2015 Renovo Coupe First Ride
Silicon Valley Takes a Swing at the Electric Supercar
Who in their right mind would enter the car business? Surely not a couple guys from Silicon Valley founding a company in a garage near the one in which Apple was founded, especially when these guys know that while GM and Apple garnered similar gross sales receipts last year, Apple kept 21 percent of its take and GM kept only 2.5 percent. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Jason Stinson and Christopher Heiser are doing in launching Renovo Motors.
Just as Tesla did, these guys are starting out by electrifying an existing, well-engineered body and chassis, theirs being the Shelby American CSX9000 continuation-series Cobra Daytona, mildly redesigned (widened) and reengineered for greater comfort by the original designer Peter Brock. The chassis has already proven its ride/handling chops with combustion propulsion, and by preserving the weight balance and maintaining or increasing the weight-to-power ratio, the original’s dynamic brilliance should be maintained (though we’re eager to assess its new electric power steering). That’s the theory that will be proven out over the next year leading up to the Renovo Coupe’s anticipated late 2015 on-sale date.
Three modular lithium-ion battery packs are employed, one behind the driver and two of them in the engine compartment, under the long rectangular power electronics units that are canted about 10 degrees each to sort of look like valve covers, with the orange wires that connect to them pretending to be big spark-plug leads. Two three-phase AC permanent magnet motors mount right behind them about where the bell housing would be on a gas Shelby, and they drive the rear axle directly (no forward gear ratios, just drive and reverse). The two motors are both rigidly mounted to the same output shaft, but selectively running them one at time or in tandem optimizes power and efficiency.
Those thin orange cables are your first clue that Renovo is utilizing an operating voltage about double that of other high-output EVs—740 volts. This greatly reduces the current required to achieve the target horsepower (500-plus) and torque (1000-plus lb-ft), which in turn reduces the cable-gauge required to support it (halving the voltage would increase the amount of copper required by roughly 50 pounds).
Renovo remains mum about many technical details, specific suppliers of the battery and other tech, and even the exact size of the batteries except to predict they’ll last 100 miles and recharge in 5 hours via normal level-2 charger (using the port under the left “gas cap”), or in 30 minutes with a high-voltage fast-charger (under the right “gas cap”). That last claim bolsters the assertion that the battery chemistry is heavily biased toward power, and enables track-day lapping sessions with fast recharges in between. We’re also assured that the car can regenerate more energy than most any other EV on the market, including the Porsche 918 Spyder. All of this is thanks to automotive-standard electronics operating on four CAN busses—these entrepreneurs managed to resist the urge to reinvent the wheel with a Linux system or something similar. Several big-name Tier I suppliers like Delphi, Continental, and Bosch are onboard confirmed, with others to be named later, along with the technical nitty-gritty and the purpose of those white falsie side “exhaust” pipes (I’m postulating ultra-capacitors will go there).
After 25 minutes or so of describing the car, Heiser invites me to jump in the shotgun seat for a blast around down California Highway 1 south of Carmel. The ride out of the neighborhood over iffy pavement reveals the adjustable Öhlins shocks to provide a reasonably supple ride. Out on the highway a blast of WOA (wide-open accelerator, no throttles here) pins me to the seat and reveals no tapering of torque delivery. It’s very linear, and fairly epic. Heiser claims that with their control electronics, throttle requests can be processed and delivered in 37 milliseconds—that’s way faster than an air-pumping reciprocating-mass combustion engine of similar output can react, so Renovo reckons its car will be more fun to drive than most conventional supercars. Because the motors are very firmly mounted (via polyurethane bushings) to the structure just inboard of your knees, you hear them loud and clear. And the sound is oddly automotive and not enhanced at all via the radio.
The interior looks entirely custom except for the Audi R8 shifter and a row of toggles that look Mini-sourced. Toggling that R8 shifter forward or back alters the amount of regen you get when lifting off the accelerator, which helps preserve the feel of the 6-piston front/4-piston rear Brembo brakes. Custom gauges indicate real-time torque delivery and electrical-system temperature on the left, speed and a “fuel” gauge on the right, and a small gauge indicating gear position, power/regen, and remaining range in the center. Speaking of temperature, the batteries and power electronics are liquid cooled via the Shelby radiator (a smaller more aerodynamic setup is coming).
Pricing will be discussed much closer to the production date (customer deliveries are anticipated to start in late 2015) but you’d better budget for middle six-figures. For that you’ll get 0-60 mph in a claimed 3.4 seconds, but with a top speed of just over 120 mph. That number concerns me because it might not be fast enough for some tracks’ long straightways. You’d hate for this claimed 3250-pound low-CG car to pass everyone in the twists, only to be overtaken on the straights. The company hopes to sell just 100 units over several years, taking advantage of their low volumes to sidestep some pesky airbag and crash-testing laws, though I’m assured the crash protection is robust. We look forward to verify Renovo’s performance claims before long.