 300 miles with a battery that weighs only 600 lbs and a micro-turbine?
Techrules might be important not because it makes a car that can do the castle run in less than 12 parsecs but because it paves the way for electric cars that eliminate range anxiety completely. What an interesting prospect.