Christian Koenigsegg Is a Genius Who Builds Amazing Cars, But Is Koenigsegg a Real Car Company?
Considering I’ve driven hundreds of miles to attend music concerts and recently spent Memorial Day driving across three states to buy a guitar not far from Memphis, I suppose driving 600 miles or so to New York on the odd chance that I’d get to interview Christian von Koenigsegg wasn’t actually that odd.
The Koenigsegg car company scheduled a press conference at the New York Auto Show, and I wanted to shake the hand of a man who — along with just a few dozen of his fellow Swedes — managed to show that Ferdinand Piech and the VW empire’s Bugattis aren’t necessarily the biggest BSD s in the automotive world.
Koenigsegg cars genuinely deserve normally overused superlatives like “amazing” and “incredible.” How else would you describe a street-legal passenger car, intended to be a bit softer and luxurious than previous Koenigseggs, with a total of 1,900 horsepower and 1,475 pounds-feet of torque from its combustion engine and electric motors?
Christian isn’t that interested in challenging the Veyron (or new Chiron) for the ultimate speed title for road cars, but he does like to point out the new Regera is the fastest car in the world to 250 miles per hour, and it holds a number of zero to X to zero acceleration and braking records. The man seems to like records. He pointed out that the Regera is the first car with a hidden, retractable, top-mounted rear wing.
The Regera and One:1 have wings that are suspended from cantilevered structures, based on the idea that most of the downforce from the wing is created by its lower surface. Top-mounting the wing allows for unrestricted airflow.
After talking to Koenigsegg, I’m even more convinced that he’s the present-day mad genius of the car world, and I have huge respect for the man. I’m just not sure I can call the company that bears his name an automobile manufacturer.
First, let’s talk about the cars he brought to Manhattan Motorcars’ display of exotics that included the new Spyker Prelator, a Bugatti Veyron (which was getting much less attention during the NYAS media preview than CVK’s cars, proving my point above about who has the bigger BSD — though to be fair, the Veyron is now an older model car), and an almost exotic Lotus Evora.
Koenigsegg brought two cars. The “first megacar” in CVK’s words, the One:1. Despite the name, there were actually seven of them built, one prototype and six “production” cars. The name doesn’t mean one of one but rather one to one. It’s the first car built with a 1:1 power to weight ratio when expressed in horsepower/kilograms. It’s also the first car with a megawatt of power, which the internet tells me is 1,341 horsepower.
The One:1 is old news, though. Koenigsegg’s latest is the Regera, Swedish for “reign”. If the ZR1 Corvette is the “king of the hill”, then the Koenigsegg Regera is the emperor of the mountain range.
CVK said the Regera was intended to be “easier to drive” than the Agera and other Koenigseggs. So easy to drive, in fact, that neither the driver nor the car ever has to shift gears. That’s because it has nothing at all like a conventional transmission. The twin turbo 5.0 liter V8 engine is connected almost directly to the final drive, with what sounds like a sophisticated torque converter (designed in-house) between them.
On each output shaft of the final drive is a 250 hp electric motor, which provide motive force and also allow for the implementation of torque vectoring when cornering. Hung on the front of the ICE is another electric motor, this one rated at 200 hp, that is used as a starter motor, an engine assist, and as a generator to recharge the 800 volt, 9.0 kWh liquid cooled battery.
Since the power curves of the motors and engine don’t exactly match up, Koenigsegg is simply quoting a total power figure of more than 1,500. With about 600 ft-lbs of torque available from just the electric motors, and all of that torque available at stall, CVK realized that the Regera did not need any kind of gearbox to get it going from a standing start.
What it did need was batteries capable of 525 kW of discharge and up to 200 kW of recharge in a hurry, so the Regera is equipped with the same ultra high performance cells used in Formula One kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS). Up to about 35 miles an hour, it’s running on electric power, at which point the computers phase in the combustion engine. The result is a 0-250 mph time of less than 20 seconds.
The Regera doesn’t have any gears (besides in the differential), but it does have two things every exotic car must have: paddles on the steering column. In the case of the Regera, the left paddle activates the regenerative brakes while the right paddle is connected to the trick hydraulic coupling between the engine and rear end. The right paddle allows for some slip in that device, which provides a downshifting like effect to the Regera.
Without a transmission there isn’t a reverse gear, so reversing is accomplished courtesy of the electric motors hanging on the rear end.
The car can travel on electricity alone for about 30 miles in what CVK bills as “silent mode” so you won’t disturb your neighbors with that twin turbo V8, but CVK pointedly says that it’s not a hybrid. All that tech is not there to save energy but rather to provide the smoothest and fastest “megacar” they can.
It seems like an elegant solution, and I’m tempted to call it simple, but it works because of some very sophisticated computer software that synchronizes all of that hardware.
You can read more specifics about the Regera at the company’s website, but I want to address the question as whether or not Koenigsegg is an automobile manufacturer or something closer to a boutique coachbuilder with their own line of cars.
In their entire history, Koenigsegg has produced slightly more than 100 cars. In recent years they’ve been averaging about a dozen cars a year. Sales manager Tariq Ali told me they plan on building about 16 cars in 2016. The Regera has a planned production run of 80 vehicles. You can be sure that at the price point and exclusivity of the Regera, no two of them are going to be identical, so I’m not sure that the concept of a series production car even applies.
For the sake of argument, even if you want to consider all 80 Regeras to be the same vehicle, can you call Koenigsegg a manufacturer in the same sense that you would the makers of other exotic cars, let alone companies on the scale of Ford or Toyota?
To give you some comparison, McLaren built 375 examples of their hybrid P1, and while the P1 wasn’t quite as expensive as the Regera’s $1.9 million starting price, a base P1 was $1.3 million, the same order of magnitude. Porsche built nine hundred and eighteen 918 Spyders. Even the C8 Prelator from the revived Spyker company, on display next to the Koenigseggs at the NYAS, will be produced at a rate of about one a week, not one a month.
It seems to me that Koenigsegg may be more like a coachbuilder with a massive amount of engineering prowess than an industrial manufacturer.
Christian Von Koenigsegg and a fan.
To get some perspective, I spoke to George Gaffoglio of Gaffoglio Family Metalcrafters. The California company has produced some of the highest profile concept cars there are, though you’d never know it because they tend to stay in the background. They’re one of less than a dozen shops in the world that can build a completely functional car from scratch that doesn’t look like it’s a prototype. It’s companies like Metalcrafters who make most of the concept cars you see at the autoshows, if they aren’t just styling studio pushmobiles. GM, Ford and Toyota are set up to make cars in the thousands and hundreds of thousands, not to make one-off projects. Most of that work is contracted out.
Christian von Koenigsegg told me they currently employ slightly more than 100 people in their factory on the site of a former Swedish air force base. Metalcrafters employs between 120 and 160 people, depending on the work load that year, though some of their work is for the aerospace industry.
As mentioned, Koenigsegg builds about a dozen cars a year. Metalcrafters works on about 100 total automotive projects a year. Some are full customs, others are engineering studies, but they certainly build more than a dozen fully functional cars a year in their shops. Gaffoglio told me that the “million dollar” figure I’ve seen bandied about for the fabrication of a one-off concept car is in the ballpark, depending on the work needed.
When I asked him from what he’s seen of cars like Koenigsegg and Pagani, could Metalcrafters do similar fabrication work, he gave the caveat that he only knows what he’s seen at car shows. Then he called them “art on wheels” and said they could probably build something similar for $1.5 to $2 million.
Based on that conversation, I’d say that yes, Koenigsegg is probably closer to a coachbuilding shop than a large industrial automobile manufacture but there is a big difference. That difference isn’t in what they can fabricate, both companies can build to an exception level of quality, but rather what they actually do build. A shop like Metalcrafters or Mike Kleeve’s Automotive Metal Shaping is almost always building somebody else’s ideas. Koenigsegg’s cars spring from the hairless head of Christian von Koenigsegg and his engineers.
One area of expertise that Metalcrafters and Koenigsegg share is working with carbon fiber composite. One large automobile company that has a billion dollar investment in carbon fiber is BMW. Though it costs less than 10 percent of what a Regera costs, the BMW i8 also has both electric motors and a combustion engine and a carbon fiber superstructure, like the Regera.
In our conversation, I suggested to Christian von Koenigsegg that BMW’s i cars get a lot of attention for their use of battery power, but that those cars are more about getting the cost of carbon fiber parts down than they are about electrons. BMW has invested over a billion dollars in a supply chain for carbon fiber that stretches from the Pacific Northwest to Bavaria. Koenigsegg, whose daily driver is a Tesla Model S so he can’t be accused of being opposed to battery power, agreed.
[Images: © 2016 Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars]
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. Thanks for reading – RJS
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.
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