First Drive Of Gumpert Plug-In, Alcohol Fuel Cell Supercar

APR 27 2018 BY MOTOR1 76

Gumpert’s electric supercar will do 186 mph, and it’s powered by alcohol and batteries.

You can literally feel Roland Gumpert’s excitement. The 73-year-old has experienced quite a bit in his remarkable career, but this project seems to have really grabbed him. The ex-Audi Motorsport Director, super sports-car manufacturer, and Nürburgring record holder (with his road-racing car Apollo) has invited us to a small studio in Ingolstadt, Germany, where he will show a few journalists his latest creation.

Traditional Fuel Cell – Here Is How Hyundai Improved Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars – Nexo

To be honest, we had almost no idea what to expect. There was talk of a new electric sports car. With Chinese support. Gumpert Aiways is the name of the new company. Further information? None. It makes it exciting. We are three weeks away from the ceremonial revelation at the Beijing Motor Show and Gumpert apparently wants to go in with a big bang. Take it from us: he should succeed.

You have probably already seen “Nathalie” in the accompanying photo gallery. Nathalie (yes, that’s really the car’s name) is wrapped in a rather elaborate purple paint, measures just over 4.2m long, and looks like a muscle car from the year 2030. If you look closer, you’ll recognise a lot of cues from the ultra-sexy Audi Sport Quattro concept of several years ago.

Strong Partner From China

Roland Gumpert spent 35 years with Audi; he will never completely forsake the four rings. In 1998, he moved to China as a board member for sales and marketing, where he set up the Audi dealer network with a local partner. The partner, a certain Mr. Fu, became a friend of Gumpert’s, and saw his eldest daughter grow up (bet you can’t guess what her name is). Now Gumpert and Fu have founded a new company for the construction of electric sports cars: a Shanghai-based outfit called Aiways. Though calling it a startup may be a bit understated, if you have a starting capital of 1.5 billion Euros. Gumpert acts for Aiways as product director. From 2019, there will be continental electric cars: Small cars, SUVs, buses, limousines. There’s a platform for eight different vehicle variants. The future production facility is designed to assemble 300,000 cars a year.

Revolutionary Drive

However, the flagship of Aiways comes from Germany, and should be produced there starting from 2019. Behind the name RG (for “Roland Gumpert”) Nathalie, which needs getting used to, is a truly revolutionary idea – at least for the automotive industry. Why revolutionary? Because this burly electric wedge drives with a methanol fuel cell.

In principle, you pour pure alcohol into the tank. This is heated to 300-400 degrees Celsius (572-752 degrees Fahrenheit). Carbon dioxide is emitted, and what remains is hydrogen, which is passed through the fuel cell to generate electricity. No one has done this so far, but the benefits are obvious: Lengthy recharging processes are completely eliminated.

Of course, they would also be eliminated with a “normal” hydrogen fuel-cell car, but here Gumpert’s system does not need a complicated and complex-to-design tank infrastructure. Any gas station could, in principle, set up a methanol dispenser overnight. The refuelling process is no different from filling a conventional car. On top of that, methanol costs only about a third the price of petrol.

The unconventional fueling system will give the RG Nathalie impressive driving ranges

“A classic electric car in the sense that I understand a car does not work,” says Roland Gumpert. “I drive 200, 300 kilometers [124-184 miles] and then I stop because the battery is dead. This contradicts my idea of freedom. Here I always have my generator on board, we reach proven ranges of at least 600 kilometers [372 miles]. If I drive economically, up to 1,200 kilometers [746 miles].” Why has none of the major manufacturers come up with this simple and ingenious idea? “Because they did not think enough,” says Gumpert.

The RG Nathalie is based on a tubular frame and has a body made of carbonfibre. The fuel cell sits in front, the batteries are T-shaped and distributed in the vehicle floor. The interior looks sporty and modern: pure and minimalist with a bunch of displays and novel-looking materials. The two-seater has a reasonably usable boot, weighs just under 1600kg, and has a weight distribution of 45:55 front-rear.

Drive is provided by four wheel-hub electric motors – one motor located at each wheel – with around 75 to 80 kilowatts of power each. The total system performance will be around 420- to 430bhp. Compared to other electric supercars like the circa 1,900bhp Rimac Concept 2 or the 1,350bhp Nio EP9, that sounds almost a bit weak. However, Nathalie should also cost only a fraction of what these vehicles cost, if still a heady £260 – £450,000.

And as for performance? Gumpert is more than confident: “This is clearly a super sports car. We have over 737lb ft of torque. The acceleration, the low centre of gravity, that’s just awesome,” he laughs.

Specifically, the RG Nathalie should accelerate to 62mph in under 2.5 seconds. The top speed will be 186mph. Four driven wheels are of course a must for four-wheel-drive pioneer, Gumpert. However, Nathalie does not need classic differentials anymore. Everything here is about torque vectoring. The car also has no gearbox in the true sense. The electric motors rotate at a maximum of 15,000 rpm and have a fixed gear ratio. The suspension consists of McPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone rear axle.

“From the sporting values, this car is the ultimate. We will also go back to the Nordschleife. I think we can keep up very well there,” Gumpert says. And he must know: He held the Nordschleife record for production vehicles for years with his Apollo. The 7-minute, 11-second time, which he set in 2009, should thus easily be cracked by the Nathalie.

Driving The Prototype

Today we’re not going quite that fast. Do you remember the Gumpert Explosion concept shown ahead of the 2014 Geneva Motor Show? The oblique supercar with a 420-hp turbo four-cylinder never made it to the show. But today, we’re able to take a short drive in an RG Nathalie prototype. It only drives two of the four motors, though, for testing purposes.

I take a seat and swoon silently away. Inside, the cockpit has many familiar pieces from the old Audi TT. Garnished with all kinds of measuring harnesses and a gear selector lever that knows only forward, neutral, and reverse. After all, no more choices are needed. “Everything is done until the premiere,” says Gumpert.

We roll around the studio grounds and a few side streets, never exceeding 45-50 mph. But even with half the power you can already feel what will be possible with the final car. The unrestrained thrust, the spontaneous, urgent force. It already drives like the future.

Meanwhile, the small display next to the gear lever is constantly spitting out numbers. The fuel cell constantly charges the battery with about four kW – or even more if I floor the gas pedal. We also recuperate quite a lot of energy through braking, too. Although we’ve spent only a few minutes in a rather rudimentary prototype, and although Gumpert has developed the Nathalie in less than ten months, the project, and especially the idea behind, it seems pretty promising. But of course, doubts remain.

Prospects For Success

Who pays a fat six figures an unfamiliar car with a new powertrain concept? Which oil companies would start selling methanol to their gas stations, if only a handful of cars on the road fill up with it? And how do the big car manufacturers react to Gumpert’s new idea? Actually, they would have to get on board for the methanol idea to be a resounding success, but Gumpert believes more in the opposite: “Probably they will fight us.”

That would be a pity. We hope that this enthusiastic, fundamentally sympathetic man’s stunningly beautiful electric sports car and the methanol fuel-cell idea will be a success. With Chinese investors supporting things behind the scene, the chances could be worse. At the moment, Gumpert’s daughter Nathalie is pulling the sheets from her mobile namesake in Beijing at the auto show. In August or September this year, we should be allowed a full test drive of the finished car. Let’s hope it lives up to our expectations.

Photos by: Fabian Grass

Categories: General, Test Drives

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76 Comments on "First Drive Of Gumpert Plug-In, Alcohol Fuel Cell Supercar"

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Lamata
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Lamata

IMO….Another useless contraption.

Will
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Will

Actually the tech is there. It might be better then hydrogen

Shaun
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Shaun

Looks like a next gen Nissan GTR. Not sure why they act like they are the first ones to think of putting a fuel reformer in their fuel cell. This was touted as the future of automotive fuel cells over a decade ago.

John Doe
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John Doe

I like the design. Not perfect, but more the OK. I remember we used to test (ethanol) alcohol fuel cells from Toshiba at least 15-20 years ago. Not for cars, but for electronics.
Wonder how the Norwegian government would handle a vehicle like this. Does it convert the CO2? Or is it a waste product? CO2 = taxes.

Pushmi-Pullyu
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Pushmi-Pullyu

It certainly has a much greater potential for widespread use than using hydrogen-powered “fool cell” cars! But then, just about any type of fuel is a vast improvement on trying to use highly compressed hydrogen gas to power wheeled vehicles, so that’s not much of an achievement in economic terms.

J H
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J H

This makes no sense to me. I’m not usually a commenter but this is annoying – an electric car that you fill with flammable liquid and exhales carbon dioxide. He has just kept the worst parts of ICE cars and added them to an electric car.

“I drive 200, 300 kilometers [124-184 miles] and then I stop because the battery is dead. This contradicts my idea of freedom. Here I always have my generator on board, we reach proven ranges of at least 600 kilometers [372 miles]” – so basically, after 372 miles, you still need to stop and refill. I guess freedom is measured in kilometers now? (See also hydrogen options or battery / charging / range improvements which solve this).

Philip
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Philip

I’m a bit confused as well. Isn’t CO2 the greenhouse gas we’re trying to reduce?

SJC
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SJC

Easy to make renewable alcohol.

Eco
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Eco

CO2 is considered a greenhouse gas if it comes from a fossil fuel. More importantly, CO2 is not a toxin, so if the methane is made from a renewable source that absorbs CO2 from the air (tree or any plant) then there is no net CO2 emissions and NO TOXIC POLLUTION.

However, if the methane (or fossil fuel) is burned in an ICE then you get toxic emissions like Nitrogen Oxide (forms Nitric Acid in lungs), Carbon Monoxide (kills within minutes), and Fine Particulate Matter (causes Emphysema).

floydboy
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floydboy

CO2 is a greenhouse gas, PERIOD. In sufficient loading, regardless of origin, it will allow substantial atmospheric heat retention.

Pushmi-Pullyu
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Pushmi-Pullyu

So what? If the CO2 is absorbed in the process of making renewable ethanol, then reforming it in this type of vehicle isn’t going to put any more CO2 back into the atmosphere than was used to make that fuel. In other words, net-zero carbon emissions.

This isn’t like burning a fuel in an ICEV, which spews out massive amounts of extra CO2, along with soot laced with carcinogens and toxic gases, into the atmosphere!

TwoVolts
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TwoVolts

CO2 is a greenhouse gas – regardless of source. However, you have very good and valid points regarding ‘net’ CO2 emissions, and pollution. I’m not familiar with the technology and whether there is the potential for ‘unreacted’ methanol to be emitted from the cell. If fuel conversion is not complete, there would be significant methanol emissions – which would not be good as methanol is classified by the EPA as a HAP (hazardous air pollutant).

I would only add that we still need to see a reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels – not equilibrium at 500+ppm. Battery electric vehicles and solar/wind offer the possibility of reducing atmospheric CO2. Fixing carbon from the atmosphere only to send it back into the atmosphere does not.

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu

The process of making renewable energy to power EVs does not reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere; it merely does not increase it. The very same can be said of using renewable ethanol to power this type of vehicle.

This vehicle is every bit as “green” as a BEV. If you think otherwise, then you need a reality check.

A battery-electric car is still superior to this tech in that the BEV is simpler, it’s more energy-efficient, and the energy costs less to produce. That makes BEVs somewhat superior, in the environmental sense, because there will be less pollution emitted in producing and distributing renewable electricity to power BEVs than pollution emitted in producing and distributing renewable ethanol to power this type of FCEV.

But if you compare this type of vehicle to just about any other type of motor vehicle, including gasmobiles, diesel trucks, or “fool cell” FCEVs powered by highly compressed H2, then this is a significant improvement!

TwoVolts
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TwoVolts

I acknowledged the point that it is net zero emissions. If I have a solar powered BEV, the plants (corn, sugar cane, etc.) that fix carbon are not converted back to CO2. If we aren’t harvesting for food value, these same plants can be plowed under and allowed to decompose – returning the carbon to the ground. That would reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Simple mass balance.

SJC
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SJC

Only half of the stalks need to go back to the ground, taking some off the land allows early planting.

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu

If it’s renewable ethanol, then there are net-zero CO2 emissions. This shouldn’t be an objection to using ethanol or other hydrocarbon fuels, so long as the process for making them absorbs as much CO2 as the process for burning them releases.

Cars on the road emitting just CO2 and water won’t poison anyone, or make them sick, the way that gasoline or diesel exhaust does. Let us please not make the mistake of equating CO2 emissions with actual pollution being spewed out by noxious gasmobiles and diesel trucks.

Fuel cell cars powered by ethanol (or any other practical fuel) would be a vast improvement over fool cell cars — that is, fuel-cell cars powered by highly compressed hydrogen gas — simply because there is a realistic possibility those might be used to replace most or all of the gasmobiles on the road. There is no way that fool cell cars could ever possibly do that!

So let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Let’s not throw the idea out just because using ethanol means the car emits CO2.

Mark.ca
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Mark.ca

No, after 372 miles they get to the woods were they have hidden the moonshine machine. The only problem i see is you have to fight with your car for the alcohol.

Lamata
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Lamata

Two choices, You either fill up your Car and go home, or you stay here get drunk, & wait to get rescued.. lmao…..

alohart
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alohart

You’d die if you drank the poisonous alcohol used by this car, methanol. Methanol containing 1 carbon atom behaves quite differently from ethanol containing 2 carbon atoms.

TwoVolts
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TwoVolts

Even if it ran on ethanol – the only alcohol humans can drink – it would be ‘denatured’ with something poisonous. Stick to the liquor store.

Pushmi-Pullyu
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Pushmi-Pullyu

Hmm, you’re right; the article does say methanol. But if the reformer can handle methanol, can’t it use ethanol equally as well? I’m not sure, but I think so.

SJC
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SJC

Reformers can take both.

Bruce L
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Bruce L

Methanol is easier to reform than ethanol, because it only has C-H, C-O and O-H bonds. Ethanol has a C=C double bond which is difficult to break, and that means lower conversion efficiency, and higher chance of undesirable side reactions.

Julio Alvarez
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Julio Alvarez
SJC
Guest
SJC

The Swedish company PowerCell has been making them for years.
http://www.powercell.se

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu

Yeah, using an onboard reformer to convert a practical fuel into hydrogen for a fuel cell car is very far from new tech. But it’s a tech which should get a lot more attention than it does. It’s just perverse that hydrogen-powered fool cell cars are getting all the attention, while far more practical FCEVs powered by practical fuels get almost none!

I blame that on propaganda, bribery, and influence-peddling by Big Oil.

alohart
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alohart

Nope, Nissan tried ethanol fuel cells, not methanol fuel cells. Ethanol and methanol are quite different.

G2
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G2

Drive electric and emit CO2? DOA.

SJC
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SJC

Emit renewable not fossil CO2.
The plant absorbs it while growing.

TwoVolts
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TwoVolts

CO2 is CO2. The plant uses it for photosynthesis – regardless of whether it originated from a dead dinosaur or not.

Magnus H
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Magnus H

The important part is if you increase CO2 in the biosphere with fossil CO2 or if you don’t.

TwoVolts
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TwoVolts

Ethanol from corn has a EROEI of 1.3. Ethanol is not a serious solution. EROEI = Energy Return On Energy Invested. Source: Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at Post Carbon Institute.

SJC
Guest
SJC

Methanol can be made using plant stalks, same land water and nutrients.

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu

The problem is this is still diverting farmland into fuel production, which raises the price of food. The increase in the price of corn due to corn-into-ethanol has been devastating to some third-world countries, and has significantly contributed to spikes in food prices and famine.

If ethanol or methanol are ever to become a widely used fuel, then the production should not involve the use of farmland. An entirely synthetic process, using chemistry and solar power, should be far more energy-efficient, altho the capital investment needed would be far greater due to expensive equipment.

TwoVolts
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TwoVolts

I agree on the farmland point. However, I’m not sure how a chemistry solution can avoid petroleum or fracked gas as the carbon source.

Magnus H
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Magnus H

So don’t use ethanol from corn?

SJC
Guest
SJC

You can grow corn for food then use the corn stalks for fuel. Same land, water and nutrients.

TwoVolts
Guest
TwoVolts

The important part is that the carbon energy required to fertilize, harvest, distill, and distribute the alcohol will likely come from non-renewables. And the net energy payoff for corn-based ethanol is dismal at EROEI of 1.3.

SJC
Guest
SJC

Sequester carbon from power plants then make fuels using solar hydrogen. Reuse carbon to reduce emissions.

Magnus H
Guest
Magnus H

Renewable diesel is popular in forestry harvesting and transportation.

SJC
Guest
SJC

Neste HPR has been made from plant oils for years.

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu

That’s a good argument against using agriculture to produce ethanol, which is massively inefficient. It’s not necessarily an argument against using ethanol (or methanol) as a practical and renewable fuel. We just need to find a method that doesn’t involve use of farmland, and doesn’t have such a poor EROI (Energy Return On Investment).

SJC
Guest
SJC

Sequester carbon, use renewable hydrogen to make methanol.

SJC
Guest
SJC

Fossil carbon was sequestered, renewable is recycled.

vich
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vich

The Germans and Chinese are leaving legacy USA automotive industry in the dust ….

floydboy
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floydboy

Not with this, they aint!

Chris O
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Chris O

The use of a methanol fuel cell is definitely novel but since $500K is enough to absorb the cost of even the fanciest of fuel cell systems this car in itself doesn’t prove that methanol fuel cells are less of an economic dead end than hydrogen fuel cells are. At least the concept might eliminate the prohibitive fuel cost of HFCVs if not the CO2 emissions associated with fossil fuels. Too bad Mr. Gumpert doesn’t talk about the CO2 emissions of his creation.

SJC
Guest
SJC

Renewable methanol is better than a coal fired power plant.

Chris O
Guest
Chris O

So give me a grams/mile number for methanol from a cost efficient source and we’ll know how this stacks up.

SJC
Guest
SJC

I don’t do your bidding, big ego you have there.

Get Real
Guest
Get Real

But can’t touch a BEV driven on solar pv or wind!

SJC
Guest
SJC

Solar and wind are a small part of the world production.

Mark.ca
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Mark.ca

…for now. Are we done looking into rear view mirror?

SJC
Guest
SJC

You have to look at the growth of solar and wind, it will not be all energy any time soon.

floydboy
Guest
floydboy

He’s making fuel cell propulsion even less attractive. Don’t emit MORE CO2 than the cars you’re replacing because of CO2!
Seems to be a technical exercise to be ‘different’. Definitely NOT what Chinese local air quality needs right now.

SJC
Guest
SJC

One word…renewable.
Reformers are oxidation not combustion.

floydboy
Guest
floydboy

CO2 is a greenhouse gas! Not as potent as methane, but in sufficient quantity, potent nonetheless. The idea is to limit its introduction into the atmosphere, NOT INCREASE IT!

SJC
Guest
SJC

Renewable carbon is recycling not adding fossil carbon.

floydboy
Guest
floydboy

I see you’re trying to be cute by using the words ‘fossil carbon’ as though that matters. If the vehicles are emitting CO2 through the reformation process via heat, they are INTRODUCING CO2 into the atmosphere! They are PRODUCING CO2 as a byproduct of stripping hydrogen out of the methanol. NEW CO2. They are NOT recycling anything.

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu

Completely wrong, and he’s not being “cute”.

If it’s renewable methanol or ethanol, then there is no net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere. It’s not adding any more CO2 back in during reformation than was removed in making the fuel.

Now, you could argue that the entire process of making and distributing even 100% renewable methanol and ethanol does involve “new” carbon emissions, but then that’s true for any form of power generation. Even making, installing, and maintaining solar farms and wind farms does involve emissions of “new” CO2, and will continue to do so until all vehicles being used, and all factories involved in the manufacture, are fully electric powered by fully renewable electricity.

You’re trying pretty hard here to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

SJC
Guest
SJC

It matters a lot, fossil carbon was put in the ground LONG ago, we are digging it up then putting it in the air. Renewable is taking it out of the air as the plant grows then recycling it.

Mikael
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Mikael

You don’t understand the basics of recycling and renewables do you?

alohart
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alohart

Combustion is rapid oxidation.

SJC
Guest
SJC

Reforming is catalytic oxidation, no NOx nor smog.

Vexar
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Vexar

Four motors and no battery to speak of, but they can’t break 2 seconds for 0-60mph? I hope someone makes a bumper sticker for the Roadster 2020 that reads “Eat my Contrail.” The idea of a pure ethanol fuel source is interesting on one point: can a 16-year-old driver in the US fuel a vehicle or not? This takes drunk driving to a whole new level.

alohart
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alohart

The fuel source is methanol, not ethanol. Methanol is poisonous, so no drinking.

Magnus H
Guest
Magnus H

Liquid fuel has its benefits, but last time I heard about methanol i fuel celss, they had issues with long term efficiency?

SJC
Guest
SJC

That makes no sense, we can make methanol from biomass.

Magnus H
Guest
Magnus H

Long term efficiency of the fuel cell membrane.

SJC
Guest
SJC

No, this is NOT a methanol fuel cell, it is a PEM with reformer.

Peter
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Peter

I think you’d have better luck finding a charging station than a methanol supplier.

SJC
Guest
SJC

The same stations that sell E85 and HPR would sell methanol. It costs $1 per gallon wholesale.

Pushmi-Pullyu
Guest
Pushmi-Pullyu
“Lengthy recharging processes are completely eliminated… with a ‘normal’ hydrogen fuel-cell car…” How sad to see a hydrogen fuel-cell car described as “normal”, even if the word in is scare quotes. There is nothing normal about using utterly impractical and ridiculously expensive compressed hydrogen gas in place of what should be a practical fuel! The economics of large-scale production of ethanol, which has caused far too much valuable farmland to be diverted to corn-into-ethanol, and which has significantly increased the price of corn worldwide, is certainly something to be concerned about. There is no way that all the world’s cars, trucks, ships, and other vehicles could be run on ethanol made by diverting farmland to making fuel, so the idea of making that from “biomass” on any scale is wishful thinking. But in terms of practicality, using ethanol to power a fuel cell car — instead of making them into “fool cell” cars by using hydrogen fuel — would be going a long way towards making fuel cell cars practical! “On top of that, methanol costs only about a third the price of petrol.” Indeed! That is, again, a vast improvement over using highly compressed hydrogen gas, which is far… Read more »
Dav8or
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Dav8or

If it weren’t for the little problem of climate change, this would actually be a pretty neat idea. Maybe had we gone the route 30 years ago…

Like the purple though. I love to see concepts in creative colors.

Timmy
Guest
Timmy

Clothes, driving lanes and having biological necessities “contradict” some people’s sense of freedom, too. i.e., the comment about several hundred kilometers of range restricting freedom is downtown laughable.

Marcel
Guest
Marcel

Methanol is carbon neutral if the CO2 source is derived from our current atmosphere. So the CO2 extracted from plants grown by humans can be converted into methanol which returns the CO2 back to the atmosphere.

Marcel