► Chinese start-up readies 1030bhp supercar
► Turbine-recharged electric car, 2.5sec 0-62mph
► Six electric motors, 1200-mile range, 217mph
What's reputed to be China’s first supercar might look a little bit too much like a McLaren P1 from some angles, but the Techrules AT96 and GT96 TREV concepts at the 2016 Geneva motor show are certainly intriguing – if not for their appearance then certainly for their technology.
After all, it’s not every day you get to hear about a 1030bhp Turbine-Recharged Electric Vehicle with six electric motors and a theoretical top speed of 217mph, let alone one that looks like a carbonfibre biplane has crashed into the back.
Sorry – TREV stands for Turbine-Recharged EV? I thought it was going to be some kind of TVR tribute…
Er, no. What we’re dealing with here is one of the most unusual drivetrain concepts since, well, Jaguar had a go at something similar with the original version of its stillborn C-X75 supercar.
There have been various historical attempts to use a jet turbine to power a car (Lotus and BRM spring to mind plus, most recently, the mysterious Project 1221) but they’ve largely stumbled on the turbine’s limited tractability. The Techrules setup differs because it uses a very small 'micro turbine' to directly drive a generator that produces the electricity that powers the electric motors that actually turn the road wheels. Phew.
Thus the turbine is able to operate at peak efficiency at all times while the electric motors take care of the flexibility necessary for driving around.
Well, yes and no. The turbine and the generator share the same shaft, so in that sense it’s quite straight forward – even if the shaft is spinning at over 96,000rpm. All told, the entire mid-mounted powertrain of turbine, inverters, fuel pumps, air pumps and generator weighs just 100kg and is claimed to be so low maintenance that it would potential be sealed for life, with only the air filters needing renewal.
The turbine produces enough juice – 36kW – to drive the generator and power the ancillaries. Combine this with a 20kWh Lithium-Manganese-Oxide battery pack that can be pre-charged in just 40 minutes using a plug, and you’ve got a vehicle that Techrules claims could achieve 1569mpg and a range of over 1200 miles. Right.
Keeping things real (ish), Techrules also states it’ll be more like 59mpg if relying entirely on the TREV system to charge the batteries and power the motors. But even that’s not bad when you consider the theoretical 2.5sec 0-62mph time and 217mph top speed. The range on battery power alone is said to be around 93 miles.
As for having six electric motors, the system uses one for each front wheel and two for each wheel at the rear, where it’s easier to package two smaller motors than one big one.
Is any of this at all feasible?
Feasible? Yes. But we’d still reserve judgment – and any down payment – until we’ve experienced it in action.
The level of technical detail Techrules goes into in order to justify its claims is quite extraordinary – right down to the use of an ‘air bearing’ in place of conventional oil lubricant film in the turbine, and its choice of cylindrical battery cell. It also says it's concentrating on charging strategies rather than advanced battery construction in order to speed up charging times, which is a clever ploy if successful.
What’s more, Techrules apparently started testing the AT96 concept at Silverstone in February, so the system works to at least some extent. We’re struggling to believe it can really be deploying the claimed 6372lb ft of torque, though – the tyres would surely disintegrate in protest instantaneously.
What’s the difference between the Techrules AT96 and the GT96?
Aside from the distinct difference in design, the AT96 is powered by aviation fuel (and actually running), while the GT96 is powered by gasoline (and appears to be more of a styling concept).
Both are planned around a carbonfibre monocoque, with double wishbone suspension front and rear, a T-shaped battery pack under the floor, and the promise of four-wheel torque vectoring capability. Here’s hoping whoever’s doing the software writes as well as the people behind the press release.
What’s the end game?
Techrules’ plan is to bring a fully functioning TREV supercar with a target weight of under 1000kg (the AT96 weighs 1380kg) to market ‘within a few years’, as a true proof of concept. After that it would look to mass-market the technology by expanding into city cars and superminis.
Who on earth are Techrules, anyway?
Good question. It's a new automotive research and development company based in Beijing, whose stated aim is to develop disruptive powertrain technologies. It's a subsidiary of Txr-S, which specialises in aerospace, high-tech materials and biogas.
Read more of CAR’s 2016 Geneva motor show coverage here
Click here for CAR’s A-Z guide to the 2016 Geneva motor show