Schwarzenegger, complete with trademark cigar, tries out the Kreisel G-Wagen. Picture: Martin Proll / Kreisel Electric

Kitzebuehel, Austria - Arnold Schwarzenegger has come a long way since his cigar-chomping, Hummer-driving days as ‘Governator’ of California. He still loves his stogies, but these days he’s into ‘green’ technology, especially when it comes to his wheels.

Cue the Kreisel brothers from Freistadt, a small town in northern Austria, not far from the Czech border. Mechanical engineer Philipp, electronics genius Johann and marketing maven Markus have been involved in electronics for more than 35 years between them and are convinced that the best way - the only way! - to make anything move, especially a vehicle, is an electric motor.

The rest, they say, is just detail work - but the most important detail at the moment is making batteries with enough energy density and recharging speed to enable an electric vehicle to compete with combustion-powered cars in terms of range and convenience.

The brothers believe they have done just that; three years ago they founded Kreisel Electric to develop next-generation lithium-ion batteries for domestic and automotive applications, and now they’re busy building an 800 MWh battery factory to produce them.

Building a better battery 

They figured the best way to get the car giants to sit up and take notice was to build better battery-powered versions of their cars than they could - and they’ve been making waves among industry insiders by fitting their battery packs into existing European-built electric cars, with a significant increase in range.

But their big deal is converting conventional cars to electric power; they reckon that their energy-dense battery pack technology allows them them to simply replace the gearbox with an electric motor and fit the batteries where the combustion engine and fuel tank used to be, without compromising weight distribution, and still achieve acceptable range numbers.

Which is where Austria’s most famous export comes into the story: Schwarzenegger is a long-time fan of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and was happy to let Kreisel Electric wave their zero-emission wand over one for him.

300km range

And this is the result: it has a 360kW electric motor where the original gearbox was, driving all four wheels and launching it to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds - that’s about three seconds quicker than the original petrol drivetrain - and it tops out at 183km/h.

The engine compartment and the space where the fuel tank used to be are packed full of Kreisel batteries, about 510kg of them in all (that’s about the same weight as a Tesla battery pack, they say), rated for an energy capacity of 80kWh and giving the electric G-Wagen a range of about 300km.

The charging port is behind what used to be the fuel filler cap and - perhaps most impressive of all - the brothers claim that the batteries can be charged at a super-high 150kW without melting or bursting into flame, which translates to a full charge in little more than half an hour, from a purpose built high-amperage charging station.

'Incredibly sporty'

Schwarzenegger flew to Austria for the official launch of the car on Monday, and took it for a quick test drive, during which the loudest sound was the crunching of snow under the tyres!

“The test drive was a real pleasure,” he said. “The Kreisel is incredibly sporty - it benefits perfectly from the advantages of electric power. I’m looking forward to further testing and development in California.”

No, the Kreisel isn’t for sale, but Schwarzenegger will be taking this prototype back to California for more feedback, and to be a rolling promo for Kreisel Electric’s efforts to break into the mainstream auto industry as a battery supplier.

Wonder what Elon Musk will have to say about that?

IOL Motoring

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