First electric hyper-car – Ten years too early?

Ten years ago, in July 2010, the automotive world was a different place. Electric cars were still slow and boring. The Model S came only 2 years later, of the Roadster only a few pieces drove on public roads.

In these difficult times for electromobility, Mercedes-AMG had the courage to dare to do the extraordinary and push the boundaries of what is technically feasible. The result was the SLS AMG E-CELL, the world’s first purely electric hypercar. The acceleration and range were impressive for the time, but would no longer sweep anyone off their feet. The technology has evolved.

The core of the SLS E-CELL is its innovative drive concept. Torque vectoring was used for the first time in such a project. One electric motor is installed per wheel. The individual drives are not mechanically connected, which is why the torque at each wheel can be controlled individually. The mechanical differential is omitted, and the transmission is reduced to a fixed ratio. The differential function is fully taken over by the vehicle software. In addition, the ESP function can thus not only reduce the torque at the wheel via brake intervention, but also adjust it infinitely, sensitively and ideally via recuperation. The particular advantage is that the ESP can now not only selectively reduce torque, it can also increase torque at individual wheels.

“The SLS AMG E-CELL is the most technically advanced super sports car in the 125-year history of the automobile and shows how fascinating electric mobility can be”

Dieter Zetsche on the presentation of the AMG SLS E-Cell 2011

Lots of technical talk, but what’s the point? Only a limited number of people have yet been able to experience what this concept means for driving behavior. However, they all agree that in the future there will be no way around torque vectoring in a super sports car. The reactions of experienced test and racing drivers, such as Walter Röhrl, are impressive:

“Do lecks mi oam Oa… Alda!”

“So there’s no question about it: these are just completely new dimensions that I haven’t gotten to know in 45 years. Very nice. Can only say that one was allowed to experience the moal. Ha, great.”

“But the possibility that you can control the 4 wheels with their own motors, that improves the handling – that’s unimaginable – I haven’t experienced anything like that.”

Walter Röhrl on driving the AMG SLS E-Cell

Despite its many advantages and superiority over all other vehicles available on the market at the time, Mercedes scrapped the AMG SLS E-CELL after producing only a few. What led to this decision can only be conjectured from the outside. Perhaps the production costs were too high, or the demand for this type of vehicle was not there at the time.

The established manufacturers seem to have slept through electromobility. Others have taken over the technological leadership. Mate Rimac quickly recognized what the SLS could do better than other vehicles and adopted the drive concept for its cars. In 2019, several vehicle manufacturers were present at the Geneva Motor Show with supercars that had Rimac technology with torque vectoring installed under the chassis. The new SUV manufacturer Rivian also relies on the technology that has proven itself in the SLS E-CELL. The advantages in the off-road sector are obvious. By controlling each wheel individually within milliseconds, the slip on each wheel can be adjusted as desired. Torque vectoring will prove superior not only for hypercars, but also for offroaders in the future.