Some weeks ago, the Obrist Mark II made waves basically because it was a Tesla Model 3 with a combustion engine in the frunk. Fans of the American EV manufacturer jumped to the conclusion that it was the worst Tesla on Earth. How dare Obrist? These fans said it made no sense to put a combustion engine in the frunk and that the idea was solely a marketing move. Where was the radiator? The exhaust pipe? Some even called it a hoax. We preferred to contact the Austrian company to understand the idea behind it. Frank Wolf, CEO at Obrist Powertrain GmbH, told us this:
“The main target of our development is to provide an affordable solution for electric driving to the broader masses.”
Gallery: Worst Tesla Ever? Obrist Mark II Is A Different Proposition For EVs
Despite the resistance most BEV fans may have to the explanation, it makes sense. Cars are expensive machines. Buying a cheap EV nowadays necessarily implies having a limited driving range due to the small battery pack this car will probably have. For people that cannot afford to have more than one vehicle, EVs get discarded precisely because of that.
If that is not an issue, charging is: not all countries have a proper infrastructure to allow customers to get more electrons for their vehicles quickly. We have already told you how it is to have an EV in Portugal. Poorer and larger countries that want to electrify their fleets will probably face even more difficulties. That is where PHEVs or EVs with range extenders currently have a role: the transition.
You could say people may go for used EVs instead of new, but you have probably seen automakers such as Nissan and PSA are not really willing to give used EVs a chance: they are charging very high prices for new battery packs. Unfortunately, while aftermarket battery pack manufacturers do not step in, used EVs may be more of a liability than a possibility.
The Obrist Mark II falls among EVs with range extenders. It demonstrates the HyperHybrid system, composed by a small battery pack and the combustion engine we mentioned. It is called the Zero Vibration Generator, or ZVG.
The HyperHybrid system makes the Obrist Mark II be a different sort of EV with a range extender, according to Wolf.
“Assuming that there is no official definition of a range extender, most people understand that such a system first empties the battery, and then the range extender provides the electrical power for the remainder of the journey. This kind of algorithm leads to a poor operating envelope of the engine, and these kinds of systems show high fuel consumption and high cost due to the high battery capacity required.
HyperHybrid has a relatively small battery (lower cost) and operates the vehicle out of that battery during low speeds. For all the vehicle dynamics, the power plant is hence either not operated or only at higher speeds – out of the city, in general – but then at the very high efficiency of about 40 percent.”
Simply put, HyperHybrid considers the handicaps of the battery pack (slow charging and discharging capacity) and of the engine (high fuel consumption under intense loads) and make both "dance together" in a way that they can help each other not fall nor miss the beat. And that takes both much further than they could go by themselves.
Burning fuel is not something many EV owners are willing to do, but Obrist is not necessarily talking about gasoline. Its Zero Vibration Generator would be almost like the Lotus Omnivore, which you can see below.
“It uses gasoline, but it is also designed to be able to run on LNG, CNG, ethanol, methanol, and next-generation biofuels, generating no CO2 emissions.”
The difference is that, unlike the Omnivore, the Obrist ZVG does not have a variable compression ratio or other elements to detect the fuel and burn it accordingly, such as flex-fuel vehicles sold in Brazil and France, for example. That makes these engines less efficient than if they are designed for a single fuel. Wolf explains that.
“Here, we have not the intention to mix all mentioned fuels but to have only minor changes on the ZVG between the different fuels.”
Using ethanol is seen as a way to avoid carbon emissions. Due to photosynthesis, this fuel does not worsen the glasshouse effect: It just returns to the atmosphere the carbon that plants extracted from it. In a way, having demand for renewable fuels may help capture the exceeding carbon dioxide that scientists blame for global warming.
Critics claim that ethanol steals room from food by being produced from corn, beets, or sugar cane. At least in the case of sugar cane, that is up for discussion.
Anyway, the second-generation ethanol – made from biomass – is each day more promising in terms of costs, as are synthetic fuels and catalysts for their production. If you can turn garbage into fuel, that may stimulate a new way to deal with what now ends up in city dumps.
The problem is the inefficiency that is inherent to burning anything, as well as the byproducts this action generates. Obrist Powertrain tackled that with an engine that offers one of the highest fuel efficiencies on the market today, but for the sole purpose of generating electricity.
On top of that, this engine's main objective is to spend the least fuel possible. It has just two cylinders, very few parts, and does not vibrate, what preserves the driving feeling an EV offers. If you doubt it, check the video below. Pay attention to the coins over the cylinder heads.
“We have invented and built a unique engine having two crankshafts interlinked. One is turning clockwise and the other one counter-clockwise. In combination with the two balancing shafts – running twice the speed of the crankshafts – the engine provides electrical power at very high efficiency, no air pollutants, low CO2 emissions, and all that with zero vibrations. It is still a normal four-stroke engine, only intelligently arranged.”
Where then is everything else an engine needs, such as exhaust pipes, fuel tank, heat exchangers and such?
“Since the ZVG is not operating when the vehicle is not moving – parking, traffic jams, etc. – the exhaust does not have to be routed to the rear of the car. It ends directly under the front of the dash, outside the cabin. The heat exchangers are in the front end, left and right bottom. See the additional openings in the front end for the engine cooling, performed by coolant – water and glycol.”
What about the rest? The video below can show you:
A 30-liter fuel tank put right in front of the rear axle feeds the small combustion engine placed ahead of the cabin. In this Model 3’s case, where the frunk used to be. The compromise in luggage space is the trade-off for more range and, most importantly, less money spent on buying the car.
Wolf believes each of their HyperHybrid systems would cost around €4,500 if production numbers are over 250,000 units. The higher the scale, the lower the cost.
That said, a hypothetical Model 3 conceived to use the system would cost around €20,000 instead of the €46,700 Tesla charges for a Standard-Range Plus in Austria. The 58.2 percent discount would not be the only advantage of such a vehicle.
“In HyperHybrid mode and real driving behavior – like in the AutoBild circuit – the vehicle consumes 2 l/100 km and 7 kWh/100 km. So in a usage situation where people can charge the car regularly on a standard plug, it can reach 1,500 km of range. Driving on a highway constantly without charging, and depending on speed and traffic situations, this could be up to 700 km. Such a Model 3 could really cost €20,000 with taxes and assuming that we would do some de-contenting – e.g., no leather seats – for such an EU entry-level vehicle.”
This 1,500-km range comes with a fully charged battery pack. It is equivalent to being able to run a little more than 930 mi on a tank. The 700-km (436-mi) range shows up in the worst-case scenario: a depleted battery and running the car solely at high speeds.
It is still more than the Long Range Model 3 officially provides – 322 mi – and even that offered by the Long Range Model S, Tesla’s current range champion – 373 mi. All that with a 17.3-kWh battery pack cooled by liquid, as you can see below.
The company talks about a vacuum fixation technology that would be innovative, but we are not sure of the advantages it offers. We have scheduled a conversation with Obrist Powertrain’s COO, Martin Graz, to clarify this and other doubts about the technology.
Regarding the price, €20,000 for an EV with a smart range extender would put the Obrist Mark II in a competitive advantage against Nissan and Mazda. The first one sells the Note E-Power, a vehicle that was once the best selling car in Japan – it is still in second place, having lost the lead in 2019 to the Toyota Prius. Mazda preaches small battery packs as the right solution for the MX-30 and promises to offer a range extender for it.
Gallery: 2020 Mazda MX-30
Analyze these cars' prices and you'll see the Note E-Power starts at ¥2,196,700, equivalent to $19,979 at the current currency rate. In euros, that’s €18,029. That would make it a bit cheaper than the Obrist Mark II, but the Note is also smaller than the Tesla Model 3.
When it comes to the MX-30, Mazda already announced it will cost €33,990 in Germany. While deliveries will only start in the second half of 2020, Mazda’s electric crossover already presents a disadvantage compared to the Mark II, especially considering this price probably does not include a range extender.
Check what Frank Wolf has to say about what the competition proposes.
“Nissan uses its standard three-cylinder engine as a base for the E-Power system and couples it to a crankshaft-mounted generator running at crankshaft speed. In our opinion, the advantage is the low-cost, existing, and good base engine. The disadvantages are the three-cylinder vibration and the bulky generator arrangement due to the crankshaft speed.
While we have studied the Nissan system in detail – since it is successful in Japan – we cannot judge about the Mazda proposal in such detail.
What we can say is that a Wankel engine has a sickle-shaped combustion chamber. It is known that the surface to volume ratio is less favorable than that on a piston design. Hence the efficiency is usually lower due to heat losses into the walls compared to piston engines. Secondly, the known Wankel engines from the past all needed to inject oil to reach an acceptable internal tightness. Such an oil injection is to be seen very critically towards the latest emission standards since oil is also ignited through the gasoline combustion.”
The company knows what it is talking about: Frank Obrist worked with Felix Wankel for a long time.
“In the 1980s, Frank Obrist worked directly with Felix Wankel at the TES Wankel in Lindau on new engine concepts – not Wankel, but spherical engines and charging technology which was licensed at that time. Mr. Wankel died in 1988, and Frank continued to work for the company. When the successors of the company ended the operations in the mid-1990s, Obrist Engineering was founded by Frank Obrist. This company worked on fuel cell development and high-pressure compressors. Today, OE is a technology market leader in the area of thermal management and electrically driven compressors for BEVs and hybrids. Obrist Powertrain was founded in 2011, and a new powertrain was developed, which we named HyperHybrid.”
Does that prove the Obrist Mark II is a better machine than the Mazda MX-30, the Note E-Power or even the Model 3? That was never the goal of the Austrian company. It also denies the Tesla was selected as a marketing stunt.
“We did not choose the Model 3 as a basis to draw attention or to harm Tesla. We had already converted another conventional vehicle in the past to HyperHybrid. The Model 3 was chosen because it is the best-selling EV in the world – the honors go to Elon – and to demonstrate that we can cut down cost and emissions. Such a system enables the average car buyer – approximately €17,000 are spent per vehicle on the planet – to have a product with no noise and air pollutants and very low CO2 emissions. When considering the cradle to grave CO2 emissions, the HyperHybrid technology outperforms any other powertrain technology (BEV, parallel hybrid, conventional). That statement includes diesel, gasoline, and electricity as energy sources.”
To clarify that once and for all, the idea was not to turn the Tesla into a worse car. Yes, it burns fuel, but it can also get three times more range for less than half of the price. If the argument for having a pure BEV is emissions, Obrist says the Mark II can even be cleaner than an EV: probably burning renewable fuels compared to an EV charged from a coal power plant.
If this is not a solution for everyone, it is nonetheless beneficial for EV adoption and cleaner transportation. When, then, will Obrist Powertrain have its first vehicle for sale?
“In regards to production, we can state the following: The technology is licensed to at least one large automotive player, and a start of mass production could be achieved by 2023 or 2024.”
Which will this car be? Will it cost less than €20,000? We’ll take a while to discover. What is crucial is not to be mad for what Obrist did with the Model 3. What some see as heresy was only to prove how HyperHybrid makes sense, especially compared to ordinary combustion-engined cars. And that people living in countries with insufficient charging infrastructure can have an EV in spite of that. Admitting it will not hurt: the Austrian company is on the EV side of the Force.