As you may have heard Ferdinand Piëch, the legendary (and feared) boss of Audi and Volkswagen and the grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand (Ferry), passed away this week at an age of 82 years. Piëch was reputed for many things, one of which was his dictatorial way of running first Audi and then VW. There is however no doubt that he was also a brilliant operator, winning numerous fights against both competitors and politicians (VW is still partly state-owned) through the years.
Less known is perhaps the fact that Piëch is the father of no less than 12 children from three different mothers. In the coming years one of these, Toni Piëch, will potentially revolutionize the car industry to an even greater extent than his father did.
Four years ago, Toni founded the car company Piëch together with his business partner Rea Stark Rajcic. Ever since, the partners have developed a battery-powered sports coupé called the Piëch Mark Zero, based on a new architectural concept said to be able to combine different bodyworks and different engine types. Piëch’s long term objective is to build three cars using the same platform, all through contracted, external constructors. As can be seen below, they’ve done a pretty good work with the first of those bodyworks, and the Mark Zero is a truly beautiful coupé, bearing some resemblance to the DB9 and even more the Alfa 8C, but still with its own look.
The Mark Zero has been seen at the Geneva Motor Show since 2016, and when I was there this spring, it was in a booth that was among the largest of the whole show – just one sign of the advantages (and financial power) the Piëch name brings with it. On my visit to the show I was invited to the booth and had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Toni, standing next to the Mark Zero. The man I met had very few of the traits his father was reputed for. Soft-spoken and more looking the part of an engineer than a car boss, he was delighted to tell me about his new baby, its electrical engine with very much similar KwH numbers and range than other current electrical cars (i.e. 80 to 100 KwH, I’m afraid I can’t remember). And then, just in passing, he also mentioned a battery charging capability of around 80% in 5 minutes. Yep, that’s 5 – five – minutes.
At first I was convinced I didn’t hear right, but the same numbers were confirmed a second time, now with the additional information that they work with a revolutionizing battery technology developed in China. This was however as much as Toni was willing to give away.
Piëch recently opened a showroom in Zurich where the company’s headquarters are located, where the Mark Zero is exhibited (actually the same car as in Geneva with production still being a few steps away). The guy in the showroom didn’t tell me much Toni had not already told me in Geneva, but he did confirm that the car will be compatible with the charging stations rolled out for example by Ionity through Europe – that would mean that the revolutionising concept is indeed in the battery technology itself, not in the charging.
This obviously raises a number of questions; why would the developer of this disrupting technology limit himself to working with an unknown, small car brand, rather than make a splash with far larger brands? I actually asked Toni this, and his somewhat evasive answer was that they wanted to preserve their independence and creativity, which doesn’t sound very convincing to my ears. But then again, turning all this around, when Toni set up his car company and developed the Mark Zero, Ferdinand was still very much alive, and knowing what we know about him, it would seem highly improbable that he would let his family name be dragged through the mud with an initiative such as this one, if there wasn’t solid substance behind it. But turning that around again, why would he then not have made sure the VW group could use the technology? Lots of questions with few answers for the time being and if you have thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them below.
Future will certainly tell. Maybe the Mark Zero like so many other initiatives – albeit not carrying the Piëch name – will never reach the market. Then again, the real interesting part is obviously not the car itself but the battery technology it hides under its chassis. If everything said about it is true, this could be the first true disruptor that revolutionises the electric car universe!