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Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 E-Ruf Concept Model A

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2008 E-Ruf Concept Model A
2008 E-Ruf Concept Model A

Pfaffenhausen, Germany — Just as we are wrapping up the details with Alois Ruf regarding our long-awaited drive of his 700-bhp CTR3 supercar, he drops a bombshell before he hangs up the phone, "How would you like to drive a top-secret Ruf that has been under development?"

Huh? Could this be a Ruf even more powerful than the already frighteningly potent CTR3? Without hesitation, I said an emphatic "Yes!" — not waiting to even begin guessing what the secret Ruf project could be. Several follow-up phone calls and a couple of weeks later, I arrived at Pfaffenhausen to sample Ruf's latest creation: the E-Ruf, an all-electric concept car based on the Porsche 997.

After an early morning appointment with Ruf at his headquarters, we take a short drive to his skunk works, a nearby location he calls Gmünd — the city in Austria where Ferry Porsche first set up shop and built the famed 356. It's a foggy morning, and Ruf's secret R&D location emerges among a nondescript cluster of other buildings. As the garage door rolls up, a standard black 997 appears, wearing four large orange stickers with the word "Erprobungsfahrt," that is, "Test Drive," on the front and rear bumpers. Look closely and you'll notice that all the air scoops in the front, sides and back of the 997 are now filled in and smoothed over. Peering into the cockpit, you'll see a dash filled with test gauges and a center stack equipped with several switches and connectors. Gone are the rear seats, replaced with a big hump just touching the back of the front seats.

It was about two years ago that Ruf decided to partner with Calmotors of Camarillo, California, to develop an all-electric powertrain package for the Porsche 997. At the heart of the E-Ruf is a 200-lb. electric motor built by UQM Technologies in the U.S. The drum-shaped, brushless a.c. motor — 15.9 in. in diameter and 9.5 in. in length — resides right where the internal-combustion flat-6 normally would. Its system voltage is between 300 to 420 volts at 550 amperes; the motor peaks at 5000 rpm. It generates 150 kW (200 horsepower) and 479 lb.-ft. of torque. Energy storage onboard comes in the form of 96 lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Axeon of Great Britain. Each of these 3.3-volt cells has a life cycle of 3000 charges. In total, the battery pack takes 10 hours to fully charge at 16 amps.

Like many concept cars, the E-Ruf is an early prototype, by no means a production-ready car. Subsequent models will follow as the development progresses. In fact, this E-Ruf still retains the 997 clutch and the 6-speed manual transmission. In its final iteration, only one gear is necessary because an electric motor's torque output is instant and the speed is easily reached without multiple gears. And further, there is no need for a reverse gear because you can simply reverse the current and spin the electric motor backward.

But unlike many concept cars, the E-Ruf is driveable. With 479 lb.-ft. of torque available the instant you tip in on the accelerator, the E-Ruf moves off quickly with minimal fuss. As the mechanical sound you hear is the whine from the electric motor, wind and tire noise suddenly become more noticeable. In fact, you feel like you're in a spaceship blasting through the galaxy (especially in the thick fog). To slow down, regenerative braking is currently set at about 25 percent, pending final evaluations to achieve optimal brake feel.

On winding roads, the E-Ruf's 4200-lb. weight is apparent as soon as you make a quick steering input. The batteries alone weigh some 1200 lb., and occupy all of the trunk space up front and all of the room inside the big hump where the back seat used to be. Naturally, the balance of the car is not nearly (nor is expected to be) the same as the standard 997's. Ruf would like the E-Ruf to hit 60 mph in under 7 seconds, reach a top speed of 160 mph and have a maximum range of between 155 to 200 miles depending on driving conditions. We can also expect improved handling worthy of the Ruf name.

Alternative power must be on all car enthusiasts' minds. Will electric, or other sources of energy, take away the excitement, speed and handling we've long associated with internal-combustion gasoline-burning sports cars? Nobody knows for sure, but it's reassuring to know that Alois Ruf doesn't think car enthusiasm and environmental friendliness are on divergent paths. And people like Ruf keep large manufacturers on their toes by accomplishing something without a huge budget. We can't wait to drive the E-Ruf in its final form.