Electric super car Toroidion is Finnish design

16.06.2017 power electronics , motor control

Pasi Pennanen tells us about Toroidion, the ideas behind the 1MW Concept electric super car and his future insights. We got to meet him at his Finnish office in May. First, we ask him to tell us about his career as a designer for well-known car brands. 

Pasi Pennanen began his professional studies in Lahti Institute of Design in 1991. Cars fascinated the young designer who knew that Britain was still on the top of car design.  For instance, Britain is the home for most of the Formula One teams.

1997 Pennanen graduated with Masters from the Royal College of Art Vehicle Design in London. This world-renowned university attracts talented students from all over the world, a fact well known also by the scouts of the most known car brands.

Pasi Pennanen was recruited by Jaguar. He designed a concept car, which became a success. Another successful concept car design project for the same brand followed. Altogether, he worked for Jaguar for five years. After that his career has brought him dream jobs for numerous employers and car brands. Pennanen has supported design for cars such as Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Honda to name a few.

Pennanen emphasizes the diversity of the design team. Car design involves practically all industry segments, for example the interior trim requires both textile and leather to function in a harmony with plastic, metal and electronics components. The design team needs to master all the skills necessary to be able to design a complete automobile, which is why the skills of various specialists are required within the team, varying from engineers to artists.

Crush on an electric car

September 2008 in Paris, Pennanen drove a Tesla roadster for the first time. He was fascinated by the characteristics of the electric powertrain, its torque and acceleration, the behavior and responsiveness outclassing even the best internal combustion engine cars. ”A combustion engine car just happens to be an old banger compared with a good electric car”, summarizes Pennanen.

A dream of winning 24-hours of Le Mans with an electric car was born.

”I realized soon that no traditional electric car, not even Tesla, would have any chances competing in Le Mans. The endurance racing car needs to be light weight and extremely powerful. Additionally the batteries need to be replaceable quickly. In my opinion, the operating voltage on a racing car must be low enough to ensure electrical safety for the driver and pit crew”, reflects Pennanen.

Success in Le Mans is an excellent goal, as it brings plenty of valuable publicity along. World’s most well-known and demanding car race is also the ultimate technical reliability test. If your technology flies you to success in Le Mans, it sure will work anywhere else.

”The technical properties of the electric powertrain required for a racing car, are very similar to normal road car. For example, from the racing car the electric motors are directly scalable to a wide range of vehicle applications varying from the motorcycles to heavy commercial trucks”, says Pennanen.

The automotive industry and its practices have become very familiar to Pennanen. A successful work career has also generated him a wide network of contacts.

Electric super car Toroidion as the goal

Establishing the Toroidion Ltd was the first step, then followed by the R&D team to develop all new electric powertrain and the first technical proof of concept; 1MW Concept car. 

An electric motor has got several advantages. It is lighter, smaller and simpler than a combustion engine of similar power. Of course, electricity brings also along a number of challenges, like energy storage.

”The battery voltages of conventional electric cars typically vary between 265 to 900 volts, which brings along severe electrical safety risks. As a typical battery cell voltage is only 3.7 nominal, hundreds of these cells must be connected in series to produce high enough voltages. Lower total voltage is safer, in which case the cells are more connected in parallel and less in series”, discusses Pennanen. The leading themes of the concept he has developed include electrical safety, low voltages and easily and safely changeable battery pack. He believes that a functional replacement battery system will play an important part for the consumers’ electric car infrastructure.

Toroidion 1MW Concept cars’ electric powertrain works with electrically safe 48V, whereas conventional electric powertrain requires hundreds of volts to achieve similar power.

On 1MW car, four high torque motors total one megawatt of power, equal of 1341hp, according to Pennanen.

Ingenious external rotor motor

Doesn’t lower voltage mean higher current, thus bigger losses or thicker wires? P = U x I , i.e. power is the product of voltage and current. In other words, the current increases in the same proportion as the voltage decreases. This is what we already learned during electricity lessons at school.

”Yes and no”, Pennanen says. How come? Physical laws are physical laws!

Pennanen explains very patiently one of the Toroidion’s innovations in plain English: ”When the current is divided into four wires instead of just one, each wire contains just a quarter of the total current”.

This is of course true, but the total current is sure to increase in the same proportion as the voltage decreases. And the total cross-sectional area of the wires must increase in order to prevent the losses from growing. Pennanen is not denying this.

”First of all, each of the four wheels has their own motor, 200 kW motors for the front wheels and 300 kW ones for the rear wheels. In detail, when compared to a conventional electric motor, each Toroidion motor stator has five radial motor segments, so the current within each motor stator segment decreases to one fifth and the operating voltage similarly. The total current is then the same as on a conventional electric motor stator, but voltage only one fifth”, explains Pennanen.

Required power electronics differ from conventional motor electronics. Motor segments in one Toroidion motor, and then all the separate Toroidion motors, one for each wheel, all must operate at exactly right pace. The wiring is somewhat different from the conventional approach, but not too much.

”Additionally, a low-voltage battery pack does have its significant safety advantage over a high-voltage one”, according to Pennanen.

While the power of a conventional electric motor is produced by a rotating shaft at the center, Toroidion turns the accustomed and the most common permanent magnet motor inside out for a good reason. The motor is out runner type to achieve maximum radius for a maximum torque.

The stationary part (stator) of the Toroidion electric motor is situated in the middle, and the power generating rotor whirls around it. The torque is many times higher compared to a conventional motor of the same size as the lever arm is longer. A big rotor poses certain challenges for example for bearings, but according to Pennanen they were easy ones to solve.

The motor rotates at the same rpm as the wheel. Thanks to tremendous torque no reduction gears are needed, which makes the car’s structure simpler than that of a conventional car. The external rotor motor of Toroidion rotates up to 3 600 rpm, corresponding to Toroidion’s speed of 450 km/h.

Functional prototype

The first technical prototype, Toroidion 1MW Concept was designed and built secretly for several years, and it was revealed in 2015. Toroidion has been granted a so-called utility model, which is granted faster than a patent but only protects the invention for ten years.

The electric super car concept was launched for the public by H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco in April 2015. According to Pennanen, the launch reached even 2,2 billion people, certainly reaching all the car enthusiasts and potential customers within the automotive industry. Since then, partnerships have been initiated in various directions. For instance, Pennanen says the organizer of the 24 hours of Le Mans race approves the safety of the Toroidion technology.

Pennanen says the test kilometers driven with the first prototype series prove Toroidion concept a functional package.

The prototype accelerates from zero to 200km/h within 4,8 seconds”, lists Pennanen proudly. He says the Toroidion battery box fits enough energy for driving even 500 kilometers, and it is easy to swap.

The road to the stars

The development work continues, the car gets improved and its solutions optimized for production. According to Pennanen, the road towards the Le Mans racing car and commercial products is paved with harsh and systematic work by experts and engineers of different partners. No wonder Toroidion is about to hire several dozens of new specialists in the near future.

”Our Toroidion Race Team is searching the right Sponsors. Everything else, including our technology, we have in the pipeline with our technical partners. A racing car fit for the 24 hours of Le Mans race will be ready to race in about 18 months after the Sponsor is confirmed”, Pennanen promises.

The production version of 1MW Concept as a road car is different product from the racing car, but this is just the beginning. Toroidion’s electric powertrain is scalable for various other applications for our clients, according to Pennanen.

The visionary sees the electric power as the solution for all forms of transportation, from mopeds and motorcycles into family cars, trucks, boats and airplanes. Pennanen and his team have already designed for instance a gasoline station-like battery swap station, where a battery is changed into a fully charged one safely and faster than it takes to fill up a conventional car.

Pasi Pennanen

Visionary and main designer of Toroidion 1MW concept car.

1991 – 1995
Lahti Institute of Design, Finland, BA (Hons)

1995 – 1997
The Royal College of Art, London, MA (RCA) Degree in Vehicle Design

1996 - 1997
Kelsall Catamarans Ltd, Sandwich, England, Freelance Designer

1997 – 1998
Sisu Trucks, Karjaa, Finland, Freelance Designer

1998 - 2003
Jaguar Cars Ltd, Coventry, England, Senior Designer, Advanced Design and Jaguar Product Design

2003 - 2004
Zagato Centrostile, Milano, Italy, Senior Designer, Automotive Exterior and Interior Design

2005 - 2007
Honda Advanced Design, Tokyo, Japan, Assistant Chief Designer, Exterior Design

2004 - 2005, 2007 - present
Pennanen Design Ltd, Finland, Founder

2011 - present 
Toroidion Ltd, Finland, Founder and CEO

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