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Porsche Goes Lithium, Saturn Leaves Orbit

October 8th, 2009

Buried in the pages of the November issue of Road & Track is a short description of the 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS.  (For those unaware, the 911 is Porsche’s bread-and-butter sports car.  The GT3 version is the ultra-high-performance, race-bred version of the 911.  The RS is the insane, barely-street-legal, over-the-top version of the GT3.  It’s the one I want.)  It’s got all the goodies you’d expect, but one option really sticks out in my mind: a lithium-ion battery to replace to the conventional lead-acid battery, resulting in a 22-pound weight reduction.  Now, this isn’t a hybrid or electric vehicle of any sort.  The battery is used, as it is in any conventional car, to turn the starter and to power the accessories when the car’s not running.  And while racers have used down-sized lead-acid batteries (barely capable of starting the car) for weight savings for quite some time, this is the first time I’m aware of that a manufacturer has offered a Li-ion starter battery.

There are folks that criticize Li-ion batteries as being too unsafe and too expensive to be a real solution to automotive energy storage.  There are even those that suggest lead-acid batteries are more than capable of storing the energy we need in hybrid and electric vehicles, not to mention the starting-duties of internal combustion engine cars.  (I’d agree with respect to starter batteries, but certainly not the other points.)  But now Li-ion has made it’s way into what most would agree would be lead-acid’s territory for the foreseeable future!  Sure, it’s probably an expensive box to check on your GT3 RS order form, and it really is a niche application.  But it may also be a glimpse into the future of automotive batteries.  (Though I do find it ironic that Porsche is offering this option to save 22 pounds – less than 1% of the weight of the vehicle – while they’ve refused to offer weight-saving and arguably more practical options on their GT3 to the North American market in the past, such as carbon-fiber fixed-back racing seats.)

2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

In other news, it was announced over a week ago (and how did I miss it?!) that the deal whereby Penske would acquire the Saturn brand and sell vehicles under a contract-manufacturing agreement with various automotive OEMs won’t happen happen after all, and the Saturn brand will disappear.  I find this disappointing, simply because it was a new business model in the automotive world, and I was interested to see how it would work out.  Unfortunately, I guess I now have my answer:  not well.

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